Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday. This means you will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday. The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date. You also can simply search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous post. Enjoy.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter 7C May 8, 2016 and/or The Ascension


Quotes That Make Me Think

"This fully devoted relationship is what John means by 'love.' It is by abiding in this love, and being completely one that outsiders may truly know that indeed Jesus was sent by the Father." 

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 17:20-26, David Ewart, 2013.

"Jesus’ prayer reminds us that our unity, our “oneness” is to be a sign to the world of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Oneness and unity is about love. And if you have been a part of a family, a member of a church, or a community, you know that within that love there can be disagreements and squabbling."

Commentary, John 17:20-26, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.


"The good news is that God’s power for life is at work in the world. This news contradicts the common assumption that the world, in its deathliness, has refused and rejected that power for life—and that our proper stance in the world is therefore one of fear enacted as anxiety, greed, selfishness, and violence. The text tells otherwise!"

Walter Brueggeman


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Righteous Father, before the foundation of the world, your glory was with Christ the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.  Fulfill the prayer of Jesus that the world which does not know you may come to believe.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 17:20-26

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel




Jesus is in the midst of praying to God. (We are actually in the third section of the prayer.) The prayer itself sits in the narrative as a transition between the present and those who believe in Jesus and will come to be disciples in the future.

The reading also marks the movement in our liturgical year from the time of Easter to the time of Pentecost.  Jesus’ words are timely too as we move from pondering in our regular worship the Easter event to the Pentecost event.

He is asking God to make those who have followed him one. He is also asking that those who come to know Jesus and the Father through their witness may be one. He is praying that they may be one with one another, and one with the Father through Jesus.

This oneness we are to which we are to aspire is to be like the oneness of Jesus and the Father - to be together one in another. To be so closely united that one is inseparable. We proclaim by faith there is never a time with Jesus is not one with the Father.

What would the world be like if we could claim to be so united with one another that we were constantly making decisions and determining our future based upon the intermingled relationship of one with another?

Jesus is praying that those who follow will be a part of Godly like community. And, his prayer implies that if his followers are not apart of the Godly community then it will be difficult for people to believe in Jesus and in God. Our witness to the world is damaged when we are not living in God AND one another!

Jesus then tells God that he has given to his followers his glory. This focus upon God’s given work, this act of worship through living, is an essential ingredient to our unity. When we are focused on the things that do not glorify God we are more likely to be divided.

Oneness depends upon this focus of ministry, this focus of life. This glory which is given, this vision of life only comes from Jesus Christ. So when one sees a Christian living in oneness with other Christians focused on living a life and undertaking a ministry which glorifies God one sees and witnesses God and God’s love for them. As we spoke in previous conversations on John’s Gospel we know that this vision of glorifying God and the life of unity with Jesus and God and one another brings with it the gift of love. We may indeed have love for one another, but the love which comes from Jesus Christ is one born out of his love for God and is able to be enjoyed in the glorious “fellowship of the saints of God.”

Jesus then prays that his friends, his followers, those whom were given to him may be with him and see his own glory. He gives thanks that God loved him from before the foundation of the world. And, that such love birthed the ministry of glorifying, and being one with those who he has come to know. He sees his friends, the people he has become one with, as gifts from God.

If we were so focused on God’s Glory and its work, if we were one as the Father and the Son are one, if we received the gift of love, would we see our neighbors, families, and friends as gifts from God?

It is in this way that the world will know God. It is in this manner of life that the world will come to know Jesus. And, that the world will be able to participate in the life of the Trinity – the community of God.

The nature of ecumenical and inter-church unity and structure is an area of conversation around this text. The text is not about that, but the text is used in many of these discussions. It seems clear that the context is a much more organic one than ecumenical dialogues might lead one to believe. Certainly though the dialogues are rooted in this question of unity though.

Truly this last portion of Jesus’ prayer is essential to the life of a community lived within the new covenant. Raymond Brown writes the following words which seem the correct ones to use here as we leave this passage:
It is fitting that this beautiful prayer, which is the majestic conclusion of the Last Discourse, is itself terminated on the note of the indwelling of Jesus in the believers – a theme bolstered by Jesus’ claim to have given glory to the believers and to have made known to them God’s name. We have contended that he motif of the new covenant runs through the Johannine account of the Last Supper even though there is no explicit mention of the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ. We saw above that the commandment of love, mentioned in the first lines of the Last Discourse, is “new“ because it is the essential stipulation of the new covenant. So also the closing note of indwelling is an echo of covenant theology. After the Sinai covenant the glory of God that dwelt on the mountain came to dwell in the Tabernacle in the midst of Israel. In Johannine through Jesus during his lifetime was the tabernacle of God embodying divine glory, and now in a covenantal setting he promises to give to his followers the glory that God gave to him. In the language of Deuteronomy the Tabernacle (or the site that housed the Ark) was the place where the God of the covenant has set His name. So now the name of God given to Jesus has been entrusted to his followers. The Lord God who spoke on Sinai assured His people that He was in their midst. Jesus, who will be acclaimed by his followers as Lord and God, in the last words that he speaks to them during his mortal life prays that after death he may be in them. (RB, John, vol 2, 781)

Some Thoughts on Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17,20-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


When I was a seminarian I was invited to do a class on the Nicene Creed.  I talked about the notion that Jesus would return and judge the world.  A man in the front row asked if I really believed it. I stopped to consider this and said yes.  I don't really know what it will look like and how it will all happen (though revelation gives us some themes).  The man said he did not believe Jesus was coming back and this was all there is.  There are fancy theological terms for this theory.  I am really not interested in those.  I don't think your people are interested in them either.

It seems to me that this is a key notion to the complete Gospel. Jesus will come again.  God is at the beginning and the end. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." he says.  Just because it isn't the end doesn't mean the end is not coming.

Revelation ends with a lot of the little sayings that we find in our passage this week.  Here are the essentials.  God is faithful.  The God we believe in is faithful and keeps the covenants he has made with his people.  God will be especially faithful to those who serve others, love neighbors, and love God; as he will be with those who are poor and have nothing. The passage has these words:  “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work."  We must remember that God's special friends are the weak; and we are to be faithful in serving them on his behalf.

God's grace abounds.  In the images of the bounteous tree of life, the holy city of Jerusalem, the kingdom of God on earth where there is good food for the hungry and those in need are not sent empty away. We read:  "I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift."  The gates of this kingdom are open to all and shall never be threatened.  So safety may be found within its walls always.  God's grace abounds.  There is plenteous redemption.


In God we trust. I believe that most Christians may actually have a difficult time imagining a power greater than the dollar, greater than the government, greater than...yet the book of Revelation believes in a power greater than the powers of this world.  The book of revelation understands a Gospel message that even now is taking root in the world. This God we believe in is setting a cornerstone of a greater power than any worldly power.  The world is not to work this way. People are not meant to go hungry.  People are not meant to live without shelter.  People are meant to live within a holy community which even now is making its way into the world.  In this truth we can trust God.

