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, September 29, 2014

Proper 22A/Ordinary 27A/Pentecost +17 October 5, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel. This is one of those weeks, I think, when with equal measures of patience and faithful pressure we can give witness to the God made most clear to us in Jesus."
"Crazy Love (a.k.a. Preaching Matthew against Matthew)," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"This parable does not use the story to set forth the surprising nature and qualities of God's reign, as do so many others in the Gospels. Its focus is rather on the futility of debates about, and maintenance programs for, the institutions of this age."
Commentary, Matthew 21:33-46, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Cultivate your church, we pray, enriching it always with new shoots, so that, grafted onto Christ, the true Vine, the community of your people may bear fruit in abundance and produce a rich harvest for eternal life. 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 21:33-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I cannot read the passage appointed for this Sunday without thinking of the vineyard in Isaiah (5:1-7). I can imagine that it might have been the same for those with whom Matthew's community is in conflict.

The Parable is pretty clear. It is harvest time. The landowner sends slaves who ate mistreated and then sends his son who is killed. The tenants hope to inherit the land and the harvest for themselves.

We are mindful as our Eucharistic prayer reminds us that the prophets have come over and over to gather God's people, to show us the way. And God eventually sends his son. "How long," Jesus says,"have I wanted to gather you under my wing like a hen gathers her own young."

We know this passage is part of the building tensions between the Jesus movement and the Pharisee movement in the post temple era. In the Gospel story we see this tension echoes the tension between Jesus and the authorities. The passage also offers a theology for why the Jesu movement breaks away from it's Abrahamic parent.

I think the passage challenges the modern church in several ways. The first is to recognize that the missionary message of Matthew tells us that Jesus as risen Lord continues an eternal return to save the world through the proclamation and actions of his followers.

I think the second way we are challenged is that we typically put ourselves in the place of Jesus and the prophets. I think that we would be radically challenged to think about our mission if we were to recognize that more often than not when we are at our worst we are the tenants! When we try to invent the church in our own image we truly close the doors to Jesus and the prophets we also close the doors to mission.

So when we read this might we be challenged to sees mission which embraces the prophets and the son who offer us a role in the harvest of God.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14


"Without throwing away his own religion Paul, nevertheless, throws away a theology which had made him important and given him great status. In its place he embraces Christ and Christ's way."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 16, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The season of Lent, with its inexorable movement towards the cross, offers us an opportunity to reflect on our journey through life, from the cradle to grave."
Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

We continue reading from Paul's letter to the Philippians.  He is concerned that there are those within the community at Philippi who want to make the gentile Christians adhere to the Jewish law. So, Paul warns them and cautions them. He tells them that the law and the law of circumcision in particular is not what God requires of them. Rather, Paul offers a vision of a spiritual life where the heart is changed and transformed, circumcised, and marked as God's own.  Paul is clear - we do not have to mark our flesh to know that we are God's.

We then get a rare glimpse into Paul's own spiritual pilgrimage.  He talks about his early life as a good and faithful Jew.  He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin and everyone knows this is a special tribe within the family of tribes. So it is that Paul kept the law, including circumcision and many other requirements.  To be a Benjaminite was and is to be set aside as one of God's favorites and it requires a holy and attentive life lived under the Jewish law.  He calls himself a Pharisee - a sect within Judaism that kept the law strictly and was an inner reform movement of great power at the time of Jesus. They were especially strict around the laws of cleanliness and those that had to do with common meals.  Paul tells them that he was a good Jew. He is honest though and tells them that he was a persecutor of those involved in the competing Jewish reform movement of followers of Jesus. Paul was zealous and believed this Jesus movement must be wiped out. Then we know that there was an experience.

Paul talks very little himself about his experience. Yet here in Philippians he offers some reflection. He writes that Christ helped him to understand that his way, the way of the Jewish law and the religious leaders of his day, was not the best way to known God.  Paul tells the Philippians that to get caught up in the midst of the law actually makes it more difficult to see how much God loves us. The law, Paul invites his readers to understand, hides the fact that God gives us grace freely.  Paul tells them that once he had a glimpse of this powerful God of love he cast aside the law in order to see more clearly and to gain all that God in Christ Jesus offers.

Paul tells them he wants to know Christ who is alive and resurrected and even now pouring out his spirit upon his people.  Paul seeks oneness with God.  He wishes to share Christ's sufferings and to participate in the cross in order that he may truly die to the old way and be reborn as a new being - one eternally united with God.  This is something Paul has a spiritual hunger for and desires completely.  Paul believes his life's journey from this point forward will be a continuing discovery of the meaning of Christ's resurrection and that as he progresses he will be remade. Paul says God has chosen him - made me his own - this is a very personal revelation and a very personal God. The God Paul is describing has a very different and real quality separate from the qualities of God Paul had known when he was under the law.

