Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Proper 22C / Ordinary 27C / Pentecost +20 October 2, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Pointing out one's failings is meant to lead to metanoeo -- perhaps most literally in this context to "re-think" the actions. metanoeo besides meaning "to repent" or "to change one's mind," which are part of the meaning here; but it also carries the sense "to perceive afterwards" or "to perceive too late". Sometimes the words or actions we thought were OK at the time, with hindsight were seen to have "missed the mark". Such insight is meant to lead to repentance and forgiveness."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"What is our value if it is not in what we achieve?"

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


"Instead of assuming that Jesus is promising that if our faith is big enough we will be able to do miracles, let's wonder if Jesus isn't chastising us for thinking in the first place that faith / trust comes in sizes."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 17:5-10, David Ewart, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

You hear, O God, the prayer of those whose faith is the size of a mustard seed. Give us humility of heart, that we may work with all our strength for the growth of your kingdom, yet recognize that we are yours, “doing what we were supposed to do”. You have called us in order to reveal to all the wonders your love has accomplished.  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 17:5-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Last week we had the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  How we live matters to God and it matters to Jesus. In this reading we learn we are to do what has been given to us to do. Let’s begin by looking closely at the text as our conversation with Jesus and his disciples continues to develop in this 17th chapter of Luke.

We cannot guess why the “apostles” ask Jesus to add to their faith. He has been teaching some very tough messages about stumbling blocks on the journey of faith and he’s been very direct with the religious leaders of the day. I can only imagine, especially after the message of accountability, that I, in their shoes, would ask the same thing. I might say, “Jesus what you say is hard. It is actually REALLY difficult. Give me faith to do these things … add to my faith.”

Jesus then gives the apostles and us the image of “faith as a mustard seed” with which to face the challenges of discipleship. If we had faith “like” a mustard seed the mulberry bush would obey us. Here we believe that it is about the size of the seed and not about the nature of the mustard seed.

The mustard plant is an aggressive weed which will take over and push out other crops if not carefully removed or contained within a garden. If you are not careful that tiny seed will grow and generate a whole garden of mustard. The rural people of Jesus’ time would have understood this immediately.

What Jesus means is if we had just a little faith it would spread and all of creation would obey us. In fact we might lean into the parabolic teaching a little here to believe that Jesus is saying we could, with just a little faith, be at work restoring one another and all of creation into the reign of God. Our work is to proclaim the Gospel of Salvation and the unique person of Jesus Christ and emulate his actions in the world, transforming and changing the world.

Like the “slave” or “servant” (both of which are unsuitable images in our modern context) we are bound or tethered to the work of God. As creatures of God we have been created to reflect the glory of God. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides the grace needed to overcome the obstacles to our work with God in creation; those obstacles are sin and death. Now that we have received the good news of Christ, we are to do as God has invited us: participate in the work of the divine trinity. We are to be a community in healthy relationship with one another, transforming the world around us that it may better serve God as was intended.

I am not talking about a return to some false Constantinian model of Christendom here. But we must meet the needs of the hungry, poor, oppressed and voiceless ones with whom Christ has a special relationship. We must return to a sustainable model of creation. These are stewardship themes that should rattle our cages at the very least.

It is at this point that we must recall the verses that come before in order to have greater clarity about God’s expectations of our faith and ministry:

We are not to be involved in scandal and if so we are to repent

We are not to cause others to stumble and if so we are to change our ways

Be accountable one to another and offer or seek out forgiveness

Luke Timothy Johnson describes this overall section in this way:

“First the reader has been schooled by this point to identify with ‘the poor’ who are called into the kingdom. The reader’s natural temptation is to assume that one is ‘Lazarus’ to the enemy’s ‘rich man.’ The rich man of the story ‘stumbled’ over the demand to share possessions, and did not repent. The community of the poor can easily see itself as pure victim. But the saying on the scandal and repentance turn the ethical demand on this community as well. Even in the kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. The demand placed by Jesus on his followers is that they are themselves responsible for both; they cannot plead innocence because they are oppressed by others. If they cause scandal, they will be punished for it. If they are sinned against, they must forgive.” (Luke, 261)
How often do we spend our time on one topic or another? We either devote a lot of time on our own needs and wants and how they are not met by others; or we spend time giving clarity to our perception of the problems outside in our culture or in the lives of others. Christians are called to live between the reign of God and the world of today. We are called to work on God’s behalf. I pray, “Heavenly father give us faith, add to our faith for the work God gives us to do is demanding. Give us some comfort Lord that we may repent when we need amendment of life and forgive when we are bound too tightly to the sin of others.” Like the pilgrims in the dessert waiting outside the caves, hoping for a word from the dessert monks, we shout, “Abba, Father, give us a Word.”


Some Thoughts on 2 Timothy 1:1-14


You may remember from seminary studies or readings or a PBS special on the Bible that more than likely the church being presented in 2 Timothy is not the church of Paul but rather one of the churches in the second generation after Paul. We have a more institutionalized church, a church that is well on its way to developing its core traditions and a church that feels directly in line with the work and mission of Paul. They are inheritors if you will of the tradition.

To this end our lesson today rehearses Paul's ministry with a typical introduction to his work. They see themselves not only in line with Paul's mission but the faith ancestry of the Jews.

Timothy is the recipient of this long lineage of faith.

What has happened recently though is that the faith of the church is waning and is in need of being rebirthed by the Holy Spirit.

Where to begin the author poses? Begin with the teachings and life of Jesus. God's incarnation is the core teaching of the faith and here we find not simply a body of faith or a doctrine but rather the spirit of life that will enliven the community. The author writes in Paul's name:
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
This is a great encouragement. What is needed is faith and the remembrance that just as Paul is with us so is Christ. It is none other than Christ that has called us and has appointed us to be the faithful in this age.