A God We Can Trust
To imagine that there is any power beyond the Roman Empire is bold, requiring a huge leap of faith. To imagine that the pain and suffering that characterized the lives of so many in antiquity would be wiped away in the arms of a loving God is bold, requiring a huge leap of faith. To confess that God would not swerve from God’s promises is bold faith. It is precisely this faith in God that brings us to the end of this book. It is precisely faith in Jesus’ return that draws these Christians into a promised future.


The book of Revelation is a book that believes in God, understands that God is faithful, that grace abounds, and even now God is planting a foothold in the world and remaking it.  The vision provided in Revelation is lessened if all we can see are beasts, demons, angels, and battles.  The faithful Christian has a far greater vision of the coming reign of God than simply what it might be like to be - left behind.




Ascension Day Transferred


Quotes That Make Me Think

"Incarnate Love, Crucified Love, Risen Love, now on the wing for heaven, waiting only those odorous gales which were to waft Him to the skies, goes away in benedictions, that in the character of Glorified, Enthroned Love, He might continue His benedictions, but in yet higher form, until He come again!"

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).

"The mission of the church here is nothing less than to go into the world as God?s people, and proclaim a subversive, transforming message about a suffering God who calls anyone without discrimination to respond."

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Easter C7), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

General Resources for Lessons

Prayer

You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.  Clothe us now with power from on high, and send us forth as witnesses to the Messiah's resurrection from the dead, that, together with us, all the nations of the world may draw near with confidence to the throne of mercy. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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



Some Thoughts on Luke 24:44-53

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for the Gospel

Leading up to the passage chosen for Ascension day Luke is telling a very clear story.  Jesus prophesied a coming reign of God.  The empty tomb shows that the prophet king was telling the truth. The old prophesies made by the greater and lesser prophets of Israel telling about the suffering servant who will come to remake a new Israel are true.  This is proved in the resurrection appearances.  Jesus himself in life and post resurrection offering a new vision of life lived in the kingdom.  He opens their minds to see what they did not see before.  The disciples are eyewitnesses to the new reality and they are to ministers interpreting and retelling the story.(Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 405) 

The disciples will not be left alone.  God is sending the Holy Spirit.  It cannot come and be fully in the world until he departs.  Moses and Elijah who offered a vision of this new reign of God and have been part of the Gospel story throughout are reminders that the power of God is always passed on to the successor.  (LTJ, Luke, 406)  In these last paragraphs of the Gospel of Luke we see clearly that instead of anointing one with the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the disciples as a group are to receive the Holy Spirit and pass it on.

These last verses of Luke's Gospel are pregnant with the clarity that we are the inheritors of the good news of salvation.  We are to be the inheritors of the vision of a different reign of God. We are the inheritors of God's mission to the poor.We are the inheritors of God's prophetic voice which passes along to others what we have received.  

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:15-23



Resources for the Epistle

Christ has been raised and now is elevated. This particular passage comes after the developed theme of the church as Christ's body.  The elevation of Christ emphasizes the themes from Revelation that God has dominion over all and that the church is participating even now the new kingdom.  Christ is even now pouring himself into the new emerging Christian community. Together we are even now being drawn towards the fulfillment of God's desire to gather us in.  We may in fact live in the not yet like Paul's own little faithful community; but hope is present int he victory o f Christ raising and his elevation into heaven.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Easter 6C May 1, 2016


Quotes That Make Me Think

"There are probably at least 3 ways to misunderstand John. One is to treat each of: following, loving, and abiding; as if they were separate and distinct pieces. These things are all of a whole; you cannot selectively choose only one part: 'I'll have the love of Jesus please, but hold the keeping the commandments.'"

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 14:23-29, David Ewart, 2013.

"The story demonstrates what "enough" means, even when, in the midst of it, we think that time or some other commodity is running out. Jesus, by means of his Holy Spirit, finds time, place, love and life enough for all of us."

"Enough," Mary Hinkle, Pilgrim Preaching: Keeping Company with Biblical texts and the people who hear and preach them.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Jesus gave us peace. Do not let our hearts be troubled or afraid but send upon all the baptized the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to remind us of all that Jesus said. So may we keep your word and be counted among those whom you make your home. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 14:23-29

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue our discourse with Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples. We are offered in today’s Gospel Jesus’ response to Judas’ question: how will you reveal yourself to us and not to the whole world?

Jesus’ response is that we, the followers of Jesus, will keep his word. Jesus’ revelation to his followers will in turn be revealed to the world through their action of keeping the word. Raymond Brown prefers keeping my word to keeping my commandment because he believes Jesus is speaking about the Spirit of Truth and its indwelling which leads the follower to right action not the keeping of rules in a works righteousness manner. (RB, John, vol 2, 650)

Jesus tries to explain to his followers, rightly concerned that he will leave him, that he is giving them this teaching while he is with them so they understand. And, that they need not fear because the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Spirit of Truth, will soon be sent to be with them and to guide them. The Spirit of Truth will teach them everything they need. Somewhat like Psalm 25.5 which reminds the one in prayer that God will, “guide you along the way of all truth.” (RB, John, vol 2, 650)

Jesus then again tells them he is going away but leaving his Peace with them. He will be back, but this is less important that loving Jesus and being apart of the divine community. For in living and loving in the divine community not only keeps one close to Jesus but helps the disciple to see Jesus and the Father revealed. This essential love of one another within the community brings with it a peace and a witness of the Spirit of Truth into the world. I am convinced that Jesus understood that if his followers would live in the Holy Spirit and live in a loving community with one another he (Jesus) would be revealed in glory to the world and that the world would in turn have a revelation of God.

Peace in Jesus’ teachings stems from the grounding and sharing of love born from the Spirit of Truth, like the Holy Spirit itself it is a gift.
The first four lines of this verse are a majestic promise made by Jesus to the disciples he leaves in the world. The peace of which Jesus speaks has nothing to do with the absence of warfare (indeed it will come only after the world has been conquered: 16:33), nor with an end of psychological tension, nor with a sentimental feeling of well-being. Cyril of Alexandria identified pace with the Holy Spirit mentioned in the previous verse; his exegesis is wrong, but it is closer to the truth than many of the modern oratorical distortions of this verse, for it recognizes correctly that the peace of Jesus is a gift that pertains to man’s salvation…peace is one of the blessings of the souls of the just who are in the hand of God…in Johannine realized eschatology peace is enjoyed by Christians even during this life. (RB, John, vol 2, 653)

Some Thoughts on Revelation 21:10, 22-22.5


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


We are drawing to the close of our Revelation readings just as we draw close to the end of Easter and the Ascension.  So it is that on this Sunday we arrive at the final vision in a book of visions.

When heaven comes to earth there will be no need for a temple because God is present everywhere and illumines everything.  The people of the earth will be united as they are focused upon God's light and all will have access to the God who comes to dwell with us.

We in our time have no hope for power, and distrust it's use of authority.  We believe that all power and authority is corrupt.  This is a vision of the old world which has passed away.  In the new world we see and understand differently.  Here in the new earth, where heaven makes its home, we see that God has power and authority. All the powers and authorities of the world are not gone but rather are oriented at worshiping God and reflecting his light.  Power and authority, the kings, are transformed.