We then get the wonderful image of the race and the runner.  Paul in his journey from Benjaminite to faithful God fearer and Jesus follower hopes that his life long pilgrimage will bring him to the foot of God's throne in order to receive the laurel, the wreath, the mantel and prize of the heavenly kingdom. May he so run the race that he shall be rewarded with unity which God desires to give and Paul hopes to receive.

This is a truly exquisite part of the scriptures. It is insight into the personal spiritual life of Paul. It is one of the few truly reflective pieces of scripture which gives us a vision of the early pilgrim life of a follower of Jesus.  I think what strikes me most is that it resonates with my story, it resonates with the story of so many people who seek God - a living God.  I hope as a preacher you will seek to tell the pilgrim story, your story, Paul's story, and invite others to reflect upon their own journey with the living God.  Tell of how everything else you put your trust in obscures and hides the living God. Invite them to imagine the longing and yearning for that living God and highlight within their own journeys God's reaching out and invitation to receive the laurel at the end of a race well run to the very end and to the very foot of the throne of Grace.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +16 September 28, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"It is odd that we still find so many people inside the church who have a greater problem moving with compassion for change in society than many outside the church. They seem bent on protecting God."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"I'm wondering if it is God who comes and does things that threaten and shatter our understandings of God; and that it is the demonic who wants us to maintain the status quo about God -- which will normally be too narrow an understanding of the God whose ways are far beyond our own."
Exegetical Notes by Brian P. Stoffregen at CrossMarks.

"Voltaire quipped that we ought to judge a person by his questions rather than his answers."
Commentary, Matthew 21:23-32, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Let your Spirit make our hearts docile to the challenge of your word, and let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus: may we walk the path of obedience and sacrifice, finding in the self-emptying love of the cross, the way to exaltation and glory at your side. 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 21:23-32

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday we have the parable of the two sons. The first son is the one who "I will not go," but later changes his mind and goes. The second son is the one who says he will go but does not go. This is followed by the polemical question to the authorities: which one of the two does the will of the father? They of course say that the first son, in the end, does the will of the father. For the reader, or especially the one who heard this in Matthew's community, there is an aha moment in which we see clearly that the authorities are agreeing in behavior that is not like their own.

As we reflect on the passage it is helpful to remember that after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem there were really two strands of competing Judaism left. As one scholar pointed out the Pharisees really are the ancestors of our modern day friends; while the Jesus movement would be the second great Jewish strand that has woven its way through history. From an early time Christians understood this passage as a defining one about who that Christian movement was and is. As the ancient bishop and teacher Chrysostom wrote: the Christian is the one represented by the son who at any hour turns and chooses to do the will of the father; to go out into the vineyard and work. The Christian is the son who is the missionary.

But I think there is a deeper message that Jesus is offering. While Chrysostom is right on the one hand, and certainly the history of the Matthean community and the history of Christianity bears out at the very least this determined differentiation...there is more. We must stand back. We must now knowing the context step back and allow the Gospel text to speak into our context.

The very powerful message is the Gospel message (one that is perhaps more disturbing and challenging than the contextual one). This Gospel message offers the news that it is never to late to follow Jesus and become a missionary worker in the vineyard. God will embrace the son who turns and chooses in the end, no matter what they have been doing, to become a member of the community. Do we not rejoice of the finding of the one over the salvation of the many. It isn't an either or, but a both and vision of the kingdom.

Yes, there are people in our community who sin knowingly. We are human. We know we promise that we will strive for kingdom behavior and we know we will fail. After all our baptismal covenant says that "when" we sin we will return. Christians know we are not perfect. But we as Christians also rejoice when the sons and daughters of God who have led life without, who have led life saying "no" turn and join the other workers in the field. We the church exist for those who do not yet belong. We exist so that the vineyard is there ready for the latecomer and for the newcomer.

As Mrs. Augusta Irving, the elementary school teacher who struck the fear of God into me most days, used to say, "Andy, better late than never." Yes indeed, Mrs. Irving...you have spoken the Gospel..."Better late than never."

Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13


"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"What's in a name? From a biblical perspective -- everything!"
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

Paul in this passage uses a first century Christian hymn (possibly even one they would have known) to urge the members of the community at Philippi to have the same mind as Christ. That means that they are to seek to not insist on their own way or their own rights (determined by their social status) but they are to become lower than their stations. Like God in Christ Jesus they are to seek to become power-less and to serve.

