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.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In Jesus' prayer we are connected and bonded with each other. We find our health, our integrity, and our righteousness; that is true piety."

"Preaching on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-8)," Irving J. Arnquist and Louis R. Flessner, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1990.

"What are we praying for when we pray for God's kingdom to come?"

"Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord's Prayer," N.T. Wright, The Christian Century, 1997.

"That piety should be a private matter is a radical not to say revolutionary idea. It goes totally against the cultural grain. For traditional piety is something performed for others to see. In Roman culture, pietas referred to the public veneration of the gods. Without such a display from prominent citizens, what would happen to the traditional values that were associated with the gods? Pietas was the cultural glue, holding all things in place. How could there be law and order without it?"

"The Call to Secret Service (Matthew 6:1-18)," John C. Purdy. Chapter 4 inReturning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

At this, the acceptable time, O God so rich in mercy, we gather in solemn assembly to receive the announcement of the Lenten spring, and the ashes of mortality and repentance. Let the elect, exulting, to the waters of salvation; guide the penitent, rejoicing, to the healing river; carry us all to the streams of renewal. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 6:1-21

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

If we were reading along in the scripture and we arrived at our passage for this Ash Wednesday we would see the continued conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. The religious hierarchy have set themselves above the faith and have become, if you will, arbiters of piety. They are the intermediaries between God and God's people.

Jesus has been expanding and expounding on the nature of the law revealed by the messiah and now he turns to talk a little about how Christians should live with one another. What we have in our passage are the characteristics of a Christian community according to Jesus; and they are contrasted with the practices of these other religious leaders. Of course we are doomed to exhibit the same tendencies at our very worst but we have here some outlined behaviors that should at least set our trajectory.

Don't get in other people's faces about how you are better than them when it comes to prayer, believing, and the rest of it. After all, living a Christian life benefits God and others. Here are a couple of examples of what not to do...

Example One: Just be a good steward and don't brag about it.
Example Two: Don't be verbose in your praying. It is a real turn off to God an others.
Example Three: Please pray privately and sincerely.
Example Four: God knows what you need so you don't have to always be telling God out loud.
Example Five: Don't look dismal and sad. Look happy and enjoy your relationship with God.
Example Six: Remember that what matters is the love of God, the love of neighbor - these are the treasures worth having.
All of this is because good works are done for God and on behalf of others. This service is purely for the reward of doing what is good and well in the eyes of God and not for a community's lauds or glory.

What we have in our reading today is very good and it is the parenthesis between Matthew's teaching on the Lord's prayers.

I say this because in my mind it helps to frame what Jesus is teaching about prayer. The reality is that Jesus' prayer is very powerful when seen through the eyes of the overall passage and its meaning is much greater than the by rote version we say without thought most Sundays. So, here is a meditation on Jesus' Prayer with an eye to Matthew's Gospel and to the passage for Ash Wednesday.

Jesus’ Prayer
In the Episcopal Church, the Lord’s Prayer--the prayer Jesus taught his disciples--is central to our common life of prayer. It is present in all of our private and corporate services of worship, and is often the first prayer children learn. With the simplest of words, Jesus teaches those who follow him all they need to know about prayer, as they say:

“Our Father”: Our Father, because we are to seek as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did. We are can develop this intimate love with God, recognizing we are children of God and members of the family of God.

“Who art in heaven”: We are reminded of our created nature as a gift from heaven. Life is given to us from God, who is quite beyond us. We recognize in this short phrase that we are not God. Rather, the God we proclaim is a God who makes all things and breathes life into all things.

“Hallowed be thy name”: In response to the grace of being welcomed into God’s community, bowing humbly and acknowledging our created nature, we recognize the holiness of God. We proclaim that God’s name is hallowed.

“Thy kingdom come”: We ask and seek God’s kingdom. The words of Jesus remind us that, like the disciples’ own desires to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, this is not our kingdom. The reign of God is not what you and I have in mind. We beg, “God, by your power bring your kingdom into this world. Help us to beat our swords into ploughshares that we might feed the world. Give us strength to commit as your partners in the restoration of creation, not how we imagine it, but in the way you imagine it.”

“Thy will be done”: We bend our wills to God’s, following the living example of Jesus Christ. We ask for grace to constantly set aside our desires and take on the love of God’s reign. We pray, “Let our hands and hearts build not powers and principalities but the rule of love and care for all sorts and conditions of humanity. Let us have a measure of wisdom to tear down our self-imposed walls and embrace one another, as the lion and the lamb lay down together in the kingdom of God.”