So too in our age, a much more institutionalized church, let us once again reclaim the mystery and remember God's presence. No matter what our circumstance God is present with us in Christ and through Christ's love. We are inheritors of the great faith and hope that was in Paul's generation and all the generations to come. We are the ones who today write the story of Timothy, in our time, in our context. What will the faith say about us and how we told and retold the story?


Some Thoughts on Lamentations 1:1-6


A word about lamentations. Lamentations is believed to be written while the Israelites have been carried off to Babylon. Scholars tell us that the songs were written back at home during the ensuing crisis. The songs are songs of morning for the loss of Jerusalem. There are five major sections to the text. These are laments, tears and songs and sadness.

The text compares Jerusalem to a widow who now is alone. Once a princess, a great woman, bejeweled, now she is a servant, slave, and vassal. 

This widow weeps with no one to comfort her. We are reminded that the city (the leaders and people) sought to play a power game with the nations around them only to be destroyed by them in the end. So now our widow weeps - for they treated her terribly. 

The lament proclaims:
Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. 6From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
So it is that: 
The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. 
To read the lament of Jerusalem is to enter into the deep pain of brothers and sisters. To hear another's lament is to understand and to feel with them. The words of lamentations could be said in any country today...in our own...in Israel...in Palestine...Iraq. The words are the words of countless widows, orphans, widowers, mothers and fathers left without sons and daughters.  The lament of today is a lament of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. What is our response? To wail and weep and lament with them at the loss.  Being present with those who are suffering is to love and care.

One of the greatest gifts to those who mourn is not a sunny face or empty hope or trite words...no it is abiding friendship that sits and is present in the lament. Here we find our common humanity.

Before peace, before the laying down of weapons, before the end of wars civil and global must always come the entering into of the pain and suffering of the other. Putting up with another, living with the other, is very different from being present with the other in their pain and suffering.

What does the Christian do? We lament. We remember, we learn the names, we lament and we pray.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Proper 21C / Ordinary 26C / Pentecost +19 September 25, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"How far may we push a parable? Should we regard parables as helpful fictions that open our imaginations to new possibilities, or should we approach them as condensed pedagogical vehicles designed to carry specific teachings?"

Commentary, Luke 16:19-31, Greg Carey, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"Nothing quite like a sermon about a rich guy going to hell just before the fall Stewardship campaign kicks off, is there? Seriously, though, the clarity of today's Gospel reading offers a stark contrast to the ambiguous, even confusing lection of last week. But what, precisely, is this passage clear about?"

"In God We Trust: God & Money, Pt. 2," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2010.

"A reversal at the outset of the story is that the beggar is given a name and the rich man is not. That single fact ought to alert us that the story we are about to hear is going have surprises in it."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 16:19-31, David Ewart, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
To the poor man of the parable, O God, your Son gave the name Lazarus, while the rich man’s only identity begins and ends with his wealth. Do justice for all who are oppressed. Put an end to humanity’s unbridled thoughtlessness. Let us cling to your word in Moses, the prophets and the gospels, so that we may be convinced that Christ is risen from the dead and be welcomed by you into your kingdom.We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Luke 16:19-31

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I cannot begin my reflection upon the story of Lazarus without pointing out the several verses that begin this pericope; without which I believe the context may indeed be lost.

Luke tells us that the “Pharisees were money lovers.” They were disdainful of Jesus and of his teachings about wealth and
stewardship. Jesus tells them that while they may justify their lives and manner of living in front of the people that God knows their hearts. No matter how society treats the privileged - God will see that they truly serve wealth and not God alone. Jesus also is clear that the reign of God, the kingdom, is now being proclaimed and all are being urged to enter it. Jesus then gives the words on divorce and how in God’s eyes it is adultery.

Scholars point out that “idolatry, money, and divorce are joined in the law by the term bdelygma.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 255) The word is translated from Greek into English with the meaning abomination, or abuse. Fornication is added to the list in the Qumran writings. (LTJ, 255) Jesus brings us all up short reminding us with these words of the singular focus upon God that is called for in the work of discipleship and how we cannot pretend piety when we also live a life of abuse.

I am not going to enter into the debate between Palagian and Augustine on the responsibility or depravity of human beings though this passage clearly touches on this theological theme. Nevertheless, these first words of the passage tell us that Jesus understands that his followers are to enter into virtuous living. The reign of God has a particular life that is lived and that life is one focused upon God. Those who reject the prophet will in turn be rejected by God.

I want to now remind us that Jesus is clear that John’s prophetic Gospel which begins with repentance and turning to the Lord are essential. Jesus says in this passage “the law and the prophets continue through John.” Luke Timothy Johnson believes that Jesus in the polemical speech may be challenging those who listen, and may be rhetorically asking, “Can those who love wealth even hear the law, the prophets, and the proclamation of the Gospel?” (255)

The way in which we might read the parable now of Lazarus is through the lens of these polemical teachings about life lived in the reign of God. It is in fact a teaching which illustrates the beatitudes themselves.

6:20 "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. "Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

The blessings and the woes are clearly illustrated in the characters of Lazarus and the wealthy man.

The parable continues past the result of lives lived and rewards received in Heaven. The rich man still wants Lazarus to serve him to serve his brothers. We then discover that the rich man was more than wealthy he was a hard hearted man for he did not pay any attention to Lazarus in their life together. Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us of the law laid out in the Talmud: “Whoever turns away his eyes from one who appeals for charity is considered as if he were serving idols.” (256).

I have over time heard a lot of sermons on this passage. Most of them shy away from the issue of rejection. Jesus is clear though if one rejects God in this life, if one rejects living in the reign of God in this life, if one rejects the work of the reign of God in this life one will be rejected in the life to come.

In some way I want to chart a clear path for the Christian response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are charged to live a virtuous life. We humans have a very difficult life living such a life devoted to others and to God. It is natural for us to be selfish and to seek our own desires over the desires of others. Yet we are in the end also responsible for our life and our living.