Paul invites them to not be better than the other - this is not after all a quality that Christ illustrated.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is serving that one is great. It is in taking the lower seat that you shall be known. It is in washing feet and loving each other regardless of station. It is feeding the poor who have no right to be fed and healing the sick who have not fulfilled the law. It is in eating with those who are not worthy to be eaten with. It is in loving those whom you would not dare to love.  These are the qualities by which you will be known as a follower of Jesus.

This is the work of Christ that they are to continue in the world.  

People will talk about a lot of reasons why our church is failing.  They will ponder the reasons why we are shrinking in numbers.  I think in the end it is because we don't do these things very well.  

We do not have the same mind as Christ Jesus and are unwilling to become low. We actually regard equality with God as something to be exploited and lorded over those to whom we do not believe deserve such equality.  We are unwilling to empty ourselves. We will not serve God or his mission over our own needs and desires.  We are quick to take the highest seat. We are not eager to wash each other's feet - especially not the feet of the poor. We are unwilling to hold back or deny ourselves. We will not sit with those unlike us.  We will not dine with those we don't agree with. We will not be seen with those who are not like us. We are wholly unwilling to do the hard and difficult work of following Jesus as Jesus has invited us to follow.

Perhaps this is why Paul has us squarely figured out.  The truth is like the Philippians what is so bad about our church. It is a comfortable place, for comfortable people, comfortable in our going out and our coming in.  Yet Paul may have us figured out...comfortable is not a whole lot like the ministry and character of God in Christ Jesus.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +15 September 21, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The scandal of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God's gifts. The scandal of our faith is that we are often covetous and jealous when God's gifts of forgiveness and life are given to other in equal measure."
Commentary, Matthew 20:1-16, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"In the end, it’s not about unfair payments. At the parable’s conclusion, the full-day workers don’t moan that they have been cheated. They complain instead to the landowner, You have made them [the one-hour workers] equal to us."
ON Scripture, Matthew L. Skinner. Commentary and association with current news events, links and videos.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Open our hearts to the wisdom of your Son, that, without concern for the cost of discipleship or the reward of our labors, we may grasp how incomparable the honor of working in your vineyard from morning until night. 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 20:1-16

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage naturally offers some important wisdom for life in community that is mission oriented; or strives to be mission oriented.
1. One shall not presume and boast about the judgement and one's election among the first. In other words sitting in that pew for twenty years doesn't make it yours.
2. It reminds us the last shall be first, and the first last (illustrating 19:16ff).  Or, one might think twice before complaining that the priest is spending too much time with new members.
3. We must realize that the newcomers are equally welcome to voice their opinions.
I don't think we can fully separate the text from the notion that the gentile mission was affecting the inherited faith of the church.  The people that Jesus reached out to during his ministry and the people the apostles reached out to were very different from the people who had long awaited the Messiah.

This Sunday there will be a lot of different sermons on this text.  And, I believe that it is safe to say most will be focused on the established church's need to make room.

As insiders we naturally want to interpret the message to the other insiders.

I want to offer that the real grace of the passage is that it isn't meant to be (in my opinion) a polemical argument against those already at work in the field. It is quite the contrary.

Jesus' message is one of grace to those who come late.

Jesus is talking not to the establishment but the newcomers.

We would do well to remember this when preaching.

Truth is most people feel like they are the latecomers, they are not good enough, they have done something so wrong that even though they dared walk in the church on this particular day it won't do any good because they are doomed.

Most people don't feel they are good enough to receive the grace of God and that is precisely the message of the cross. No one can do anything to win it!  We have all come late!

We are truly challenged by this somewhat Matthean Paulinism.  "As Isaac the Syrian provocatively put it, 'How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? (Asc. hom. 51)'"  As insiders we just can't shake our desire to truly be about works. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 3, 77)

Allison and Davies write: "Hence the less deserving may receive as much as the more deserving.  Like the Spirit, the divine grace blows where it wills.  That destroys all human reckoning and therefore all Christian presumption....hope should never become self-satisfaction. (Ibid)

I agree with my fellow semi-pelagians we cannot completely lift this out of context for Matthew has plenty to say about how Christians behave in the vineyard.  But I wold remind us all that is in response to the grace of God; it is not in order to receive the grace of God.

BUT it is clear that there is tremendous good news this week in the Gospel: Nobody ever comes late! We are all just arriving right on time.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 1:20-30


This is one of the most positive letters that Paul writes. He is in prison and encouraging the Philippians to read and know about the mission of the Gospel.  He tells them of how he has spread the Gospel to his captors and they are sharing in the Good News.  

He appears worried about his potential death and knows that Christ has not yet returned, and he will not be likely to see him. He understands that the mission of Christ must go on and that the spreading of the faith is essential - even without him.  We can almost feel his emotions as he ponders his fate. He is hopeful for both his life with Christ after death and the life of the faithful after his leaving.