“On earth as it is in heaven”: We ask God to give us eyes to see this kingdom vision, and then we ask for courage and power to make heaven a reality in this world. We pray to God, “Create in us a will to be helping hands and loving hearts for those who are weary and need to rest in you. May our homes, our churches, and our communities be a sanctuary for the hurting world to find shelter, to find some small experience of heaven.”

“Give us this day our daily bread”: In prayer we come to understand that we are consumers. We need, desire, and just want many things. In Christ, we are reminded that all we need is our daily bread. So we pray, “O God, help us to be mindful that you provide for the lilies of the field and you provide for us. As we surrender our desires, help us to provide daily bread for those who have none today.”

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”: Sanity and restoration are possible only because God forgives us. Because of that sacrificial forgiveness--made real in the life and death of Jesus--we can see and then share mercy and forgiveness. Then we can pray, “God, may I understand your call to me personally to offer sacrificial forgiveness to all those I feel have wronged me. I want to know and see my own fault in those broken relationships. May I be the sacrament of your grace and forgiveness to others.”

“Lead us not into temptation”: As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and replaced God with their own understanding of reality, we need help turning away from our own earthly and political desires and turning toward the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. So we ask, “We are so tempted to go the easy way, to believe our desires are God’s desires. We have the audacity to assume we can know God’s mind. Show us your way and help us to trust it.”

“And deliver us from evil”: Only God can deliver us from evil. There is darkness in the world around us. We know this darkness feeds on our deepest desire: to be God ourselves. That deceptive voice affirms everything we do and justifies our actions, even when they compromise other people’s dignity. It whispers and tells us we possess God’s truth and no one else does. We must pray, “God, deliver us from the evil that inhabits this world, the weakness of our hearts, and the darkness of our lives, that we might walk in the light of your Son.”

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”: Without God, we are powerless. So we devote our lives to God, resting in the power of God’s deliverance. We humbly ask, “Help us to see your glory and beauty in the world, this day and every day. Amen.”

Using prayers like this one, Jesus modeled a life of prayer as work, and work as prayer. The apostles and all those who have since followed him have sought a life of prayer. They have engaged in prayer that discerns Jesus’ teachings and then molded their lives into the shape of his life. We can take up the same vocation and become people whose lives are characterized by daily and fervent prayer. Indeed we reflect and acknowledge the centrality of prayer and work in our own commitment to God when we say, “I will, with God’s help, continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” [This is an excerpt from Unabashedly Episcopalian.]

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:20


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

One of the things that has happened to us in our culture is that we think not about whom we represent.  Yet, we represent (as Christians) Jesus Christ to the world.  This lack of mindfulness is complex; yet for the world in many respects God in Christ Jesus is not the problem for Christianity but rather it is his followers that create the stumbling block.  This passage is about the life of Grace which transforms the Christian first.

We are ambassadors for Christ.  In Paul's setting this would have meant that we are the oldest and wisest of Christ's children.  We represent Christ but not in the worst way but on behalf of him in the very best of manners.  This is difficult to do if we are always at war with ourselves.  It is hard to be Christ's representative if we can't represent Christ to one another; which means forgiving one another and offering Grace.  We are the great law givers rather than the donors of grace.  So what do we do?  How do we get there? How do we make room for the other?

We like Christ must give grace, make room for grace, and offer grace.  However, before we can do this we must receive Grace.  This is easier said than done.  We must really and truly receive the saving Grace of Christ; this means allowing God to love and save us in our mess and not waiting for perfection.  We are truly saved and perfected through the grace we receive. We are made a new creation by God if we will but let him.  Instead of performing for God or hoping that God will deliver us out of our "labors and sleepless nights" we are invited instead to live under the umbrella of God's Grace; within the saving embrace of God.  When we do this Paul believes the other things will fall into place.

We don't become the new creation and then we get grace.  Instead we allow ourselves to receive God's Grace and we become new.  We don't live and so we don't die.  We die to our desire to be perfect and so we live in the Grace of God who takes us just as we are.  It is this reversal of the world's economy of salvation that enables us to be alive, joyful, satisfied, and content.