I am convinced that how we live our lives today affects how we live our lives in the reign of God (realized in this world and in the age to come). The blessing of the cross and the resurrection is not our free ticket out of jail, but rather the removal of the stumbling block of sin that we may serve others and God in the name of Jesus Christ. We are to live a glorious life of caring and service. This is the greatest narrative to be told, and the living of the tale is what will ultimately be what attracts others into relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like the Pharisees we must recognize and name all that separates us from the love of God, claim our own abominations and the chasm we have dug for ourselves. After the repentance of John is undertaken in response to the message of Christ then we must realize the life we have been given is for living. We must live our lives in Christ and live them for the Lazarus dwelling at our own city gate..

Now that you have accepted your redemption and promised to live a life of Christ open your eyes to those sitting at the gates around you. See their faces. Know their names. Change their lives. We are to do nothing less than bring into this world the reign of God that the Lazarus at our gates may begin life in the bosom of Abraham today.


Some Thoughts on I Timothy 6:6-19


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

In typical liturgical style we have skipped great portions of Paul's letter and now we draw to the end of the letter.  We get here to the meat of the call for reform from Paul.  He directly engages the Ephesian community on the topic of their wealth.

Paul says, "...those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains."

Paul offers a different view of the God follower.  The God follower pursue the following: "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness."  The followers of God "Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."  This is the difference between those who follow Jesus and those who follow money.

Paul of course in Timothy is talking about the false teachers. So, this passage is not simply about the follower of God in general.  It is mostly about the reality of the religious teachers who are teaching a false doctrine and trying to use it to gain wealth.  For Paul this is the most untenable and sinful situation.

This particular passage is directly focused not on the individual in the pew but rather the one in the pulpit! So...beware preaching to your people about how they use their wealth and remember that this passage is mostly directed at the religious practitioner.  This passage though bridges Paul's writing against the false teachers and his positive encouragement.  So, let us not stop at the part which raises a judgmental eye, let us instead continue on.

Paul says God gives life to all things.  Christ Jesus modeled how to confess the truth.  And these two things already dwell in the religious practitioner. Paul is saying you are made by God and you yourself bear witness to his truth.  God is light and and lord of all.  Your calling is to face bravely the rich.  You are to inspire them to set their hope on God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."  Inspire the rich in your midst, "to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share."  Preach these things and tell them that they are living in the realm of God, they are living upon the foundation of the reign of God.  Moreover when they live in this manner they will have life and have it abundantly.

What I find interesting is that Paul, while clear about the sinfulness/brokenness of the person who is wealthy and seeks their security and hope on wealth, he does not say to shame them.  Instead he urges inspiration. He urges face your people and invite them to do good work, to be know by their good works, to be generous, and share what they have.  These are the marks of the follower of God.  These are the marks that reveal us as followers of God.


Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 32:1-15


Resources for Sunday's Old Testament

Over the last month we have been preparing for the invasion. Nebuchadnezzar II into Judah and the Egyptian armies into the south. A puppet ruler is placed in power - Zedekiah. 

Jeremiah is imprisoned as a prophet in the line of Anathoth and as a deserter. He attempts to go home without luck and finds himself imprisoned.

And, while he is in under guard he takes the opportunity to purchase some land in his home town.

What is the meaning of all of this? Are these simply little factoids about his life and the crazy workings of kings and powers that swirl around as the plans of men are brought to their inevitable end in the triumph of Israel's enemies?

Perhaps the purchase of the land is itself an outward and visible sign that even as the destruction of the kingdoms is at hand, as was prophesied in last week's lesson, God is at work renewing the garden of Israel.

As Garrett Galvin, Old Testament professor and OSM at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., writes:
In the future just as God will watch over building and planting, God will also watch over a time when “all shall die for their own sins.” Jeremiah announces a freedom that takes us right back to the Garden of Eden. Everyone can make the same choice as Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or not. We find here a reversal of the downward spiral of sin initiated in the primeval history of Genesis. 
Commentators have noted the eschatological nature of the renewal found in the new covenant of verses 31-34. This eschatology can easily be seen as conditioned by the goodness of creation found at the beginning of Genesis. Protology is eschatology and eschatology is protology. Earlier in this chapter, Jeremiah has announced that God “has created a new thing on the earth” (Jeremiah 31:22). Now we hear of a new covenant in verse 31. The Bible invokes the theme of newness repeatedly in another important eschatological book: Revelation (see 21:1, 2, 5). Jeremiah invokes God’s goodness to Israel in the exodus from Egypt, but not even this goodness is enough to understand what God will do. We can easily imagine this new covenant initiating a new beginning like after the flood and Noah’s ark.

Frank M. Yamada, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at McCormick Theological Seminary, offers that our witness to the land deal is actually not only a witness to legal purpose, but a witness to the purposes of God being set into place even as the hoard is at the gate. This is a tangible sign of the promise Galvin speaks of and Jeremiah prophesies.

The detail in verses 16--25 has a meaningful function in this text. It not only shows the complete extent to which Jeremiah has fulfilled the instruction of the LORD--a perfect obedience. Jeremiah's meticulous fulfillment of this command also points to the prophet's and God's careful attention to a future that is still very distant and hard to see given the current circumstances. This hope is as certain as the Babylonian armies that are at the gate. Thus, the observers of this transaction are not there simply to verify the purchase of land. They are witnesses to the future that the LORD has announced through Jeremiah's prophetic action.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Proper 20C / Ordinary 25C / Pentecost +18 September 18, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Commentators routinely remark that the parable of the Dishonest (Corrupt) Manager stands among the most challenging texts in the New Testament, often regarding it as the most perplexing of Jesus' parables."