God has really done a number on Paul, he understands his whole life and the very meaning of creation now through the lens of a living Christ.  He believes that while he is one with Christ in this world in the next that unity will be solidified.  For his life he has understood that he was to be a laborer in the vineyard. Even though he was not one of the original followers he has understood his work no less essential and his preaching of Christ as the fullness of his call.

He is hopeful that he will be with the Christians for a while longer so that he may continue the progress of the kingdom in which he has a share.  Regardless of whether he is with them or not he holds them up to a high practice of living a life of Christ. He tells them to live in community and to reflect to one another and the world the servant-hood of Christ. they are to be strong in their faith. They are to be bound together and not divided.  They are to work together and be of one mind in their faith.  

These are difficult times but he encourages them to be united in their cause.  Speaking from prison where he himself is jailed because of his faith he tells them not to be discouraged by those who will challenge them.  They should be strong in their faith and be sure of their own inheritance of the kingdom of God. Like Paul and like Christ though they may suffer they are suffering in community with others. It is a much greater thing to persevere and to be supportive on one another with the assurances that come from God and God's love for them.  

If they will labor on like Paul still others will come to know Christ through their witness.

What strikes me in particular is how at every turn Paul is attempting to make a witness of Christ's love, of Christ's forgiveness, of Christ's relationship with those who may cause suffering and persecution. He himself is undaunted in trying to tell the story of Good News to his captors and in turn helps them receive Christ. To those in Philippi he encourages them to make a witness to those who harass them.  This behavior is the opposite of how we deal with those who are against us today.  

If someone is against us we wail back, we seek their demise, we seek to win by power and control. We do not become week or as a servant so that they may hear and be converted.  We do the opposite of what Paul intends in making a witness. It reminds me that there is a great deal of courage needed when we seek to be like Christ and become lower than  we believe we should be in order to serve the very people who may in the end be our undoing. That is quite a very different model of Christianity that the one we typically model in our contemporary society. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Proper 19A/Ordinary 24A/Pentecost +14 September 14, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew is not only relational it is reciprocal and reliant."Commentary, Matthew 18:21-35, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The reduction of the gospel to forgiveness of sins misses the point of the gospel which is about making people whole."
First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Create in us a new heart, formed int he image of your Son, a heart strong enough to bear every wound and gentle enough to forgive each offense, that the world may see how your people love one another, and remember how much you love all that you have made. 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 18:21-35

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

William Loader writes:
The amount owed is huge, larger than the estimates of the value of whole economies. Try doing the arithmetic. A talent is around 6000 denarii; a denarius is a day's living wage. It is an absurd figure, so unreal, as to distract the hearer from the literal meaning to the point being made behind the story. God's forgiveness is also massive. 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors' is the literal translation of the standard Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 6:12. Releasing debt was a common image for forgiveness. The rogue in Luke 16:1-7 who went out and forgave his master's debtors may be Jesus' parody on himself: he declared God's generosity and was declared a rogue servant who acted without recognised authority. The saying in 18:21-22 is also making its point by exaggeration: 77 times!

There are really three ideas that strike me about this passage.  The first is this notion that the forgiveness of God is abundant.  I am mindful that the custom of this time was to collect or sell the person into slavery and that we cannot miss the notion that God's abundant grace instead of slavery is one profound message of this parable.

The second idea that comes to me is the reality that we cannot read this passage without also thinking of the passage from Genesis where Lamech wants revenge seventy times seven.(Genesis 4)  In this passage we see the violence that has corrupted the ancient Hebrew family prior to the great flood. We are told that Lamech boasts that he has slain a young man for a seemingly minor offense.  He reminds his wives that the the Lord had pronounced that anyone slaying Cain in vengeance for his killing of Abel would be punished sevenfold. Lamech thinks that if anyone should try to slay him in vengeance there will be a 77 fold revenge. We are not told that this proposed revenge is of the Lord, so we must assume that it would be at the hands of Lamech's sons or family, or clan, or tribe. So it would appear that we have here an example of what so often is the case in tribal or clan warfare, the supposedly "injured" party wants revenge many many times over.