This is achieved by God's grace.  We are washed clean by the healing which is God's alone.  One author wrote, "God's drawing of the kings and nations to God's self, to the holy city, is no threat; the uncleanness that had led to oppression, violence, and evil will stay removed forever."

This vision is a vision of hope which is visible, even dimly, now in the world around us.  We as Christians and followers of Jesus, the lamb of God, are invited to do this now.  We are invited to see our role in the world today. To know we are made clean by Christ.  That we are to attempt to unearth this heavenly city in the midst of our families and friendship circles.  We are to see the seeds already sprouting of this kingdom come to earth.

The vision of the heavenly city which find its home on earth is our vision. It is our motivating invitation to enter the gates which shall never be closed and to worship the God who makes his life in the world and not locked away in a temple.  If we can imagine and see the end we can work towards it with purpose and vision.

Some Thoughts on Acts 16:9-15

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Resources for Sunday's First Lesson

This is the story of the conversion of Lydia, her husband and household. We have here a wonderful sense of early church mission and evangelism and it is well worth thinking carefully about what is happening here.

First, Paul discerns a calling to go across to Troas and then to Philippi. This is on the Aegean Sea. We are not told that Paul has any plans. He is not thinking I am going there and I am going to do a, b, and then c. We imagine that he is. The church organization we know will automatically assume that Paul is going there with plans to birth a church. To read this into the story though completely undermines it in the arc of Lukan mission. Paul has a dream, a call, and so he discerns this is where he is to go. He trusts that God will give him some hint as what is to take place there.

The church must send, and empower people to go out, without plans! People should go and discover in the world what is up there and not overly plan their work. Certainly, there will be time enough to figure things out... but the beginning of mission is a Person attentive to the Holy Spirit and a Place and dependance upon God. Nothing less and nothing more.

On the day of rest Paul goes out to the river. He may be looking for a synagogue...though Luke is not clear. He leaves the city and heads to the river. He is attentive and there finds a group of women there. These women are gentiles. They are not Jews and they are gathered. Paul goes and visits with them. Paul speaks to her.

This is the second mission principle worth noting. Paul goes, keeps his eyes open, sees some people - maybe working to rinse cloth, maybe sitting by the river. We don't know. But he sees them and goes and visits with them. Once you are in the place where you are to be you keep your eyes open and you meet people.  The idea here is to let the spirit lead you, open your eyes and heart to what is around you. See people for who they are, not who you want them to be. Enter into relationship honestly and openly.

The third thing is that God opens Lydia's heart...not Paul. This is very important. We think we MUST convert. This is not our work. Conversion is the work of God - not ours. We are simply to be about God's business in the world with our eyes open, clear about who we are, and willing to meet people where they are and allow God to do what God will do.

Paul and Lydia are opened to her baptism and so she and her whole house are baptised. This is important. The household would include many different kinds of people and it is very likely that the household did not all come to believe in the same way as Lydia - some had to do it because they were in Lydia's house. This is the fourth thing about mission that is important: there is no hierarchy of knowledge regarding Baptism. When you desire it you get it. Sometimes you may not even really know what you are doing. Paul I am sure helped them along with this. But, we cannot overlay some modernist/postmodernist form of Christian formation on top of baptism. The work of conversion and act of baptism are reflective by those who participate in it. We must go with the flow as it were.

The last thing is that often times we think we are to have people who come to baptism join us. Imagine a mission that is willing to go where the people live. Baptize them and then journey to their mission field, their home, their place of work rather than lifting them out of that format and putting them to work inside a church building. 

What happens in our story is that a new church of importance is planted in Philippi.

Ancient Mission for a New Context

1.  Go. Mission is a Person attentive to the Holy Spirit and a Place and dependance upon God.
2. Once you are in the place where you are to be you keep your eyes open and you meet people.
3. Conversion is the work of God - not ours.
4. There is no hierarchy of knowledge regarding Baptism.
5. Baptize them and then journey to their mission field, their home, their place of work rather than lifting them out of that format and putting them to work inside a church building. 

Easter 5C April 24, 2016


Quotes That Make Me Think


"This short text from John's gospel is like a glowing candle in the darkness, a command to love one another amid the realities of violence and betrayal as a continuation of Jesus' ministry in the world."
"Easter Erosion, Easter Explosion," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

"By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world."
"Let Jesus Show," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"One of the stunning parts of this text is the location. This passage comes on the heels of Judas leaving the other disciples at the last supper to betray Jesus."
Commentary, John 13:31-35, Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Loving god, the promise of the new Jerusalem is your home among us. Already in the new commandment of love you have begun to make all things new. As Jesus loved us, so we would love, that in the love we have for one another a new heaven and a new earth may dawn. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 13:31-35

Picture is of Poster entitled, "Beloved of God," printed
for 73rd General Convention
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday we have Jesus’ departure including his last words to his disciples before the trial and final hours of his life.

There are a number of very important theological and missional points to be considered in these last instructions to his disciples.

The first of these phrases is, “God has been glorified.” The glory of God is the primary, the ultimate, work of Jesus Christ. He is modeling for all humanity the work we are to undertake as creatures of God, and making it clear that our disobedience to this work dishonors our creator. “Glory”, according to Raymond Brown, “involves a visible manifestation of God’s majesty in acts of power.” (RB, John, Anchor Bible, vol 2, 606) This scriptural and textual view is important theologically. We, the creatures of God, are to work on God’s behalf. We are, through our lives as disciples of the most high God, are to manifest God’s majesty in the living out of our lives and in our relationships with one another.

The Biblical scholar George B. Caird wrote this about the understanding of this word "glory" and its meaning within the New Testament, and its meaning for theology: “Through Jesus God is held in honor by men.” “God is honored by Jesus,” through his obedience to God’s will. “God has won honor for himself in Jesus.” And, “God has revealed his glory in Jesus.” (Brown, 606)

Brown reminds us that Origen moved this concept towards Gnosticism because he associated it with knowing God. But the more ancient continuum throughout scripture upholds the idea that the purpose of all creation and humans especially, is to glorify God in word, action, and deed.

In verse 33 Jesus remarks to them, calling them children – as in his later greeting on the beach, and says that he will not be with them long. Moreover, that the work and the journey he is about to take is not for them, but for him alone.

Jesus gives this commandment 18 times in the last discourse in John. The statement is clear: Love one another.

We are to love one another as Jesus loves us. And the word chosen here is “must.” We must love as Jesus loved. This is our commandment. This is how we are to be known: as the ones who love one another.

Raymond Brown points out that over time Christian Apologists, all, “would call upon the impact made by Christian love as a standard argument for the superiority of Christianity.” (607) Today we make the case primarily on other grounds as this is not typically what comes to mind when one thinks about Christians in our culture or globally.