When life is lived with the mantle of God's Grace upon our shoulders then we are beautiful and resplendent ambassadors of Christ to the world.  When we live in Grace we give grace freely, we share life freely, we embrace the other freely, we see there is enough and offer plenty of good things freely.  This is the life lived as a new creation, this is the life of Grace. This is the life of ambassadorship.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Transfiguration - Last Epiphany A February 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"You can tell them that they are called, that this story is their story, that they have a part to play in God's ongoing drama to save, bless, and care for all the world. But you can also listen. And this may be just as important."

"The Transfiguration of Peter," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"Jesus' followers receive the promise that his story and their story will be forever intertwined, whether they are on mountaintops or in valleys or someplace in between..."

Commentary, Matthew 17:1-9, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"While interpretation should bridge the distance between the biblical texts and ourselves, it should not facilely collapse that distance, drawing parallels that are not parallel, thereby reducing and even trivializing a grand text."

"Christ is Not as We Are," Fred B. Craddock, The Christian Century. At Religion Online, 1990.



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of all that is worthy of trust and destined to endure, you have made the words of your Son a solid rock on which the children of your kingdom can build their lives. Shelter us from the storms of mere worldly wisdom; anchor our judgments and choices in your timeless truth; that, with our lives set securely on this firm foundation, we may not collapse int he face of adversity or assault, but stand steadfast and true in the faith that endures. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 17:1-9

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Matthew is ever the story teller. His art shines through in this narrative of the Transfiguration. Certainly we see (as we have already seen in other parts of the Matthean Gospel) traces of the Sinai experience of Moses and God, and Moses with his followers. The telling of the Jesus story has mimicked the landscape and has given us a sense of space and place not unlike the Exodus itself.

Scholars in most texts say - that is not all. Matthew weaves images from Daniel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 255)  The transfiguration is central in the revelation of who Jesus is. 

We have talked some in the past few weeks about Jesus as a new Moses and new Elijah. We have talked about how Jesus' ministry begins a new age of prophetic action and an age of the Holy Spirit. 
We have talked about the emerging importance of the disciples in this new ministry; and how each follower of Jesus becomes a bearer of the Good News of Salvation in the world through action and word. Here in this text we see clearly these themes amplified.

Jesus is not Moses or Elijah - that time is over. Jesus is leading his disciples not to create a revolution in religious thought which still manifests itself in one or two given locations. No. Jesus is recreating the world holistically. Jesus' mission is not in a temple on a mountaintop, or even in in one country. His ministry is not a ministry where the followers come to him, but a ministry where the followers primary worship act is going with him into the world.

In his Lambeth address to the Bishop, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that we needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. He remarked at the reality of sin in such a belief that God must be protected by us. He instead offered an image, which remained with me after reading it on Tuesday morning this week, that we are to go out of our churches and places of worship to find Jesus already out in the world. We are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world.

We might remember as we reflect on the Transfiguration Jesus' own words earlier in Matthew: Follow Me. Not please come with me, but a command -- follow him. Here again Jesus leads his followers out into the world, off the mountain top, out into the place where the proclamation of Jesus Christ is made.

Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 1:16-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"One could use these two texts to tie together the splendor of the gift of the law and of the gift of the son, two markers of God's covenant with humanity. This could be underscored by comparing what Moses brings off the mountain “the Law“ with what Christ brings off the mountain “his own body"; both of these serve as the vehicles of divine relationship with the community of faith."

Commentary, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

This passage is chosen specifically to accompany the story of the transfiguration.  Yet there is a little bit more here as well.

The passage begins by saying that the author has not followed myths - in this context the word myth refers to clever lies.  He then refers to his won experience of seeing the majesty of Jesus and refers to the transfiguration event.  Stating as an eye witness to the moment of God's blessing Jesus in Majestic Glory.

The author then makes it clear that the transfiguration itself is further proof of the resurrection.  It is a prophetic message because it came true.  This reality, the author argues, is to be a light of knowledge which out shines the myths and lies.  The prophecy of scripture (meaning the books of the Torah and Prophets - there was no New Testament at the time of this writing) is proven by actions in the world - like the transfiguration.  Moreover, what the reality of this worldly proof means is the the words of scripture and their prophecy of the messiah were written by men and women moved by the Holy Spirit.

This passage leans heavily on the Jewish understanding of prophecy.  The first rule is the most basic: if the prophecies don't come true, that prophet is a false prophet. The second rule applies when a prophecy has come true or the prophet performs a miraculous sign: if his doctrine contradicts that already revealed. These are the basics.