Commentary, Luke 16:1-13, Greg Carey, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"While it is naïve to read into Jesus? teaching our perceptions of the complexities of economic exploitation - we can let Jesus stay in the first century uncolonised by our insights - nevertheless the proclamation of the kingdom was meant to be good news for these poor and bring them blessing. How can you assert these things as God's priorities and not address what is going on?"

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Let the sincerity of our worship be matched by the depth of our commitment to justice. In a world where money rules supreme, may you alone be our master, and may we find our delight in serving each other. 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 16:1-13

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday’s lesson is directed not at the crowds who are following Jesus and not at his detractors but rather at his disciples. This is clearly a discussion with those who have already chosen to follow Jesus and are searching for an understanding of expectations and the work that lies before them.

Clarity in expectations is very important. However, I would venture to guess that most of lean on our forgiveness of such expectations more than we do live into the expectations of the reign of God. This is perhaps the reason why this Sunday’s Gospel is difficult to hear and difficult to preach.

As scholars point out there are a number of difficult issues. Luke Timothy Johnson lays before us a couple of issues to be dealt with:

1. Where does the parable end and the moral lesson begin?
2. What is the nature of the steward’s action? Did he sacrifice something in his actions or is he continuing his same old dishonest ways?
3. Is this parable connected by a loose list of moral teachings or is there one overarching theme? (LTJ, Luke, 247)

If we go back to the text and set these difficult textual and critical issues aside for a moment we might gain some clarity. So, reread the text, and lets begin again.

We are to be stewards this is clear and a perennial theme throughout Jesus’ message, especially in the Gospel of Luke. This seems simple enough.

Jesus has turned his attention from the Pharisees and scribes to his disciples. Jesus seems to imply that the trouble with his detractors is the same with this steward – they have misused what is entrusted to them: the community of God.

Jesus offers then an understanding of what his followers should be doing. They should be proactively responsible and not squander. They should be proactive in lessening the burden of their neighbors.

When we hold on to, squander, or misuse what is given to us as God’s stewards in this world then we separate ourselves from God through the misuse of “mammon.”

If we give away, loosen the burden of others, care and tend what is given to us then we build up and strengthen our relationship with God and secure our place in the reign of God.
The other day I read a headline, “The earth does not care what we do with it.” This is true in a very real sense. The earth does not have feelings and in fact will regenerate itself if we wipe out civilization through human ineptitude. However, as Christians we understand that God does care. God does have expectations of us. I know these are human words to describe our relationship with God, but they are Jesus’ words. We are given as stewards all of creation and a tremendous number of relationships. What we do with them does matter.

How we are stewards matters for us and our lives in this world. And, it matters in our lives in the world to come – this is Jesus’ message in Luke’s Gospel.

The story of the dishonest steward gives us each an opportunity to look at how we use what is given to us. How do we use creation? How do we use the Gospel? How do we use the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? How do we use our lives? How do we use our bodies? How do we use our relationships? How do we greet people who are God’s own? How do we treat one another? How do we lessen the burden of others? Or heap on the burden of others? What we say, what we write, what we spend, how we act matters to God and it matters in the reign of God.

You and I like the disciples are already confronted with the “visitation of our Lord.” We know the expectations and today we are called to make an account. Are we ready?


Some Thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:1-8


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Our second Sunday of reading from I Timothy brings us to the topic of worship: "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings."  He says these are to be made for everyone and offers a brief list. Our own Episcopal form of public prayers takes this very ancient model into consideration as it to offers prayers for leaders of church and state, and every kind of condition.

For Paul, and rooted deep in our own liturgical practice, there is no separate world and church world.  Everything is unified and God is Lord of all.  Interesting too is the notion that Paul and other Christians of his era did not have a symbolic world view as developed as our own Western one; nor did he believe that the world was to be changed by our proclamation in quite the same way we Western Christians think today.  (Luke Timothy Johnson, I Timothy, 194ff)  He did believe though that God was Lord of all and that while you pray for kings and emperors, they are not God.

He writes, "For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time."

We are also to be praying for all people.  We do this because we believe int he mission of Christ Jesus. We believe that we are to pray for all people as Paul asked us do do.  God wants and desires that all people be saved and embraced by Christ, this is our prayer for them.  This is an important notion in Pauline theology because Paul is making it clear that the God is not a mere tribal God. This God is not one God among many.  This is not a God of a people. This is God, the God of all people.  Who wishes to offer grace to all people.  There is no body left out of this vision.  God is the God of all writes Paul    So Paul says that this is what he is to offer, this is the Gospel.  God in Christ Jesus loves all.  (LTJ, Timothy, 197)  He writes, "For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument."

This Good News is news for everyone, every family, every nation, and every people.  It is news because we are God's creatures, the creation of his own hand. We are his people. We are a global people of God.  And, God's salvation and salvific act is for all of us.  Sometimes I fear we get in the practice of judging who God has come to save and who God has not come to save. Sometimes I think we let ourselves off the hook regarding those we find unlovable, undeserving, and unprepared.  This is not the kind of Good News Paul is talking about and it is not the Good News of Christ Jesus.  Christ came to save us all, he is friend of sinner, and he is the challenger to the righteous.  He is all embracing and all loving.  What would a church be like if we not only prayed this Good News but treated everyone who walks through our doors, who we meet, as God's possession...as God's beloved...as one of God's people?

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1


We continue reading in the book of Jeremiah. A little historical update for this week's lesson. Scholars believe that Jeremiah is writing in the midst of the great crumbling of Israel's empire. The north and the south alike have made dubious alliances with foreign powers and now are paying the price as weakened leadership fall prey to invading armies. You will remember that God has promised that he will not stay the hands of the invaders because of the leadership and people's lack of faith. This has been highlighted in Jeremiah through the past few weeks as he has hinted at the people's return to foreign gods - different than the God who brought them to this promised land and garden.