This is a powerfully true story and we can all think of times in our lives when we have taken offense or been angered into wanting such action on our behalf.  It speaks to our most basic instinct as creatures. And, I believe it is why Jesus' own statements about forgiving others are so powerful.  We can certainly spend time talking about the Grace of God and how we are exonerated from our own sins and slavery to them.  Yet, the more difficult part of the passage is the most obvious.  We are to act with others as God has acted with us. We are to be as magnanimous a forgiving agent as Jesus Christ was upon his cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

This is the third idea that strikes me and brings me up quite short. As one reads this chapter what becomes clear is that Jesus in Matthew's Gospel seems rather unconcerned with the individuals who transgress and more focused upon the person trying to live in the way of Jesus. Be humble Jesus tells us.  Do not despise others.  Do not allow anyone to be lost or to stumble.  Seek after the one who walks away.  If another person sins against you go and be reconciled with them.  You go and find them.  Take others and find them.  Go out and find them.  Be careful what slavery you cast on others as it will bind you.  Recieve the forgiveness of debt and likewise forgive others.

Allison and Davies write in their Matthean work (vol II, 804):

...Jesus demands forgiveness without measure. The motivation for such unbounded generosity is imitation of the Father in heaven.  As he has forgiven undeserving Christans, so must they likewise forgive others, "Freely you have received, freely give."  The appropriate attitude towards a wayward brother is like that of a shepherd seeking a stray sheep.  The shepherd does not want to punish the stray but bring it back to the fold. 

You and I are to be like the shepherd in the parable, like our Lord Jesus, we are to seek out those who offend, sin, or hurt us. We are to be as forgiving and as loving as our Lord is.

This is a very difficult lesson.  In churches over the last decade something like 70% have dealt with conflict. Much of that conflict has caused people to leave and much of that conflict has sought to excommunicate the "other."  As a church we have not modeled with one another what Christ modeled for us; nor what we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us."  We have modeled and as a family of God shown the world that we do not live by the code we claim.  We have not forgiven as freely as we have received. We have not reconciled as willingly as we have been reconciled. We have not gone after our brother and sisters who have left with the same determination as a shepherd who has left his 99.

What must we do?  What must the church do?

We must do as Isaiah dreams in chapter two:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

It seems that the real issue is that we as humans want to be the judge, we want to do the arbitrating, and we want to wield the sword of sentencing one another to the outer darkness.

I think it is so difficult because forgiveness requires the embracing of the other who is most repugnant to you.  The fact is that regardless of whether you study mediation or you study the 12 steps or you study psychology or the bible what you find is that healing means most often coming to terms with the fact that the one you resent actually mirrors your own most despised part.  In other words you must forgive yourself and be reconciled with the parts of one's own self that are most grotesque to you in order to make space to forgive the other.

I pray that as a church we might actually do this work.  I would love to see a day when we as a church put down our swords, all of the various kinds, and we turned once again to the work of ploughing and pruning the missionary field.  This will take a great and conscious and prayerful effort on our part to turn to brothers and sisters who in the heat of argument have wounded us to the heart, and truly forgive in order to move forward into the mission field together.



"Paul provides three reasons for the advice to bear with those who think and act differently from oneself on matters of belief and practice."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"This section of Romans makes it clear that divisions in the church go back to the earliest churches."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mark Reasoner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Paul's flexibility is rooted in his vision of Christ."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

I am in need of this passage today. I was just on the Facebook and reading as conservative Christians harp on how unChristian the liberal Christians are and then reading the post below it on from a liberal Christian harping on how unChristian the conservative Christians are...  We spend a lot of time on this pointing fingers back and forth and arguing over our little piece of Christian pie.  We have all got it figured out and intend to tell the others how they don't.  In my opinion this is poor modeling for Christian community and takes our mind off the more difficult work of being missionaries of God's love in the world.

I am grateful to get to Paul's lesson in Romans. It reminds me that we are not the first church to have problems or people intent on tearing each other down.  It reminds me that people in Church have been arguing with one another since the two disciples argued over who would sit next to Jesus.  

Here is what Paul has to say about conflicts.  

Those who are weak in faith will make their habit the focus on things that are not about God's mission of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The weak in faith will focus their attention on others and place themselves in the judgement seat of God. They will be about the work of minutia and non essentials. Those who are strong in their faith will be focused upon God's purposes.

He writes:
2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
He then basically says...so what business is it of yours?

Chris Haslaam reminds me of this particular bit of wisdom which comes in the form of context which is known to Paul's readers:
In Roman society, it was considered ill-mannered to “pass judgement” (v. 4) on the conduct of another master’s servant; he was answerable to his “own lord” or master. Similarly, each Christian is answerable to “the Lord” and should not be criticized.
What is important is that you are responsible to your own convictions and answerable for the living and the dying that is your work. You are not to judge others, to judge their conduct, or how they worship.  You will be accountable to God. They will be accountable to God.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Moreover, we should not do anything that might harm another person's faith.  Paul writes that we are to focus on the best things and "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding”

All followers of God in Christ Jesus are to live in a manner consistent with one's conscience in order to be in relationship with God.  Your faith is yours alone and not dependent upon any body elses.  It is the person who is weak in faith that believes that how another lives or moves or has their being affects them.  One is never made righteous by being better than someone else or demeaning another human being.  That was the point of Jesus confrontation with the religious leaders of the day.