Raymond Brown writes the following:

Yet love is more than a commandment; it is a gift, and like the other gifts of the Christian dispensation it comes from the Father through Jesus to those who believe in him. In xv 9 we hear, “As the Father has love me, so have I loved you”; and both xiii 34 and xv 12 the “as I have love you” emphasizes that Jesus is the source of the Christians’ love for one another. (Only secondarily does it refer to Jesus as the standard of Christian love.) The love that Jesus has for his followers is not only affective but also effective; it brings about their salvation. It is expressed in his laying down his life, an act of love that gives life to men. This is well expressed in Rev I 5: “…the one who loves us and has delivered or washed us from our sins.” We should also stress that the “love of one another” of which the Johannine Jesus speaks is love between Christians. In our own times a frequent ideal is the love of all men, enunciated in terms of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Such a maxim has some biblical basis in the creation of all men by God, but the idea is not Johannine. For John, God is a Father only to those who believe in His Son and who are begotten as God’s children by the Spirit in Baptism. The “one another” that the Christian is to love is correctly defined in I John iii 14 as “our brothers,” that is those within the community.

It seems to me that the Christian community who is not able to primarily engage in the commandment to love one another will be unable to be a missionary community into a world looking and searching for vessels of God’s love. The church that cannot be a sacrament of God’s love for those within first, and those without second, ceases to reflect the glory of God as intended by God for God’s pleasure, and for humanities mutual benefit, and for the salvation of creation.  Loving our neighbor is the primary way in which those who follow Jesus glorify God.


Some Thoughts on Revelation 21:1-5


Resources for Sunday's Epistle



We continue the longest series of readings from the book of Revelation this week.  In today's passage the vision is of a new heaven and new earth.  The first things have passed away.

As a number of theologians point out the book of Revelation squarely places the kingdom of God's work on earth.  Rather than the heavens consuming the earth as in many other apocalyptic tradition the image and theme of Revelation is that heaven comes to earth; the fulfillment of the incarnation and the work of Jesus.

At the wedding at Cana of Galilee one can imagine the bride and groom and the many attendees gathered around enjoying the company of one another.  The image though of the bride of Christ given in the previous chapter is not a wedding feast where earth is brought into heaven and all rejoice.  It is instead an image of a beautiful and wondrous earthly city.  It is a place of hospitality to the stranger and  a place of rest for the weary pilgrim, and peace for God's people.  Tears are wiped away in this place and the world itself is transformed.

Such a city has been on the hearts and minds of Christians from Augustine to the slave, from the missionary to the persecuted.  It is found in the writings of William Blake and is present in the abolitionist and civil rights leader's voice.

In revelation we are not offered a future hope of heavenly bliss but a transformed earth.  The resurrection happens on earth and so to will the reign of God.  We can all think of the Armageddon images and films which promise some form of escapism from the world.  This is not quite the image we find in Revelation.  The earth is made new.  Not unlike the Christ after resurrection where he is more present, more real, than he was before the same may be said for the new earth.  The reign of God on earth will be more present and more real.  What has been seen only in part will be revealed in an even greater way.

The earth which has been sowed for power and ruled by authorities other than God will be changed.  It isn't so much that the earth or seas will be no more as they will no longer be used and corrupted by powers outside of the reign of God.  The earth that is made new is sustainable and God will provide for his people.  This will be a new world, remade, and reordered such that the power of Rome or Babylon cannot keep the waters of life from those who seek it.  This vision is transformative and promises a different world which will provide all that is needed for its population. The hungry and thirsty will receive good things to eat and drink.  The powers that have ruled the world and corrupted the creation and the creatures will no longer have dominion.

The city which John envisions comes down from heaven to earth is a sight for us all.  It is a revelation of a new earth; and the promise of a creation which supports bounteous life under the reign of a loving and providing God.


Some Thoughts on Acts 11:1-18


So when Christians get going and turn from being disciples into apostles, when they stop following the church organization and go out things get dicey. (Disciple means the one who follows, Apostle means the one who goes.) This is exactly what happens in this Acts lesson.

People are going out and doing the work of God, Peter is going out. And, those who were used to having faith a particular way with particular rituals don't like Peter's work. They accuse him of being to easy on these newbies. They accuse him of not offering a true faith. They will do most anything to keep Paul from advancing the mission of the Gospel of Christ.

This reveals that it is always the nature of the internal church, the predecessor church, to have difficulty with the mission evolution of the church within the varying and different contexts.

Here is Peter's defense is 7 part and really a good guide to mission engagement:

1. God directed him to see that things needed to change. In this particular case that it was okay to eat animals that were forbidden by the religion of the day.
2. God then taught Peter that things outside of a person and what they eat do not defile a person. We might remember Jesus' teaching that it is what comes out of the mouths of humans that defiles not what goes in. (Matthew 10:15ff)
3. God makes us clean, not our nature or our own work.
4. God helped me see I was to go with people who I had believed were unclean.
5. I didn't know what to say, but God helped me when the time came.
6. What we truly give one another is God's spirit.
7. I realized God was giving them his Spirit and so how could I get in the way of this.

The best part is that Luke writes, "When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, 'Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.'” The faithful in Jerusalem see that the expansion of the mission is good, that people are sharing a love of Christ, and are being empowered by the Holy Spirit, people are coming to Christ because they did not get in the way and Peter opened the way.

Peter literally fulfills Jesus' own words when he lets it be known that his followers are not to lord it over them. Jesus says in Matthew 23, be  careful not to be like so many religious leaders, "they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others..." Peter enters the mission field and does not tie up heavy burdens on those he finds there. Luckily the faithful in the predecessor church also realize that this is not their work. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter 4C April 17, 2016


Quotes That Make Me Think

"You are preaching this text to people who have known hard times, who have been afflicted by disease and lost loved ones, who have been addicted and known loss, who have not felt protected from loved ones who abuse or belittle them. This is the context into which we are called to bring the Gospel message of peace and grace."
Commentary, John 10:22-30 (Easter 4C), Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"The challenge for most mainline Christians is not following Jesus. We've been taught pretty well about that. The challenge for us is recognizing Jesus' voice."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 10:22-30, David Ewart, 2010.

"I want to suggest that the connection in this text on Good Shepherd Sunday, particularly for the clergy, is not that we are the shepherds, good, bad, or indifferent, but that we are among the sheep."
"Good Shepherd, Good Sheep," Peter J. Gomes, Currents in Theology and Mission, 2003.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Part of the great multitude no one can count, we gather O God, and attend to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Keep us safe in those arms from which no one can snatch us, that we may proclaim your word in peace until at last we stand before the Lamb, whith songs of praise on our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 10:22-30

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We arrive this Sunday at Good Shepherd Sunday, and are given a great theological and ecclesiological metaphor for our relationship with Jesus Christ.

At first glance, I am struck by a few things to help me discern how to preach and teach on Jesus’ words to the people in the Temple portico. Is the festival of the Dedication important in the story? How does this ritual tie into the teaching of Jesus at this moment? The children of Abraham-the Jews-want a straight answer about Jesus’ messiah-ship, what are they seeking to know? Why does Jesus say they are not his sheep? What does it mean to be a sheep of Jesus’? Are we one with God in our connection to the shepherd? Are there ecclesiological challenges posed by this that live themselves out in our liturgy and common life together?

So, let’s turn to the text. Is the festival of the Dedication important in the story? How does this ritual tie into the teaching of Jesus at this moment? This feast in the Jewish calendar is the feast of Hanukkah, which remembers the night in the midst of the Maccabean victories when Judas Maccabeus drove out the Syrians who had desecrated the altar. He then built a new altar and the feast remembers the consecration of that altar. It had come to symbolize a renewal of the people and their dedication. In some way the answer to my proposition may be that we recognize that as the Temple is being renewed, and the worshippers gathered being renewed, Jesus stands before them offering renewal of a different kind. Will they see that this is passing away as the “bride groom” stands in their midst--no need for an intermediary any longer?