Jeremiah truly weeps at the prospect of the destruction that is occurring:
18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) 20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” 21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? 
9 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!
Carl Jung believed that suffering and meaning and life are intertwined. He wrote in his autobiography:
"The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time one of divine beauty... Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is—or seems to me—not the case. Probably as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is—or has—meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and will the battle.” From: Memories, Dreams, and Reflections by Carl Jung.

Jeremiah seeks this meaning: "For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" Suffering is real and the battle is real. The world is brutal and cruel. Some religions believe that such suffering is simply a human imagination or matter of perspective. Christianity with its ancient roots in Judaism, shared with Islam, recognizes in the Abrahamic faith the fact that human suffering in all times and in all places is real. Yet there is meaning in the suffering. 

Key seems to me to be rooted in the notion that suffering is brought about by seeking the powers and authorities of this world. It is about false pieties and religion that empowers and ingratiates the religious leaders. When this happens, and the leaders forget their responsibility to the people, everyone will suffer.

While our passage today is mired in the pain and suffering of a people, it points forward to a new birth. God is in some way the absent landowner, and yet filled with heart ache and tears as he sees his people's unfaithfulness and their own calamity. 

Thankfully we know the rest of the story. We know that part of what is also here is God's presence in this suffering. The people and their lack of faith, their seeking power through political alliances, and the use of religion for the worldly gain of authority and power does not remove God's love or desire for hope and balm for the people. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Proper 19C / Ordinary 24C / Pentecost +17 September 11, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I think that these parables can be read as jokes about God in the sense that what they are essentially about is the outlandishness of God who does impossible things with impossible people."

"One Lost Sheep," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"The main verb in the second conclusion (v. 10) is ginetai a present = "There is". So, when a sinner repents, at that moment there is joy in heaven. Will there be joy on earth, then seems to be Jesus' question."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
So in Jesus you have come searching. May we never forget how much we are loved. May we never refuse to love others as much.  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 15:1-32

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I like this translation of the last words of the parable: "Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It is necessary to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

We find Jesus again in the midst of preaching the lost and the found; this time using what has become one of the most popular parables from the New Testament.

I find Jesus’ words in verse 32 to be paramount. The words are left out of many translations but essential to the text: “It was necessary…” According to Luke Timothy Johnson (Luke, 239) this verse begins with these words. This is the literal translation. Bringing all of the stories of the past few weeks together in the mind of the reader and listener, Jesus is saying, “It was necessary.”

“The first part of this is pure Gospel,” says Luke Timothy Johnson, “…the lost are being found, the dead rising, the sinners are repenting.” (242) The mood quickly shifts as the reader becomes aware that the established religion of the day are not eager to accept the message of good news. It is clear that they (the powers) understand their faith as a “slavery” to God and religion. They resent grace being offered on the boundaries of the institution to those who do not follow the law as they do.  Their sentiments are to be found in the loyal son in our parable.

Many times we read the passage about those left outside the banquet as judgmental and as mean. But the passage is clear, God has offered, God has gone out of his way to invite and find and heal, God welcomes them. All are invited.  The good son and the bad son are to sit at table together.  And, who those are shall be in the telling and the listening. One possible group who is not ready to be at table with the sinner may in fact be the loyal sons of Abraham.  Those religious who have decided to shut this miracle working, prophetic, and powerful new king of the reign of God out, have instead kept themselves from enjoying the banquet feast.

Again, our passage which is filled with the good news, challenges us to see where is it that we in keeping others outside of the kingdom, are instead keeping ourselves from rejoicing. After all, don’t we see that “It is necessary.”  Is it possible we have taken the place of the good son; we are the good sons of today.

I think this week especially about our evangelism efforts and our efforts of welcoming newcomers to our church. How do we do the Gospel work without getting stuck like the son who has worked so hard? Can we receive the grace of God, and then turn to our neighbor who has not "earned it" in our eyes and offer grace?  That is truly hard work.

I think sometimes I am so relieved to receive the good news and the grace of God that I want to keep it all for myself, it as if it were to scarce and precious to share. I love being the center of God’s love and grace. Most of all, I like to pretend that I have earned it.

But this passage like the others before it challenge me to understand that there is more than enough grace for everyone. By the grace of God go I, the same grace is given to all, and wouldn't it be beautiful if we could all walk together into the banquet hall hand in hand; the good son and the bad son. And, when asked, "Which is which?" We might reply: "I do not remember."

I was lost but am found. I was dead but now I am alive. Now, I am invited to be the shepherd, the woman, and the father. More often than not I think we find ourselves, in our missionary context and our foreign culture, to be the faithful son who stayed home and worked. It is difficult to see that it is necessary. It is. It is necessary that we celebrate because God has brought us all together and those who were lost have been found.

Some Thoughts on 1 Timothy 1:12-17


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

As we have seen in a few of Paul's letters his thanksgiving always begins to pull out strands of the letter's arguments.  The letter to Timothy is no different.  

Paul begins by telling the reader(s) that he was given grace by Christ Jesus and strengthened.  God offered this grace to Paul even thought he was a "blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence." God was merciful, and primarily so because he had not yet received the Gospel.  He acted "ignorantly and in unbelief."  Paul then offers a phrase Episcopalians include as part of the "comfortable words" in our liturgy.  Paul says, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."  

What Paul will ultimately be arguing is that he himself was an outrageous example of how the law does not bring righteousness.  He did not understand, grace, mercy, and God's love; which is the Christ's law as well as the disciple's response. (Luke Timothy Johnson, 1 & 2 Timothy, 182) Instead, Paul will explain that it was rage and murder that the law drove him to undertake.  Christ Jesus offered change and transformation. 

This is a wonderful passage to read along with the Good Samaritan.  Luke Timothy Johnson writes these words:  "How God worked in Paul is the model for how God works in all believers.  The final words of the thanksgiving remind readers by means of a doxology that no human norm or performance, but solely the "only God," can shape a life leading to "eternal life."  (Ibid, 183)  

How quickly we humans have rushed to become as Paul prior to his conversion; I am struck with how important it is to hear from someone who has received grace and been transformed.


Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 4:11-28


The prophet confronts the people on their lack of response and returning to the Lord. God is clear that he will not stop the Babylonian's from their invasion. 

Jeremiah prophesies:
11At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— 12a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. 13Look! He comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles— woe to us, for we are ruined! 14O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved. How long shall your evil schemes lodge within you? 15For a voice declares from Dan and proclaims disaster from Mount Ephraim. 16Tell the nations, “Here they are!” Proclaim against Jerusalem, “Besiegers come from a distant land; they shout against the cities of Judah. 17They have closed in around her like watchers of a field, because she has rebelled against me, says the Lord. 18Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart.”
The people are awash in false prophecy and the religious leaders of the kingdom are bankrupt spiritually.  God's heart breaks and he weeps and Jeremiah shares in his heart breaking:
19My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment.21How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?22“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good."
God is clear through Jeremiah's words that the reality is that though the conquerers will bring death and destruction God will birth out a new transformed people. In their dying shall also be their birth as a new and faithful nation.

I am reminded of the lesson from John 12:24, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." What is true in the prophecy foretelling the death and resurrection of Jesus is true too for the faithful people of Israel is true for us.

The great paradox of the Gospel is that in death there is life. In loss is renewal and discovery. This is the ancient truth of our ancient faith ancestors and it is true for us as well.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Proper 18C / Ordinary 23C / Pentecost +16 September 4, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This passage offends against the values which most people hold dear."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary" Pentecost 16, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"On one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. It will cost us everything and we need to know the cost before 'jumping' in. On the other hand, Jesus may be making it impossible to be his disciple on our own abilities? When we confess, 'I can't,' then we are open for God's 'I can.'"

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have."

"Sharing Your Faith," "Onesimus," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
You have given us, O God, your only Son, our dearest treasure, and he has challenged us to give our all if we would be disciples. Let the extravagance of your gift call forth from us a love beyond cost or measure; let your Son’s self-sacrificing death urge us to carry our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. 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 14:25-33

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We find Jesus in the midst of a large crowd. Crowds now seem to be following him in every lesson. Jesus is pressing forward towards Jerusalem and preaching a prophetic message of what it means to follow him.  Along the way he is doing deeds of power.

We have just finished the wedding banquet parable. Again, as in last Sunday’s lesson we are challenged not to seek our own place at the table, but rather after having been welcomed and invited to the higher seat, Jesus is challenging us to be host in the reign of God.

The crowds mentioned in this gospel are the poor and a mixed company of people following Jesus' band and merchants selling their wares, all accompanied by the poor and those who are begging for alms.

Jesus speaks clearly about the nature of discipleship. When one embarks on discipleship and chooses to participate in building up the reign of God, restoring the world, changing lives, ministering to the outcasts, one is becoming a dividing presence. When we choose to undertake the outlandish and over the top mission of helping Jesus transform the world through evangelism, mission, and outreach we will automatically begin to feel the pressure of being different.

Surely, we know this to be true as the first disciples and followers of Jesus found themselves in divided households. Jesus’ mission is unity! But there is a cross to be carried for striving for the such a unified kingdom.

When Jesus says we need to consider the cost to one’s own life, literally he means one’s own soul. We are to bear our own cross. We must personally accept our role as followers, personally count the cost (as in the tower builder) and set off on the journey.

As we near Jerusalem Jesus is challenging us to follow, but be clear and honest with your self about the cost of this journey.

Luke Timothy Johnson ends his review of this passage with a very clear picture of this Gospel passage:

The parable of the banquet and the demands of discipleship together make the same point: the call of God issued by the prophet must relativize all other claims on life. The parable shows how entanglement with persons and things can in effect be a refusal of the invitation. The demands make clear that the choice for discipleship demands precisely the choice against a complete involvement in possessions or people. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this. But as the final saying on salt suggests, any mode of discipleship that tries to do both things, tries to be defined both by possessions and by the prophet’s call, will be like salt without savor, fit for nothing much. “It is tossed out.” (Luke, 233)

I cannot reflect on this passage without wondering: what are the financial and spiritual issues that we as a church spend our time on that keep us from the work of mission and evangelism? Have we gotten so tied to our own stuff that we are seeing our participation in the kingdom work slip away? Are we really ready to put down the saber aimed at one another for the sake of the Gospel? We have become so accustomed to transferring and projecting our individual angst and political agendas at one another we are missing Christ passing through our community offering us the opportunity to follow?

I think there is an even more personal question we must ask? Are we as individuals who minister on behalf of Christ spending our time on kingdom work?

This will be a challenging week for preachers. Yet it is a time to raise our heads and our voices, to pick up our personal cross (instead of showing others what cross they should be bearing) and follow Jesus.


Some Thoughts on Philemon 1-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

So let me simply begin by saying that given our American history of slavery that things would have been made a whole lot easier for Christians if Paul had not send brother Philemon back.  But he does.  And, the church leaders of the first to the third centuries did not wrestle with slavery like we did and they gave not thought to the inclusion of this text in our bible.  That all being said, I wonder is there anything redeeming here in this text?  Is it even possible for Americans to read the text and find a bit of good news?  I believe so.  However, to do so we must clearly state that there is a "shadow" side to the text; one in which humanity in its sinfulness has used to defend its right to exploit and dehumanize others.

George D. Armstrong defended slavery and wrote in 1857: Paul sent back a fugitive slave, after the slave’s hopeful conversion, to his Christian master again, and assigns as his reason for so doing that master’s right to the services of his slave. A Presbyterian minister and graduate of Princeton he wrote a document entitled: The Christian Doctrine of Slavery.