Our mission initiatives would be stronger and see great results if we all started judging less and started welcoming the other more.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Proper 18A/Ordinary 23A/Pentecost +13 September 7, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Real churches have - or should have - real conflicts. The only real harm that will come to a church community is to refuse to deal with conflicts. Conflicts do not kill churches. Refusing to deal with conflict kills churches."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 18:15-20, David Ewart, 2011.

"Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has made the important connection that we can learn a lot about the Christian practice of forgiveness from the character Ian Bedloe in Anne Taylor’s novel Saint Maybe."
"Costly Truth, Costly Forgiveness," Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of unity and peace, your Son has taught us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is present in their midst and you will grant their request.  Grant us a new heart to presume the goodness of every brother and sister, and a spirit sensitive to the burdens each of them bears, that by loving our neighbor as ourselves we may bear witness to that love which is the fulfilling of the law. 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 18:15-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage is a passage about God's kindness; the fact that so many of us will read and preach on the difficult measure this passage offers as a rule may indicate more our own boundry-less and unaccountable culture that God's graceful intent.

The sinner is offered repeatedly opportunities to repent. The one who is transgressed against too must forgive the offender.  The hardness of Jesus' rule, you see, is that those who follow him must be known as those who forgive - beyond all measure.

It is clear in the passage that the reason for such a boundless grace is the grace of God himself.  We are to forgive as we are forgiven by God. We are to love as God has loved us.

Perhaps the problem is that as we have become less accountable for our actions to others, our hostile words, our uncaring for our neighbors, our lack of generosity, our lack of forgiveness, our lack of love for our enemies...we feel like we ourselves really don't need too much forgiving.

When we are righteous all on our own, not by action but by hiding our action and true natures, we really don't need much forgiveness or love from God.

The reality is that Jesus offers us a vision of the kingdom which seeks continuously to re-reincorporate the lost.  The mission of God is clear, in forgiveness and in all things, to bring back into the fold those who are lost.  Restoration, recreation, and transformation of all people is the ultimate work of the mission of Jesus Christ.

We are challenged as a church to make this our primary work.  What would the world be like if every church in the Episcopal Church understood that it existed for those who were not there on Sunday morning and that their work was so to present the love and forgiveness of God that individuals would be drawn into relationship with Jesus and Jesus' church?

For Matthew excommunication, removal from the community, is not a communal action but is the result of self-imposed actions.

Life in community is to be organized by those who are the "meek and merciful" and "who know that they themselves are the unworthy recipients of God's constant mercy and forgiveness." (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 804)
So it is that ultimate removal from the community is a tragic event and that those who bind such actions will be bound themselves.  Are we able to lose ourselves into heaven by living lives of forgiveness?

I think the real challenge this week is to preach on this passage.  The rules and boundaries of community and the community rule of forgiveness is one not often preached. The idea that we walk by the grace of God and therefore we should rest upon such grace before seeking to hold resentments against others is a message many need to hear.

This 12 step process of Alanon and AA are a process that provides a tremendous sense of God's grace. As a reconciliation tool, the steps work to help the disciple or follower of Jesus to understand that most of the resentments we carry around in our hearts are caused not by others but by our own behaviors.  What we loose and bind is always dependant upon us - not someone else.

I am struck by the idea that what Jesus seems so easily to seize upon in this passage is that if a community is completely focused upon the sins of others it will rarely be a community of integrity because it lacks the ability to see the sin rampant within and this will frustrate the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


"In this brief but extremely rich passage, Paul tells us that as Christians we are all 'morning people.' The time is just before dawn, the sky is brightening, the alarm is ringing, day is at hand. It is time to rouse our minds from slumber, to be alert to what God is doing in the world, and to live in accordance with God's coming salvation."
Commentary, Romans 13:11-14 (Advent 1A), Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2007.

"Love is bigger than all the observances and bigger than all the commandments."
First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"For preachers, this text is significant. It lifts up the importance of love as the law's fulfilment. Yet at the same time it refuses to set up love as a big, shadowy "ought." Instead, it sets love firmly in the light, that is, God's dawning light of the new aeon. In other words, we don't love cause weshould love. Rather, we love because God's ever-lovin' day is about to dawn."
Advent 1A and Proper 18A, David S. Jacobsen, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, inPreaching Apocalyptic Texts: Year A, Resources for Pastors Who Want to 'Preach in the New Creation'.