I am reminded of Abram who journeys out from the land of Ur of the Chaldeans and along his way erects altars to God renewing his commitment to the God who had called him forth. In some way I wonder how Jesus, as the high priest who stands at his table Sunday after Sunday, offers an image and the very real opportunity for rededication to God, which an altar far away in a foreign land does not. The unique nature of Christian communities at worship is the presence, not of a priest, but of Christ. I will come back to this in a minute.

The children of Abraham, the Jews, want a straight answer about Jesus’ messiah-ship, what are they seeking to know? When they say they are in suspense, they literally mean “taking away our life” (R. Brown, John, vol. 1, 403). Raymond Brown suggests in his text that John is himself implying that in laying down Jesus’ life, he is taking something away from these people (403). There is a definite conflict building at this point in the Gospel narrative between Jesus and those who choose not to follow. I can imagine the anxiety building and the desire to be certain before choosing which path to follow that is before these good people who are trying to decide just what they are supposed to do as good religious people.

Why does Jesus say they are not his sheep? What does it mean to be a sheep of Jesus?

It is clear throughout the Gospel of John that those who do not bear witness to Christ are not followers of Christ; perhaps Jesus is saying no more or less than this? In the midst of this celebration of rededication one can imagine the juxtaposition of Jesus and his ministry as the Way and the renewal of a former way of worshiping and practicing one’s faith through life falling away.

Are we one with God in our connection to the shepherd? Jesus is clear that he is one with the Father, his ministry is given to him by the Father, and the sheep are his only through the Father.

Raymond Brown summarizes this passage well with these words:

To hear the voice of Jesus one must be “of God”, and “of the truth.” While this dualistic separation of Jesus’ audience into two groups is clearer in John than in the Synoptics, we should not that in Matthew 16:16-17 what enables Peter to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Son of God is the revelation Peter has from the Father. In Johannine terminology Peter and the other members of the Twelve are sheep given to Jesus by the Father, and so they hear his voice and know who he is. Those in John wo do not hear are like those in the Synoptics who hear the parables but do not understand…Jeremias [Joachim Jeremias, German Lutheran New Testament scholar and theologian] seems to do more justice to the whole – the community of his followers which after his death developed into the primitive Christian community (Acts 20:28-29; I Peter 5:3; I Clement 44:3, 56:2).

Are there ecclesiological challenges posed by this that live themselves out in our liturgy and common life together? We often get so focused on who is “in” and who is “out” in this passage we miss an important part of Jesus’ teaching, and an important part of theological history and ecclesiological life. It’s clear that those who follow Jesus follow him because-to use a modern term-his voice calling them by name resonates in their hearts. Out of the recognition that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, followers proclaim he is such, and shape their lives in keeping with Jesus’ ministry.

As we step into our worshiping communities on Sunday with Jesus’ words in our minds, we are conscience of the fact that we are all sheep under the one Shepherd. This is true. It is also true that, as Christians, we emulate and attempt to practice the faith of Christ and so we engage in the work of shepherding too.

If we take a liturgical example from the writings of the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, we see that Christ is the great high priest and is the celebrant of the Eucharistic feast in all places. The bishop is the primary symbol for the church of Christ’s presence at the altar. The priest is the regular symbol of the bishop and then of Christ at the altar. (I admit this is a far simpler and less aesthetically pleasing rehearsal of Zizioulas’ thoughts.)

I believe a similar symbology might be applied to the work of shepherding. Christ is the great Shepherd of the sheep. Christ models shepherding for us. The bishop is the chief symbol of Christ’s work as the head of the local community and shepherd of the sheep of a diocese. The priests in turn are the on the ground shepherds in the congregations. But I would add that the people are also shepherds, the baptized community who proclaims Jesus Christ is the symbol of the shepherd in the world.

We do a similar thing with the Body of Christ theology when we say we are the body of Christ in the world. What I am struggling to get to is the idea that all of us often get so caught up in being sheep we don’t realize that we are the everyday, hour by hour, shepherds sent into the world to gather in the others. We are the ones seeking the 1 in 99. We are to be the ones who share in the work of holding the sheep tight and safely when danger comes. We are the shepherds who cannot flee when the going gets rough. We are the gates most people find when they enter community.

Moreover, there are many sheep not yet gathered in. There are sheep not in this sheepfold. And, while they may not even know the shepherd's voice, he is none the less, shepherd of them.

Everyone who goes to church has the opportunity the rest of the week to take what is learned from the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, and to engage in the practice of shepherding Christ’s flock in the world - all of the flock. Caring alike for the found and the lost, those in deep valleys and those seeking green pastures.

Who are the shepherds and who are the sheep in this video of mission, ministry, and stewardship? Sheep and shepherds all?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMsD4ohwGMs


As in the first century people are at times concerned about what will happen in the time of judgment.

The author of Revelation describes the scene of the end time using symbols filled with meaning for the first century Christian: God's throne, the lamb, patriarchs and prophets, and the lamb.

There will be catastrophes and calamities.

On the one hand the passage tells people if they are God fearers they will be ok, they are the elect - this will include both the Christians and the Jews. So, don't worry.

The world that is next is a world where there will be one great liturgy and people will worship God.

As you well know the book of Revelation was contested and had difficulty becoming part of the canon. This is because the author is using both images of the present day and is having a prophetic dream about what may come to pass.

The problems in my opinion far outweigh the gifts of the text for everyday life. It helps to continue to focus our attention on those who belong to the church vs the mission of the church. It creates an us vs them perspective. It can be used to justify violence and our own ideas about judgement.

It is a text of hope at the same time. It reminds us that evil and death will not triumph, God will in the end be victorious.

I think this is really the message of Revelation: the powers of this world, regardless if we are talking about ancient Rome or the powers of the world today - will not have the last word. God who spoke in the beginning will speak in the end. All will be drawn to him.

And, all the petty sins and all the great sins will be washed away in his presence.

I believe that if you can imagine the "next life" (as Barbara Cawthorne Crafton would say) where all of the petty and great sins of the world can stand in the presence of God, all the resentments carried into the presence of God...well then, you have created a God of your own imagining. I believe, nothing will have any power in the presence of God. Sins will be washed away. Powers of this world will be washed away. Death will be washed away. Evil will be washed away. Our own desire for self will be washed away. All shall be drawn into God. That is very hopeful indeed.


Some Thoughts on Acts 9:36-43


Resources for Sunday's Lesson

In our book of Acts we are following the apostle Peter. Jesus has sent the disciples out into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. They are going - this is the literal meaning of apostle. They are not locked in an upper room. They are on the road and out in the world. 

He is meeting people and healing people. He ends up visiting Joppa. Not unlike the ancient prophets, Jesus was seen in the story of the gospel of Luke in the great line of prophets healing the sick and raising the dead. So too the disciples carry on this ministry.  
 