What is important and interesting though is that Albert Barnes, a noted theologian and supporter of the abolitionist movement used Philemon in this way:  The principles laid down in the epistle to Philemon…would lead to the universal abolition of slavery. If all those who are now slaves were to become Christians, and their masters were to treat them ‘not as slaves, but as brethren,’ the period would not be far distant when slavery would cease. In his famous 1852 oratory, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", Frederick Douglass quoted Barnes as saying: "There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it." (Corinthian Hall, Rochester. July 5, 1852)  Albert Barnes was also a Presbyterian and he taught theology at Princeton.  

Barnes like many others found redeeming qualities in this text and I believe they are worth a measure of our consideration.

If we are to understand the text we must be clear about Paul's overarching understanding of the Gospel.  Paul believes that Jesus has come to liberate us so that we may practice a Christian liberty.  Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans makes this clear.  Paul believes we are bound by sin and that Christ has freed us that we may free others in his name.  It is Christ's faithfulness and Christ's death that are the liberating action which free us from a law which cannot possibly be sustained.  Instead we are in bondage under the law and sin will lead to death. But because of the faithfulness of Christ and his sacrifice we are given grace and are redeemed from the burden of the law and we are set free and liberated to act in a new way as sons and daughters of God.  In turn we are bound to love one another.  We are to be slaves to one another in love. (Gal 5:13ff)  Christ's law is one of love in which we are bound to him and to one another.  

So it is that Paul writes and tells Philemon he has heard that he too is one who loves from obedience to Christ's law.  

Paul writes,  "I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love..." (Phil 1.5ff)

Paul then says that he is bold enough to call Philemon to do his duty which would be to let his brother Onesimus come and serve Paul.  But Paul chooses to appeal to him as a brother who is also bound to this love.  Onesimus is not to be a slave any longer, even though Paul is sending him back to Philemon, instead he is to be Philemon's brother.  Philemon is to release Onesimus from bondage because Philemon is a Christian and is a follower of the Christ who frees all those who are enslaved.  Paul asks Philemon to do this, to give Onesimus and Paul this benefit.  He asks him to do it out of Philemon's obedience to Christ.  Paul concludes by reminding Philemon that all followers of Christ are slaves to Christ, are bound to Christ, not in a spirit of legal servitude but in a spirit of liberating love.

Reading the text with eyes to see Paul's gospel message changes everything.  Jesus has freed us all and in following him we are at liberty to free others.  

Perhaps this Sunday we might do a little freeing of Philemon from its poor reputation.  Maybe we might redeem it by remembering how the abolitionist used the text.  Maybe someone might hear a little grace and be set free from those things that bind them.  That may, in the end, be most of what people are looking for...a little bit of freedom.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 18:1-11

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text

Resources for Sunday's Old Testament


Here this Sunday we have the great image of God as potter and the people of Israel as God's special clay. Jeremiah speaks out:

2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Jeremiah is clear that the people's deliverance from the onslaught that is before them is completely in their hands. God will either allow or not allow the calamity but it is specifically based upon their own actions. If they continue to ignore the poor among them, if they continue to heap up religious taxes and regulations upon the people, then the nation of Israel itself shall have to fall in order to be remade.

Again, Jeremiah writes:
7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
Jeremiah is thus sent to the people to tell them that like a potter who may have to begin again God is pondering not standing in the way of the invading Assyrian armies that even now stand at their gates. Reminiscent of Abraham who leads the the people be given a second chance, God himself says repent and turn from your evil ways and there may yet be hope for this pot. 

For Jeremiah, God is a God of grace who deeply wishes to spare the hand of defeat and to see a people who remember their God and his deliverance, and who do the just and righteous work of caring for the least and lost. But if they do not then calamity awaits, and a second version of the pot will have to be remade. 

In some ways the message is clear for us today too. Until we accept our fallenness and our brokenness God cannot remake us. As long as we continue to pretend our cisterns and pots and plates will be cracked, chipped, and broken. The truth is they already are and are deeply in need of remolding. The problem is our hard headed and stiff necked determination to believe that we are just fine and can do all of this without any help from God - thank you very much. Even now our defeat is clear, our death is immanent, we just refuse to see it. Yet God waits, god stays his hands, the temple of our self perpetuating religion and house of self-worship will come tumbling down, and then there shall be Jeremiah's God ready to rebuild, remake and remold us. 

The falling is always our own. The suffering is always brought on by our sin sick ways. But our resurrection, rebirth, and remaking is God's. It has always been so it will always be so. God is the one who raised Jesus after first raising Israel out of Egypt and will in the end be the one who raises us.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Proper 17C / Ordinary 22C / Pentecost +15 August 28, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."

"Humility," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Giving great honor to those who are distinguished. Ignoring those who are ordinary or 'defective.' Seating charts that are set up to emphasize the high status of some and the lower status of others..."

Commentary, Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Not for a place of honor did your Son come among us, O god of the lowly, but to invite to the wedding feast the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Let such humility grace our table and lead us to renounce the quest for power and privilege. Taking our place with other sinners, we may share the banquet your Son has prepared for those who place their trust in your grace alone. 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 14:1-14

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I have a friend who likes to say, “The reason Jesus was killed is he ate with sinners.” It always strikes me as a shocking thing to say. I believe it challenges me because I don’t like to think on a day to day
basis that in America we have a class system. I was listening to a podcast interview this summer on the Economist and these two British citizens and business men were commenting on this very thing. They engaged in a conversation about how in America there does not seem to be a class system and there is a lot of discussion about an egalitarian society. However, they said there is, it is just difficult to see. I mentioned this to a friend and priest and we had a long discussion about the matter and he said something I had not thought of before. He commented on the fact that Americans are able to purchase anything. A member of the middle or lower middle class, even some of the lower classes can wear the clothes the rich wear; they can eat at the restaurants the rich eat in. He said this gives the false idea of a level playing field and makes money the central commodity in the system that moves you up and down. Therefore your class is established essentially based upon your longevity to afford any particular lifestyle; whether you can afford it for an hour at a fine dining establishment or a weekend in a posh resort.