This passage appears also in Advent year A and there is takes on a theme of preparation.  In this passage Paul continues his focus upon love.  Followers of Jesus love others, in so doing they mimic the ministry of Jesus and the work of God.  In loving others they also fulfill God's law.

Paul offers a very clear view that not loving another will in fact lead to adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness.

Love others - this is the highest rule and the highest goal.

Adeptly he has moved from a discussion on what is owed to the authorities to what is owed to one another - which is love. (Joseph Fitzmeyer, Romans, 677)  Deeds are the way that a Pauline faith is lived.  Love lived creates the framework for all other questions about the law and quickly moves Paul from legality to grace in future discussions (Fitzmeyer, 677; Gal 5:6)

To understand Paul's full treatment of love you must go to 1 Corinthians 13.  In Paul's economic discourse of love we discover the following.  All other gifts are worthless without love.  Love is: patient and kind, not jealous, not arrogant, not rude, it does not seek its own interest, is not irritated, does not reckon things wrong, does not delight in wrong doing, rejoices in truth, puts up with all things, believes all things, and never fails.  Love lasts and is superior to all other things.  All of which is summed up in vs 13:  Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul then ends concludes his reflection on love in Romans with urgency.  Now that you have become believers you can see that this is true.  There is urgency and we need to be about this work now and immediately.  Let us live in the light, and love in the light putting away the behaviors that will cloud and deform this love: drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.

Let us instead do what Jesus Christ does and love.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Proper 17A/Ordinary 22A/Pentecost +12 August 31, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The kingdom is becoming present in that resurrected life of the Messiah in each of our communities where this confession and life are bound together in the responsible exercise of love and mercy for the world."
Commentary, Matthew 16:21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. Calls Peter - or at least Peter's rebuke - Satan. That is, Tempter, Snake in the Garden, Introducer of Hesitation, Mixer of Motivations, Flaunter of Red Herrings, Side-Tracker of Mission, Setter of One's Mind on Human Things. Well, fear of pain and death will do that to most people, and Peter was no exception."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 16:21-28, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Transform us, O God, by the renewal of our minds, that we may not be conformed to this world or seduced by human standards of success.  But as true disciples may we discern how good and pleasing it is to you for us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow in the footsteps of Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. 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 16:21-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we read through the Gospel of Matthew we might remember that everything is read through the lens of the concluding passion tide.  This passage is the first of the passion predictions. It comes to us following the miracle of loaves and fishes, the stilling of the storm, and Peter's Gospel proclamation that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Son of the Living God.

It is not a surprise to us because we know the rest of the story, and it is not a surprise if we have been reading along in Matthew's Gospel for throughout the narrative we have received images, metaphors, road signs that we are heading towards Jerusalem. Jesus has set his face like a flint to Jerusalem and there we know his message of a continuing revelation of God and the new kingdom will be rejected by the religious establishment.  And, that he is to die and rise again.

So the first revelation of this Gospel is one that we as Christians have come to understand and that is that Jesus is willing to do this. Jesus is willing to go to Jerusalem and to die there on behalf of the vision of the kingdom and on behalf of the new restored creation he is proclaiming.

Jesus does this work as a free man, choosing to be faithful to his very nature and faithful to his vocation as prophet.  He willingly chooses for himself this destiny as the divine rite of the King of Heaven.  It seems important for us to understand that Matthew's Gospel does not offer a God who requires Jesus' death, or a society that demands it, but rather that the death of Jesus is determined by Jesus himself as an offering for the cause of the kingdom of God.  Jesus believes, in my opinion, that if he will go to Jerusalem he will intentionally fan the flames of the religious authorities, they will kill him, and he will then usher in the reign of God in this world and the next.

For the author of Matthew, for the apostolic generation and every successive faith generation that has followed, Jesus' will and the divine will are one.  His intention therefore is God's intention.  A new order, the creation itself, is being re-made.

We cannot miss in this passage the very important and theologically pieces. I refer again to Allison and Davies who I very much depend upon for their scholarship to help us remember and think through the deep meanings intertwined in this passage regarding Peter's witness and Peter's relationship with the Christ:

To begin with , Peter's pre-eminence makes his misunderstanding in effect universal: if even the favored Simon, rock of the church and recipient of divine revelation, did not grasp the truth, then, we may assume, that truth was hid from all. God's intentions for Jesus were so dark and mysterious that they simply could not, before the event, be comprehended.  This in large part explains why Jesus is such a lonely figure in Matthew and why he is trailed throughout the gospel by misapprehension and even opposition.  God's was are inscrutable.  At the same time, one no doubt demanding unprecedented responsibilities (cf. Chrysostom as quote on p 664).  Another lesson is to be found in this, that Peter's fall from the heights shows him to be anything but an idealized figure.  Like David and so many other biblical heroes, the apostle serves as warning that privileges and even divine election will not keep a body from evil mischief.  Finally, Peter must also, again like David and so many others, be intended to stand as a symbol of God's ever-ready willingness to bestow forgiveness on the imperfect.  For as soon as Peter has been quickly dismissed for words better left unsaid, Jesus selects him, along with two others, to be witnesses of the transfiguration.  Thus Peter, so far from being punished for his misguided though, is immediately granted a glimpse of the glorified Christ.  Is the reader not expected to see in this a triumph of grace?
Heavenly Father help our unbelief!  One of the beautiful things that has always intrigued me about the Gospel and about God's willingness to be in relationship with us is God's ability to commitment no matter how often we get it wrong.  Certainly we as individual followers and as a Church have not always gotten it right. We don't have to meditate long upon our personal and corporate sinfulness where in we have attempted to create a kingdom and a revelation that supports our power and authority over and against the divine wishes of the Godhead or the clear revelation of scripture to create a new order.

This passage challenges the preacher and church to look careful at itself and question where do we believe we have it so very correct and how are we possibly frustrating the will and mission of God and Jesus Christ?

And, can we celebrate together as the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion the reality that God's will is done despite our best and our worst efforts!  The beauty of the passage is Peter's complete obstruction that is overcome by the grace and single minded vision and actions of Jesus Christ.  Can we trust that we are buoyed up by the grace of God and that somehow our efforts work into the greater work of the Godhead.

Are we able to accept grace for ourselves and more importantly can we claim enough grace to withstand the reality that those who disagree with us may also receive the vision of Christ glorified.  We must read the whole Gospel and claim its revelation of truth for the whole body of faithful people.  We must be the community of life and love where the fallen are invited into the greater celebration of the triumph of Grace. There is in the end the truth that grace allows you and I and all those who agree and disagree with us the opportunity to see the Christ lifted high upon the cross, delivered into the depths of Hades, and rise on the third day transfiguring not only his own body but the whole creation into the kingdom and reign of God!


"Without reconciliation or acknowledged difference there can be no balance. Paul is also realistic. Peace is not always possible (12:18). We need to bear that in mind when Paul urges submission to the structures of authority in society in the next chapter. Sometimes it is not possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

"The Good News that you heard included an invitation: right now, as you are, you can be a part of something -- specifically, a member of the Body of Christ...The tricky part is that the Body of Christ includes an awful lot of people who are every bit as difficult as we are."
Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 18. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

In our passage today Paul reminds us of the conversation thus far. We understand God's love, our response is gratitude, and that we are to give up ourselves and our lives to the Spirit and that in so doing we are transformed as is the world by God's efforts through us. We are the very members incorporate in the body of Christ - as the Eucharistic prayer reminds us.

In order for this all to be of true and lasting value we must understand that just as God's saving work is rooted in his love for us so our work in the world must also be genuinely set upon the foundation of love.  We are to be about the work of loving others as Christ loves us.  We to be as Christ was to us. Therefore we are to love our fellow Christians, to deal with them with honor.  In so doing we are serving God.  We are to practice hospitality even to those who test us; even to strangers.  Paul here literally means to let them into your home.

If we are to pursue what is good out of love then that will make of us, demand of us, a hospitality beyond the boundaries of the hospitality which is prevalent in the world around us.  This is the meaning of the Good News. Those who know the teachings of Jesus know that Jesus challenged us to bless those who persecute us or cause us suffering.  We are to honor even them because we are to be like Christ.  We are to live peaceably no matter what comes.  We are not to desire revenge upon them or deal with them as we think God should judge them! What! This completely undoes the church's role throughout much of its history. That is correct. Paul says we are not to be in charge of God's judgement but rather to love and be hospitable to all people...even those who don't agree with us, even those who we don't like, even those who seek to undermine us...EVERYONE! No exceptions.  Moreover, we are to leave the handling of sin to God. We are always to do good.

The thing I often wonder about those who decide to judge on God's behalf and who have decided to take an inherent stance on scripture never seem to take this part out and hold it up as God's word. It is a constant reminder to myself and to the church that we are to read the whole text and not just the parts of the text that give us power over others or the ability to shame and judge others.  It seems to me that we would do far better be hospitable and welcoming one another as a church than our current way of being with each other and the those desperately seeking this amazing loving and profoundly giving God.

As funny as it is...we might say that putting away the judgement seat and taking on the servant's mantle of hospitality may be the cross most of us need to take up in order to find our life in Jesus Christ.

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.