Peter goes to Tabitha and raises her from the dead. This action leads many people to understand the power of faith in Christ Jesus. 

What is important here is that Peter is going into the world. He is engaging people who are considered unclean (a person who deals with animal skins for instance). He is touching the dead (which is forbidden). He is doing works of great power just as Jesus had invited them to do when he sent out the 12 and the 70 to do the work of God in and amongst the people.

We have claimed that we are to go out into the world, the great commission, sometimes though I wonder if we haven't simply gone out and then built buildings and turned inward facing. The passages from Acts during this season remind me that the society of the friends of Jesus were truly out and about with people. This was where the energy of the Christian movement was found in those days following the resurrection.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter 3C April 10, 2016


Quotes That Make Me Think

"Embrace the reality of the fishermen doing something that might seem absurd to others and one who denied the Lord to become the rock that leads a church."
Commentary, John 21:1-19, Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"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.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

With a canticle of praise, O God enthroned in glory, we join every creature in worshiping the Lamb, Jesus who is alive among us and who invites us to this meal. Grant that we may stretch out our hands to fulfill in lives of service the love our lips profess.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 21:1-19
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue through our Easter season readings of John’s Gospel. The passage opens up a week later, or a little later than the previous resurrection accounts. Jesus reveals himself again. The image in Greek is one that moves from obscurity to reality, as in the other resurrection accounts. (R. Brown, John, vol II, 1067) Jesus is not only present but more certainly and powerfully so. The disciples have returned to the sea of Tiberias. They are there in the same location as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, a miracle of multiplication. We are given then a list of the shore party: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Sons of Zebedee and a couple of others.

Simon Peter goes fishing and the rest join in. Some scholars spend a lot of time wondering why Nathanael might go with them to fish as he was a man from the hill country. I did not grow up on water, but love to fish. Perhaps these scholars just aren’t fishermen. Besides, who knows…perhaps Nathanael was a fly fisherman and wanted to see what this was all about?

They fish at night and they catch nothing. Those who know about fishing the Sea of Galilee (I once had a Texas A&M professor come and speak about ancient fishing on the sea of Galilee) note that night fishing was practiced and even the best the time to fish.

As the sun is rising Jesus appears on the shore. His appearance, his revelation to them, is mysterious; so very much so that they do not recognize him. Scholars use this portion of the text to elevate the criticism that this is a redactor of John’s Gospel, because they would have recognized him after the several appearances. They link this to the grammar and Greek vocabulary that does not match John’s.

Jesus calls out to them, “Lads” or “Children.” You haven’t caught any fish have you? We have here a tender moment, a fatherly moment. Jesus is calling to friends and disciples, students and followers with whom he has traveled, lived, and shepherded. (Note in a similar account in Luke he simply asks for something to eat.) Here Jesus invites them to cast their net. Is this going to be another multiplication account? Jesus tells them to cast on the right side of the boat and they will find something. Raymond Brown reminds us that Cyril of Alexandria and others insert, “But they said, ‘Master, we worked all night and took nothing; but in your name word we shall cast.’” Borrowing from Luke I imagine, Cyril’s words capture the frustration these weary fishermen might have felt…remember they don’t know it is Jesus.

Some scholars have tried to dismiss the miracle by suggesting that from Jesus’ vantage point perhaps he could see a school of fish feeding or rising. I think this is tampering with the story.

Of course they haul in a tremendous number of fish. In the multiplication of fish Jesus is recognized and Peter jumps in the water. (Some scholars believe that the redactor using the words “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a modifier for Peter, reveals our writer to be one of Peter’s disciples.

Peter throws on some clothes and jumps in the water. Seems odd to get your clothes and jump in. However, fishing at night and the particular kind of diving need to fish in the manner in which they were working required the men to be unclothed – according to my Aggie Nautical Archeologist friend. So, as Peter is going ashore he gets his clothes and goes.

The word that stands out though is the action word for jumped in the sea. Peter throws himself in the sea and swims to the shore. This heightens the sense of excitement at the appearance and revelation of the Lord.

The rest arrive by boat, towing the nets and landing the boat themselves.

There is a charcoal fire and fish and bread. Jesus invites them to eat and breaks the bread and shares the fish. He feeds the disciples. They appear unsure, he is different, changed.

There are two powerful symbols to be played with here. The first is the apostolic mission and the multiplication miracle. It is clear that the risen Christ gives the mission and directs the work. Alone a disciple can do little, but with the risen Christ a disciple may discover not only fields in need of tending but plentiful waters for fishing. The second image present is that of the risen Christ as giver. The Lord is the giver of the Eucharistic feast which feeds the body and the spirit for the journey. The charcoal fire and the breaking of bread cement this image in today’s Gospel lesson. We recognize the risen Christ in the Eucharistic meal – one that takes place out in the world an not behind the locked doors of the upper room.

Both of these revelatory pieces of the same resurrection account say to us something of the ecclesial nature of the first community of followers that was forming post Easter and it says something about he ecclesiological nature of our own communion today. Peter’s throwing himself in to the baptismal waters and the communion meal are central to the life of the missionary disciple. Furthermore, they remain central in our life today. We are brought through the waters of baptism to the heavenly shore to partake in a heavenly banquet.

Tertullian gives us a wonderful quote, “But we little fish, who are so named in the image of our ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in water and only by staying in the water are we saved.”

This unique addition to John’s Gospel is filled with imagery about sin and death, baptism, Eucharistic theology, and discipleship.



As last week we have the beautiful image of power and authority. The throne and those around it provide a window into the mind of the evangelist and prophet. God's heavenly reign is surrounded by the thousands and thousands who worship and give voice in heaven to what we sing on earth: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Here in this strange place are what William Loader in his "First Thoughts Series" says is a, " pageantry of power and before us parade mysterious beings, elders, living creatures, thousands upon thousands of angels. It is awesome. The poetry of the images evokes wonder or, at least, that is its design. It is so overwhelming (and strange) that we can easily forget that it is imagery. It is imagination's movie crafted to express and reflect the wonderful being of God. Awe before another human being is not at its best an issue of subservience but of love and respect. It is acknowledging the holiness of the other in wonder. With God it is no less. It is letting ourselves have space to meet and engage God's being."

The evangelist hears, "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing." The image and sounds offered as our own imagination catches up are such that we are moved to understand the praise and worship of God. John's vision on Patmos gives images and words to our own inner desire to find and worship the God who has made the heavens and earth and set the planets in their courses.

The response of those in God's midst mirror for us what our response is to be before this God above all gods who is sovereign of all. For they say and sing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” Their actions mirror our worship action of bowing before our God, "the elders fell down and worshiped."

I am mindful a power image that comes to my own mind of those good people who kneel in humility and poverty and who are invited to stand by God and to understand the power of this world which subverts their dignity has no authority over them any longer. I am also struck by the power of those with great wealth and power who are humbled by God and instead of standing which is their social right kneel before their maker.