I think what is of profound importance is that Peter's experience of grace, of majesty, of God - the mysterium tremendum et fascinans! - is one that helps reveal the prophetic message of deliverance found in the ancient scriptures.  [A reminder - mysterium tremendum et fascinans is the “numinous” (the spiritual dimension), the utterly ineffable, the holy, and the overwhelming. The “holy” is manifested in a double form: as the mysterium tremendum (“mystery that terrifies”), in which the dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming aspect of the numinous appears as the mysterium.] (I used to teach Rudolph Otto's Idea of the Holy from which this notion stems.)

We might well invite our people to talk about the places where they experience or see God.  How do these experiences (like the proof of the old testament prophetic school and Peter) reveals the truth found in Holy Scripture.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Epiphany 7A February 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"You see the lines in their faces and the way they walk when they're tired. You see who their husbands and wives are, maybe. You see where they're vulnerable. You see where they're scared. Seeing what is hateful about them, you may catch a glimpse also of where the hatefulness comes from. Seeing the hurt they cause you, you may see also the hurt they cause themselves. You're still light-years away from loving them, to be sure, but at least you see how they are human even as you are human..."

"Enemy," Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark.


"Walter Wink makes the case: 

"that antistenai has to do with violence. The word is formed from anti--"against"--and stenai--"to stand." Literally, the word means "stand against" or "withstand." Wink notes its repeated use in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as a word for "warfare." Likewise, it appears in Ephesians in a context of warfare (6:13). Josephus, writing in the time of Jesus, continually uses antistenai to mean armed struggle... Therefore, the sentence should be translated: "Do not violently resist the evil one."

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Lift from our hearts the burden of hatred, and drive all resentment far from our lives; so that, loving not only our neighbors but even our enemies, we may, by your grace, be perfect, even as you are perfect. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:36-48

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As last week we are continuing our passage from the sermon on the mount wherein Jesus uses the phrase, "You have heard that it was said...." 

Last week we worked on lust, marriage, and swearing (oath taking). This week we are presented with two more. They are offered as examples of how Jesus "came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it."

This is an important theme within the whole of Matthew's Gospel as Jesus is the righteous one and those who claim to be his followers are to be righteous still. We might recall that last week I talked about how Jesus is in these reflections being very pointed about his comments and is clearly making them with the idea that one's commitment to these principles is a necessary component to one's response to the covenant God has with all of creation and with us specifically as creatures.

The last two antithetical teachings have to do with violence and with loving neighbor. 

Jesus is clearly calling those who would follow him and desire to fulfill all righteousness must refrain from violence; in fact choose intentionally not to enact violence upon one another. Specifically not to retaliate or seek to revenge violence with violence. 

What would a world be like if we were able to create a culture wherein people lived whole lives without physical violence being done to them. I think as Christians and as people who live in a world of the Internet and a world with an understanding of psychology we must broaden Jesus' imperative to say that we as Christians are called, challenged, to live a life without being violent in our words (written or spoken), in our emails, videos, conversations, treatment of others, etc. The world would be a very different place today if Christians took this to heart. I imagine the world would be transformed if we simply tempered in some measure the violence we perpetrate and perpetuate on others. 

I don't believe that Jesus is saying don't stand against the oppressor, but he is saying don't wound or kill him. In fact do not wound or kill his/her character. 

This passage again ties into the notion that the law itself was based upon how one reacts to another.  You do this thing so I do this thing..type of approach.  Jesus has reoriented the conversation. He says God is impartial with his love and forgiveness to you.  How will you respond?  A follower of Jesus and of God is to respond with the same impartiality - regardless of what the other person does.  Jesus has reversed the work of the law, not only fulfilling it but raising it to a higher quality.  This higher demand of the law - your response to God's action - is one that was purchased upon the cross of Christ when he himself stood against all evil, all sin, and all brokenness - holding it tightly into the grave where by he left it and rose on the third day.  His trampling of the law and death and is invitation to respond is supposed to be the hallmark of our Church's mission.