Jesus has some different ideas about how the system should work. He is challenging and teaching a very radical thing; radical enough that they killed him for it and perhaps so radical that it is hard for us to reconcile ourselves to his lifestyle.

So our passage begins with Jesus at meal with the Pharisees. We might remember that this sect within the Jewish household has a number of boundaries and policies if you are to be a member; chiefly among these is the rule governing who you can be seated at table with.

A man appears who is suffering from what we call today edema, or the swelling caused by excess fluid. Jesus has been really at odds with the establishment regarding healing on the Sabbath and he brings it up here in relationship to this man. So, first we note it is the Sabbath. Second we must see that this man who is obviously a sinner because of his illness has entered into the midst of their supper and threatens to contaminate them all. The Pharisees are silent.

Jesus teaches on the importance of the Godly commandment to love neighbor and we can easily see the themes of the Abrahamic family running through his thoughts on the child or an ox. We are reminded perhaps of the untying of the mule last week and the daughter of Abraham. Jesus continues in Luke to teach that they are hypocritical when they publicly hold one doctrine clearly for the use of power and authority and separation and division of the family when privately they allow or make room for behavior which contradicts their public word and action.

We are then told a short illustration, almost a parabolic type of teaching, about being invited to the wedding feast.

Jesus says we are to invite the poor with the knowledge they can never repay what is given.  Is this not another way of describing the grace we receive from God? Are we not the poor who receive everything from the grace of Jesus Christ which makes us rich? Instead of class, or money, or any other system defining us we are defined purely by the gift of life and the gift of reconciliation to God and one another by Jesus Christ.

As Luke Timothy Johnson points out, Jesus is challenging all of our conventional patterns of transactions. (Luke, 227)

We might typically see this passage as a call to change our service and outreach to the poor. Indeed it certainly is that. However, it is also a challenge to see more deeply the gap which lies between those we believe are ok to go to church with and those Jesus is inviting into community, in point of fact inviting to come to table with us and full members of the family of Abraham.

Are we really willing to give someone else our place at the table? Can we hear Jesus say:  “Behold, here is ____________. Are you willing to help me get his life out of the ditch? If so, give him your place at the table.”

Wow! I am challenged by this idea in more ways than one can imagine. I wonder what name or type of person I might put in this blank?

Until the church can answer Jesus’ challenge honestly, and then do the opposite of what is expected we will forever be limited in our mission, in our evangelism, in discerning God’s imagination, and in see the kingdom of God for what it is!


Some Thoughts on Hebrews 13:1-16


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"These few verses offer us snippets of what Christian community meant. It wasn't a holy huddle of worshippers scared for their lives and totally obsessed with religious rituals. It was a community which expressed and shared love and in that context praised God - obviously because God is a God who reaches out in love and compassion."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews invites the reader to consider what work might result as a response to the faith of Israel and faith in Jesus Christ? This passage is almost an ethical view of what Christian community is supposed to look like.  It is first and foremost to be a community of love. 

Love from Christ and in Christ will lead to certain actions by the individual follower of Jesus and the community that bears his name. 

  1. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  2. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 
  3. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 
  4. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 
  5. Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 

It is unlikely that these were the qualities of every first generation Christian community.  Nevertheless it gives a good view of what the author believes should be the qualities, and in some manner it reflects what the first apostles and leaders of the church thought were key elements within the first few centuries.  These are also the five categories that repeatedly show up in ethical New Testament writings and the writings of the Church theologians.  These are if you will the core and guiding principles of ministry in the fledgling church.

The author then reminds us of the unchanging nature of God.  That we are to continually return to God as revealed in Jesus Christ for our direction.  Moreover that in following this Christ we are to make our following as a response to grace.  

Rules and regulations will not bring us to the altar of grace, only Christ does that.  

Here then the author provides an understanding of the paschal feast and Christ as the true sacrifice and mediator between humanity and God. 

The author writes:  "We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood."  We see within this text not only a developed understanding of a grace filled community, norms born out of the grace of forgiveness, but we also see a more fully developed understanding of the paschal mystery which is Christ's offering of himself.

What shall our response be to this God who reaches out to us? How shall we make an offering of gratitude to this God? The author writes: "Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 2:4-13


Resources for Sunday's Old Testament



A bit about the Sinai prophetic tradition: The tradition is rooted in the covenant that is made with the people of God after God's deliverance of them from Egypt. God's covenant was made as a response to God's mercy and freedom. So the idea here is that the people are to respond to God's love and freedom.

What Jeremiah and the other Sinai prophets must contend with is that the centralization of faith in Jerusalem has caused them a problem. They are now seeing that the core of the Sinai tradition has been flipped. The religious leaders of Mount Zion now ask that the people be faithful in order to receive God's love, mercy, and freedom. The Zion temple faith has reversed the Sinai tradition. Here is Jeremiah's focus.

Jeremiah focuses then first in our passage on the acts of God. God questions:
O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.
 Jeremiah prophesies and is clear that the religious leaders have left far behind the practices and relationship God and the people proclaimed in covenant at Sinai. So God "accuses" the religious leaders for forgetting. It is as if the people have changed their god and now worship some completely different God.
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah offers a vision of what the people have done. The God who is freedom, mercy, love, and forgiveness offers living water. But what the people have done is create a new religious order where by the people make their own casks and cisterns and they will not work and they will fail. Furthermore, the religious leaders who help the people build these extravagant ways not only lead the people away from the real God they also create a system by which they will all die from thirst.

Here we see then as Christians that God in Christ Jesus is the God of Jeremiah, both of the living water, but amongst the people, and releasing them from the new religious bondage under which they are suffering.