Here is the topsy turvy world of the Gospel. Both actions and invitations are images of this God. Loader in his First Thoughts has a sense of this mixed imagery:

"The image of Jesus has a way of subverting such systems. Our passage is heavily influenced by the scene in Daniel 7:9-14) where a human figure, "one like a son of man", who represents and leads the people of Israel comes to the holy throne of God which is surrounded by countless hosts of angels, to receive a kingdom. Much of Revelation is a recycling of biblical motifs which come to us through the dreamlike images of the writer. In this case the one to receive a scroll from the God is announced first as the lion of Judah and the root of David (5:4-5), but enters the scene as a slain lamb. It is an extraordinary violation of the norms of power and dignity. The one most highly honoured is a lamb looking as if it had been been slaughtered - because it had been (5:6)! Something quite bizarre! The lamb receives the scroll whose seals control all that matters (5:7)."
Yes indeed, worthy is this lamb who humbles some and dignifies others, who invites some to stand and others to kneel.  Our God is both lion and lamb.  Our God is the beginning and the end.  Our God is our own beginning and our own end.  How will you approach the throne of grace this Sunday? On your knees or standing?



Some Thoughts on Acts 9:1-20


Resources for Sunday's First Lesson

We know from Paul's writing that he had a great experience at the hands of God. He had a conversion experience. We know that Paul has a huge influence on Luke/Acts. And, we also know that Luke is keen to show the continuation of the tradition of Israel in the new Christian community. Who better as an illustration than brother Paul.

Here is the problem with this passage and what we do with it. We either make it about persecution of the flock, and thereby a persecution of Christ. This allows us to be on the Christ side of things. It automatically places us on the inside and those who are on the outside not one of us. It further lets us off the hook for any bad behavior on our part. After all we are on the side of Jesus.

Second, we make this about conversion into something, that is the flock of Christ, a holy people of God. This further complicates things because it makes us special and those outside of our clan not special. It creates a situation where those who are converted are our true neighbor and those who are not converted are removed from neighborly status.

We may even make this passage about Ananias' witness and his acts of kindness towards Paul as an implied action for Christians. In other words we should be like Ananias. The problem with that is multi-dimensional. It is a problem because it reinforces that we are to be kind to those who are converted. It makes the Gospel about good behavior. And, finally, it reduces the acts of Ananias to kindnesses. 

Father Farrar Capon has a passage which relates to this very model I have described. In his book The Mystery of Christ, he writes, "...In building this theological model you’re also done something else. You have opened yourself to the idea that the church is the Fellowship of those who have the gift and that the rest of the world is just a crowd of outcasts who don’t have it. Even though you may go on saying in church that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, you are actually holding that he has taken away only the sins of the church. And from there, you are in danger of waltzing yourself into the position that the world at large is damned unless it joins the church, and that even the children of Christians will go to hell if they are not baptized – and so on and on, right into the theological house of horrors that all too many people actually thing is the household of faith." (p 25)
I think that in order to reclaim this passage from a churchly perspective or a perspective of morality, about good behavior, we must understand that Luke has told the story within the frame work of Jesus' teaching on the Samaritan. (Luke 10.25ff)  And, we must read as Jesus' intended with the passion at its center. So it is that Paul has been undertaking a war of passion on the followers of Jesu and upon Christ, he then undergoes his own passion - and resurrection (the being stricken and blinded), and so we see that Paul himself becomes not only an image of the man who fell among bandits but of Jesus himself. Here then we see that Ananias is not simply doing something nice as a neighbor. NO! Ananias enters into the passion of Paul. He crucifies his desire to hate and not to dismiss this enemy as outside the family of God but to embrace him. He crucifies his desire to do and be somewhere else but with this enemy of faith and instead inconveniences himself to go and be with Paul. Ananias must crucify all his understanding that God only choses good clean people as "instruments of his mission. Ananias must crucify his idea that following Jesus was only meant for the Jews and not for the gentiles - those who do not belong to the family of God and that the very enemy of the Christians was going to be the one to open wide the family of God to all people. He must crucify the idea that touching him and healing Paul will look bad in the eyes of his fellow community members. He must crucify the part inside of him that will not wish to care for Paul. And, yet Ananias cares for him until he regains his strength - further crucifying his convenience for the passion bearer. And, we are told that they eat together, a most intimate act. Ananias must crucify the idea of who can sit at table with him and who cannot. 

The story of the Paul and Ananias reveals that to be in relationship with the mystery of Christ is not to create some kind of churchly morality but instead to be with people in the midst of their passion and to experience with them the passion - in so doing we experience the passion of Jesus. We are living into the death of self, to the death of the world, and in living into the passion we discover Easter and resurrection. For in experiencing one another's passion new life is experienced by both Paul and Ananias.


A Sermon on the Conversion of Paul, Preached 2016 at Duke


We have an addiction, clergy and laity alike, an addiction to church, and consequently the persecution and disempowering of anything that does not resemble church
And, this addiction to Church means that we read (we cannot help but read) the scriptures through the lens of CHURCH

That structure, model, of Church that we have received

So it is we read everything through the eyes of a church, with a building, parking lot, deferred maintenance, regular attendance, budget, annual stewardship campaign, programs, and outreach – you know – church

Church has been stealing Jesus’ gospel for quite some time now, and making God’s invitation to conversion very difficult to hear

So it is that when we come to passages like we do today we place our selves (church) in the seat of those being persecuted

In this way we can be thankful we are not like Paul or his friends and that we are not frustrating the mission of God in Christ Jesus

When we do this, and we do it all the time, we miss the very difficult prophetic words of God to the religious leaders of the first century: Why are you persecuting my mission? It hurts me when you kick against the goads!

We the church, in our time, in our context, are not Paul post conversion but Paul pre conversion.

Here then there is much for us.

We hunger for the priestly power and authority.

We disempower any and all who would have us see a different way of being Christian community.

We smile and nod politely at the idea of new and different mission, in homes, in Laundromats, in bars, in restaurants and public space

We protect our pharisaical understanding of authorized spaces and liturgies

We are quick to explain how that isn’t really church

We disregard those who offer new paradigms for mission – for service and evangelism.

We are focused on our temples alone and their self-supporting economies.

We do not hang out with widows, orphans, sinners and the lost sheep but judge them.

We create spiritual yokes and heavy burdens suggesting everyone should become a new kind of monk or pilgrim.

We like our robes and parades, to be called father and teacher, and we are zealous for the teachings and traditions of our denominational ancestors.

And, God, like the woman and the lost coin, looks inside our churches and hunts with a bright light for the gospel, intended for God’s people, but now beneath some outdated furniture.

Oh how God will rejoice when the church – the body of Christ – once again remembers its vocation and leaves its buildings and goes out into the world.
When the church sees the bright light on its midday road

And, understands it is being sent to those unlike itself.

Sent by the spirit to bring good news to the poor

Sent to visit and help free the bound and imprisoned,

Sent to feed the hungry and lift off the burdens of this world and our old faith

To heal the blind and sick and care for the widow and orphan

To invite the brokenhearted to find hope

And the sinful to find forgiveness

To live and work hand in hand with the gentiles of our day.

To partner with them, learn from them, and perhaps even be converted by God through them
To see that it is no church of Jesus when it hides away behind doors seemingly locked to the world around it…

Oh, when the people who call themselves church, see the light and are found and remember their gospel work…oh how the old woman God will laugh and dance and call all the world to rejoice. And, say, look what was lost has been found.