Christian community today is very complicated and the reality is that most congregations have been involved in violent heart rending conflict in the past decade.The congregational study called FACTS reports: 86% of congregations had conflict in the last five years. 32% of churches reported very serious conflict. Of congregations that had serious conflict, that conflict: is ongoing in 6%; remains, but is no longer serious in 28%; was resolved with no negative consequences in 26%; was resolved with some negative consequences in 40%.The report says that the following are the primary reasons for conflict in a congregation: priest’s leadership style (17% so report); money/finances/budget (11%); priest’s personal behavior (11%); who makes a decision (10%); member’s personal behavior (7%); how worship is conducted (6%); program/mission priorities (5%); and for theology (4%).

From what I gather these statistics are not unique to Episcopal congregations alone. I believe one can make a case that based upon this statistic most congregations have not paid much attention to this passage of scripture at all! 

One might also say this may very well be one of the most important passages to preach!I believe that if we as Christians and as Christian communities do not truly try to work on this area regarding loving our brothers and sisters, our enemies and our neighbors unconditionally as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does then we will perpetually live within the false expectation that people will want to become members of the community of Jesus Christ; a community which promises love and kindness, gentleness and hope.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The buzz of self-promotion and the satisfaction at increased recruitment, even in the name of Jesus, can so easily go awry."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Corinth is holy because God's spirit dwells in it. Holiness is not Corinth's possession. It is a gift that has been given to it by Christ."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Mark Tranvik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Paul begins this passage with a metaphor of building.  He points out that he laid a foundation - which is Christ and not himself.  All others will have to chose how they build for you always want to build on Christ and Christs work and not your own.  This of course has been the problem with those other teachers in the Corinthian community.

You also do not need to worry about the judgment for these preachers who build up other things than Christ and Christ's building.  God will do that work.  He writes:
"Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done."
You are God's temple of the Holy Spirit.  So whatever you put on to hide yourself or build up to look like something else - God will burn that way. God will in the end have you as his temple.

One way that you will know if you are building up a different building than what God has purposed is if you are dividing your self from others. Are you separating yourself out?  Are you separating others from God? Are you the one doing the judging? Are you the one who is using fancy arguments and following a leader who takes you out of the community? If you are doing those things then you are following the wrong leader. You are in fact not building up the temple but tearing it down.

Godly leaders will want to help you - the real you - the internal you - become God's vessel - God's temple.  Don't boast on the leader - boast on Christ and Christ's work in your heart!

I imagine that the reality is that most of us are more interested in our way, our language, our view, our leader, our group, our team.  My intuition tells me this is where we most often begin and then expand to God and pull God down on our side.  Paul is reminding Corinth - This is not how God works.


Some Thoughts on Leviticus 19:1-18



A missionary Church knows the basics of its faith. Following Jesus in the community of the Episcopal Church means that we work on being good disciples. We need to be able to articulate our faith. As a church, we need to be forming followers of Jesus who can articulate the essential visionary nature of who we are as Episcopalians.

Episcopalians, for instance, engage in the work of praying the Ten Commandments. We do it in worship, and we even have a teaching guide in the Book of Common Prayer (page 847). When was the last time you picked up the Book of Common Prayer and read the Commandments and our Episcopal understanding of their purpose in guiding our pilgrimage through life? The Ten Commandments are some of the first discipleship instructions in our catechism—a guide to faith. The Commandments remind us of God’s desire for us in our relationship with God and with others.

Episcopalians understand that we trust God, and we bring others to know him. We put nothing in the place of God. We show God respect in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions. We are faithful in worship, prayer, and study. To the other we are to be faithful as well—treating our neighbors with love as we love God and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands. We, as Episcopalians, are to show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God. We are to use our bodily desires as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God. We are to be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God. We are to speak the truth and not mislead others by our silence. We are to resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people's gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.

Continuing this faithful work with God and on behalf of God is what it means in part to follow in our apostolic teaching, to continue the work of a covenant community. We, as Episcopalians, hold ourselves accountable to this vision of relationship with God and with one another. We believe we hold up our lives to this image of our being, word, and deed and can see clearly where we fall short of the hope God has in us and so we repent. We return to God.

As Episcopalians, we know that baptism does not make us perfect. We know that we remain sinful and sinning people. That is what we Episcopalians own—that we too often follow our own will and not God’s. This really messes up our relationship with God and with other people. We also have managed to make a real mess of God’s creation.

We recognize we cannot help but mess up our relationship with God and others, so we understand that we are in need of salvation. We are set free to do the work of creating a community of reconciliation. We know as Episcopalians, we say in our Eucharistic prayers, that God has tried to call us back to God . . . but not yet. It is under this weight of sin that God chooses to enter the world. God comes as the Messiah to set us free from the power of sin, so that with the grace of God, we may live and work as God’s people.