Only here then do we then contemplate the post conversion mission of Paul.

Only after a time of healing and coming to see again, in a new way, does he go here and there and uphold a vision of Christ like community – completely unidentifiable from the old religion he once defended.

Here then we see the faithful follower turned apostle, the one who was a temple disciple re-oriented, turned apostle of faith, uncomfortably sent to those unlike himself.

Here then is a mission reinterpreted. Our scales drop from our eyes.

We are able to hear Jesus’ words from Matthew…there is something more here, greater here, than the temple.

We understand better our being sent by the holy spirit, our traveling light and dependence upon God and the grace and hospitality of others.

We are able to see that our call like Paul is to go and nurture the seeds of Christ already sown by God in a world hungry for the experience of transcendence.

We realize we are to use our relationships and the situations in which we find ourselves bound - to offer a vision of God’s love and the benefit of prayer, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

We are to interpret the gospel through the cultural symbols and metaphors we find in our very context. Like Paul and the unnamed God of the Athenians.

After all Paul didn’t go to Athens saying I have developed a theology about God, and have a great idea of how I can convert people, all I have to do is find a place with an unnamed God in which to practice what I have learned.

No, he looks around him and sees an idol and, rather than denounce it, uses it to proclaim the gospel.

He empowers others and sends them out.

He encourages house churches, and synagogue communities, and travels to plant, and sow, and tend, and weed, and feed the growing numbers of followers who claim God in Christ Jesus.

He battles against any who seek to worship idols, he withstands imprisonments, snake bites, and stormy seas. Paul’s tenacious mission is nothing less than undaunted courage.

Paul’s is indeed a conversion from temple protector to missionary tent maker.

As the religious leaders of our day God invites us to see and understand that we are being called to just such a conversion, called to stop frustrating the mission of Christ to the world.

God doesn’t need us to protect God’s mission or god’s self. God shines a light on our own sinful desire to ensure the long life of tearing temple curtains and beckons us come and go, be converted, remember your calling, stop kicking and start walking.

For upon seeing clearly, in the midday light, with the scales falling form our eyes, I believe the church can and will, like Paul, set aside disobedience and once again catch God’s heavenly vision.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter 2C April 3, 2016


Quotes That Make Me Think


"Even though he said the greater blessing is for those who can believe without seeing, it's hard to imagine that there's a believer anywhere who wouldn't have traded places with Thomas, given the chance, and seen that face and heard that voice and touched those ruined hands."

"Thomas," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"...so now I think it’s not so much that Jesus is rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us."

"The Never-Ending Story," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

On this Lord’s Day, we come together, O God, to proclaim the Living One, the First and the Last, who was dead, but now is forever alive. Open our hearts to the Spirit Jesus breathes on us. Help us, who have not seen, to believe; send us, as you have sent Jesus, to greet the world with the Easter word of peace and to share with all the Spirit’s new life of forgiveness. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


As we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of our gatherings and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertaken on his behalf.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week” suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

Brown’s notes follow from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshippers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).

In the end Brown believes this is a secondary development, nevertheless one of interest.

So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday.

We begin with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cuing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. Just as God sent me I am sending you. We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes, “Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission.” (1040-1044) This is the recreation in action.

The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That is the point of the story.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

“Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (1046)

Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the original Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life.


Some Thoughts on Revelation 1:4-8



Here is what is about to happen: we are about to have a series of lessons from the Book of revelation.  This is it; there is nothing this long or this sequential at any other time in our preaching cycle. I am not yet sure I am brave enough to make it the topic of my preaching for the next couple of weeks but I am beginning to think it is worth it.  

The background is the tradition that this is written by John on Patmos and it is addressed to the "7 churches".  Of course this means that it is written to all churches (as he is at the time writing to all the churches).  A number of good commentaries will make this and other observations about the context.  

In the introductory verses we have a words quoted from Isaiah 44.6, "who is and who was and who is to come." This God is the Alpha and the Omega.  The seven spirits are from Isaiah 11.2ff.  The author bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead and ruler over all the earth.

Then there is the witness that Jesus loves us, that he frees us from sin, that we are made into a new community, and that we are (like priests) to serve him.  We are being, even now, drawn into a worshiping community which eventually will move from the world of time to everlasting glory forever and ever. 

These are the very themes of the whole text.  They make the mission of Jesus upon his return the event which will bring all of this to pass.  Upon his return all shall be transformed. "Amen.  Amen." This is the way it is going to be folks.  It reminds me of that Duck Dynasty picture I saw last week.

God is God and he has come, he is coming back, and he intends to bring about the recreation of the world.  

Walter Taylor, of Lutheran Seminary, writes:

"The Revelation lesson gives us an opening to talk about Christology in ways we may not have had on Easter. All or any one of the many titles of verse 5 could be explored. Taken together they outline a full Christology that includes life, death, resurrection, and present lordship. The Christological emphasis continues with the love of Christ and his freeing action by means of his death (verses 5b-6), and in verse 7 we look forward to the coming of Jesus as the final judge."

This is a great opportunity to think about with the congregation who this Christ is that we worship and what does he have to do with our living of lives in this particular world.


Luke in Acts is clear that he wants to show that the work of the apostles in the first generation were intent on keeping the mission of Jesus underway. They do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Luke is quick to show that they are the true inheritors of the religion of Zion.

So in this passage Peter and John have been arrested. They were preaching resurrection. The religious leaders of the day want to keep them quiet. Their plans to punish Peter and John are set aside for a while.

However, in the end the growth of the message and community dictates that action be taken. So it is that they are imprisoned for a short while until an angel sets them free. They go right back to preaching and teaching.

This preaching is clear that Jesus' mission and now the mission of the Holy Spirit is the same message as of old. This is the most recent work of the God of Israel. Luke adeptly puts words into the religious leader's mouths in order to reveal their culpability in Jesus' own death and to show that any oppression of this new message is more of the same.

I think there are a couple pitfalls here. First, do not scape goat the Jews. I have a long time ago tried to weed out this from my own teaching and instead talk about the religious leaders of the day. Second, you can easily fall into a missiology which says if you are faithful everything will be blessed by the Holy Spirit and your mission will grow. Some faithful missions grow some do not.

What I think is a powerful witness in this passage is that like Jesus the first followers attempt to reject power and authority of religion and instead focus on helping the poor. Sharing what they have. And, ministering to the community. This has real power in the midst of the community and is very much a part of what was so attractive to the original message of Jesus. Here we see a faithful continuity of a God who freed Egypt, freed Jesus, and brings freedom to the people even today. The Good News of the Gospel is not about something that happens in the life after this one. It is about a God who continues to act in the lives of people - transforming them and the community in which they live.

Lastly, notice that the religious leaders sit in council and people are brought to them. They are out of touch with their community. Notice instead where the apostles are. They are out in the world in relationship with people. They are in conversation and working with them to help serve the poor - the widows and orphans. They are not locked in an upper room, they are not sitting in a religious center of some kind, they are in relationship with real people, helping real people, and incarnating a community which is nothing less than a society of friends of Jesus.