We believe the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God. He is the Christ. He is not just another prophet, good guy, wise man or great historic figure—no henotheistic guiding spirit. We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the true nature of God. Jesus reveals to us that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God. We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God’s own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother. We believe that God became human so that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.

As you think about this particular way of reading and understanding the Levitical code I want you to understand this this is a traditional Christian form of reading it. The Gospel of Matthew is very clear here that this work of the commandments, of reading the first and second commandment through all of life, does not lessen the work of keeping it but instead raises it to a new and different level. You see it is not enough, Jesus tells us, to not murder but rather that the seat of murder is anger and we must deal with our anger. Therefore, the higher work is to realize this and seek reconciliation instead of anger. Jesus does not simply want us to do or not do things, but invites us to a transformation of the heart.

Richard Hays in his book Echoes of Scripture writes: “According to Matthew, such radical obedience, to which the Torah, rightly understood, points is possible only through a transformation of character, enabling not merely outward obedience to the law’s requirements but also an inner obedience from the heart. In light of such a vision Jesus summons hi disciple to renounce not only murder but also anger, not only adultery but also lust. (Matt 5:21-30)” (Echoes, 121.)


Too often we want to throw out the law – that is a mistake and a heresy. As my Lutheran brothers and sisters say the law can neither deny the gospel of grace nor can the gospel deny the law. Paul Zahl adapts, in a very Episcopal way, Martin Luther’s three uses of the law and its use. Removing the law as a fear provoking method of producing repentance, Zahl offers two uses: First, as Jesus is attempting to teach us, our actions have consequences. Secondly the inability to keep the law teaches us our human nature is in need of saving and that we totally depend upon God in Christ Jesus and his grace.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Epiphany 6A February 12, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

"The season of Ephipany proclaims the good news of God's presence with us. Our response to that proclamation, our recognition of God's life and work here and now, is more than going through the motions of church. Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God."

Commentary, Matthew 5:21-37, Amy Oden, Epiphany 6, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

As we come to offer our gift at your altar, make us eager in seeking reconciliation, so that e may live the gospel of your kingdom with single-hearted devotion, our every thought filled with respect for one another an our every deed with reverence.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This part of the Gospel has a number of sections. Our reading today has four of these "antithetical" style teachings. "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you," are the introduction for each one. In each Jesus recalls a teaching and then presses his followers to go deeper. We might remember that in the previous introduction to Jesus' teaching on the mountain he reminds us that he is the one to fulfill the law and not to abolish the law.

A quick read of Daniel J. Harrington's thoughts on the idea of law can help us better place this teaching in context. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 91) The English term "Law" can distort the Jewish understanding of Torah. The word "Torah" derives from the Hebrew verb "instruct" (yrh) and refers to the teaching or instruction presented in the Scriptures, especially the Pentateuch. For Jews the Torah was (and is) the revelation of God's will, a kind of divine blueprint for action. It is a gift and privilege given to Israel, not a burden. Acting upon the Torah is the privileged way of responding to the Creator God who has entered into covenant relationship with Israel. It presupposes the prior manifestation of God's love.

The Greek translation of Torah (nomos) is not incorrect since the Torah is concrete and demands action. But the theological context of covenant can never be forgotten if distortion is to be avoided.If we begin then with this understanding we can read these antithesis in a very different way.

If we think of the prerequisite of God's love and covenant, then the baptismal affirmation of that covenant, we arrive at these understanding that these then are a manner of Christian life. When we work on these higher ways of being we engage in the fulfillment of the covenant relationship we have with God. When we do not we turn our backs on the covenant relationship God wishes to have with us.

In the first antithesis Jesus teaches us that when we live and dwell in anger, when we use anger, and lash out or treat others out of our anger we are destroying the creatures of God. Anger leads to death. The higher way of following Jesus is to acknowledge this death and to seek reconciliation. Both illustrations make clear that not only is anger a destructive force in the life of Christian community but that it is an unacceptable manner of leadership. One cannot offer gifts and talents at God's altar unless one is reconciled with ones enemies.

Somehow in our culture we have decided it is okay to be angry and to treat others (service providers and enemies) with scorn, discontent, and hostility. Jesus teaches us that we destroy the creatures of God and one another when we do this. Yes, we live in a country where we honor a person's right to free speech. That does not mean that such manners of speech build up our country or the communities in which we live.

Jesus teaches us another way. Jesus teaches us (and many of his followers need to hear this clearly) that such behavior is unacceptable, destructive, and we are held accountable to a higher standard. Our bodies and person reflect the glory of God and in his second teaching Jesus explains that lust destroys the higher purpose of our flesh. Christianity and the Episcopal Church is uniquely a very incarnational faith. We understand that the beauty of God is reflected in all creation and in one another. When we look on one another with the eyes of Jesus Christ we cannot help but see God's glory revealed.

 Jesus calls us to this higher understanding and tells us that lust leads to adultery. These are two charged words. But if we remember the understanding of the Torah above we have a better and much more clear understanding of the teaching here. Certainly what he says is true. However, there is a higher code being offered here. Lust is a form of viewing individuals as objects of desire. It turns the flesh from being a revelation of God and God's creative and covenantal acts to something that can be possessed by another human being. In this teaching we see the role of dominance and power abusing the creatures of God. Bodies and people are works of Godly art when we treat them otherwise we change them. When we use sex to sell something or when we abuse people sexually we are defaming God's handiwork -- that which he called very good. In our culture we use lust, sex, and images of humans as commodities to be bought and sold for the purpose of individual enrichment or for power gain. Not unlike free speech, our country provides an environment where this is seen as normative. However, for the Christian we must as individuals live a higher standard. Lust destroys that upon which it fixes its gaze. It will also eventually destroy the person who lives a life fed by it.

I would add that divorce enters into the picture here because it is the death of the covenant relationship illustrated in the man and woman's brokenness. While Jesus speaks of lust leading to adultery, we live in world where divorce happens for many different reasons. Jesus is clear about what happens in divorce and how it is rooted in brokenness. When humans have so destroyed the image of the union of God with humanity that in their relationship they can no longer see the love God has for them the relationship is itself broken. When they cannot see the beauty they reflect or the goodness out of which God created them -- the relationship is over.

The Episcopal Church has responded by allowing for divorce and for remarriage. It has done this as a pastoral and caring approach to members of the community who find themselves in this very sad place. The church has more that it can do to help people shoulder the pain of divorce; regardless of its cause. An individual who lives with the false belief that they are no longer good, somehow failed, or that God does not love them can be an incredible mill stone around an individual spiritual life.

The last of the antithetical styled teachings in this Sunday's lesson is about oaths. Here Jesus offers the very simply reminder that yes and no are perfectly good answers. The Torah permits oaths in every day speech as long as they are neither irreverent or false (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 1, p. 532). Again, one must be careful in speech to not do damage to that which is God's.

I am struck here by thoughts provided by the Anglican theologian John Milbank offers in a number of his texts that our words have meaning and they have being. They have substance. We believe in a God who created with the and through the Word. We believe in the Word which becomes flesh, the living Word of God. Not unlike how feelings change the world in Jesus' teaching about anger. Not unlike how we look and treat people changes the world. How we speak, for Christians, makes meaning and being in the world. Our words are powerful and we are accountable for them.

These are three very difficult teachings. These teachings are tough no matter who you are, but especially if you claim to follow Jesus. All too often the Christian point the world and calls for transformation. More often than not it is the Christian, me included, who needs to do the transformative work of listening to Jesus' words.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:1-9


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"God's grace is manifested not only in the forgiveness of our sins but is also creatively redemptive, the power that works in us to make us perfect in love. Nothing short of perfection, Christlikeness in thought, word, and deed, can measure God's loving purpose for us. It is our faith that the fundamental change wrought in the individual by regeneration is a dynamic process which by growth in grace moves toward "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." We may quench the Spirit and fall from grace but our divine destiny is perfect love and holiness in this life."

"We Believe in Christian Perfection," Georgia Harkness, Chapter 8 in Beliefs That Count, 1961. At Religion Online.

"This congregation, this people, this great good news of Jesus Christ are not objects to be fought over. No church member and no apostle owns this mission field. It is God's."

"You Are Not Ready," Paul Bellan-Boyer, City Called Heaven, 2011.

I love that we are continuing through the Corinthian readings!  In our passage Paul begins by saying that people are still people. That we, some of us that is, are not fully formed in the spirit and so we are "infants in Christ."  We come from the world into the body of Christ through baptism.  We are cultured and as we move closer to Christ we grow in our understanding that we belong to God and in this being are now made different.  Paul is clear the Corinthians are having a hard time with this and are really struggling with their worldly nature.

Will Willimon is fond of saying: "In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, & we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens."  This is Paul's point...It is as if Paul is saying to the Corinthian church folk look you have got this backwards you are not to be resident aliens in the church; instead you are to be resident aliens in the culture.

Paul says if there is jealousy and strife then there is the world and the world's values.  Those who truly represent God are those who act with gracious conduct towards one another. Regardless of the celebrated cause of the day those who are God's never make their cause God's cause they are focused. They never seek division nor do they cause division.

Paul continues to make his case by pointing out that when we take sides...so in so is right and so and so is wrong...we are just parroting the world.  Just because you add Jesus' name before you divide people doesn't make it right.  Whenever you abuse another in God's name (our Matthew reading for today points out) you do murder.  Anger and vengeance are not Godly traits.

Preachers will think it is their role to do this.  Paul believes it is worse when preachers do it. Those who are tasked with building up, uniting, and growing the body should never be about dividing it. This is the sign of a false teacher.  The work of the preacher or leader is to do the work of reconciliation with God for themselves and then to aid in God's reconciling work in creation.  To play a role in politics and divisions is to engage in a worldly act.

It is our job to encourage, to love, to unite, to reconcile, to give God's blessing.  As Paul Zahl says: it is about love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. That is it...what more is there. Love, mercy, forgiveness, grace...repeat...

God grows.  We don't grow things.  We are, Paul says, "nothing" in this process.  We are mere vessels.  Every moment we begin to think we are in charge of the vessel leads us down a terrible world.  Our feelings and our perceptions about our-self are flawed.

Paul does say though that those who do the work faithfully will be blessed. Those who keep to these values of unity and encouragement will in fact be fellow-workers with Christ; rather than frustrating Christ's efforts in us.

"For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building."  It is as Gods and in making ourselves open to God's perfecting Holy Spirit that we are able to become a temple of prayer for all God's people and a field in which rise up the great Harvest Lord's ingathering.


Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:15-20






The Gospel of Matthew offers a vision of the beloved community that is shaped by works of discipleship. The community as envisioned is laid out clearly in the sermon on the mount. The community of followers of Jesus is also deeply rooted in the narrative of Israel and how it was shaped by the boundaries of the Torah. We must be careful here though. While the gospeller tells us that we are tied to the Torah it is always with the lens of Jesus. We must be careful not to take away from the law (would caution Matthew’s author) because to do so is out of step with Jesus’ own understanding. This is certainly seen in his confrontation with the religious leaders of his day. At the same time the Torah must be seen primarily through the eyes of Jesus’ ministry and his instruction. Here is a refocusing of the law with a lens towards justice, mercy, and faith. (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 121)

So we turn to our reading from Deuteronomy. On the one hand remembering that this is a retelling of the story of the first four books of the Old Testament, with an eye to the faithful community. It is a book cast within the narrative frame of Moses reminding the people what lessons they have learned prior to entering the promised land. Just before this passage Moses says, “These commandments are not too hard for you, and they are not too foreign.” (30:11)

Moses begins our passage with these words: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” (30:15) Then he says that people will know who you are and who you love by the work you undertake in keeping these commandments. Love God and act as followers of God and you will be blessed and those who look upon you will know not only what you do but whose you are.

Furthermore, if you do not then you will perish. You will perish if you worship other gods, if you serve yourself, you will lose what has been promised to you, and you will fail the mission that is yours specifically because you are God’s people. “Everything is before you”, Moses says, “Life and death, blessings and curses.”

The key will be loving God, doing the work of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This will be understood not simply by worshiping God but as we read the rest of the Old Testament, with an eye to the sermon on the mount, we know it will be remembering the poor, helpless, and hopeless. God has acted for the migrant, the poor, the worker of the land, and those who have nothing. God acts for the motley people of God and God will act for the community that remembers them. Righteousness is to be defined in the prophets to come and in the living out of the covenant not by ritual faithfulness but by communal care of everyone. The land, and creation, is yours, but as will be clear in the rest of the narrative, you will lose it if you forget the lowly. You were delivered, deliver others, or God will go about the delivering Godself and find those who are interested in such works of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.