Finding the Lessons

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

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 30, 2015 Proper 17B / Ordinary 22B / Pentecost +14

"The question that drove the Pharisees and that motivates some contemporary Christians is an important one: in a religiously diverse culture, how does one maintain Christian identity and integrity?"

"ID Check," Cynthia M. Campbell, The Christian Century, 2006.

"By the end of the passage for today, Jesus has turned the whole notion of consumption that defiles on its head."

Commentary, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"What seems to have made him angriest was hypocrisy and irrelevance, and thus it is the Pharisees who come in for his strongest attacks, the good people who should have known better. 'You brood of vipers,' he called them. 'How can you speak good when you are evil?'"

"The Longing for Home," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

Prayer

Behold, O God, your Christian people, gathered together on this day of the Lord, our weekly celebration.  Let the praise of our lips resound in the depths of our hearts, the word you have sown, the word that has taken root within us to sanctify and renew our entire lives.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Jesus has just shown his miraculous healing powers and now an argument over doing work on the sabbath begins between himself and the religious leaders of his day.  The argument centers around the eating of ritually clean food by people who are ritually clean.

Rather than answer the questions directly, Jesus changes the question and instead holds up the difference between human tradition and God's word/commandment.  By so doing he has transferred the positive notion of the "tradition of the elders" into a negative one. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 451).  Jesus' second rebuttal shows the religious leaders and to the reader that instead of the "tradition of the elders" being a positive or necessary expansion of the commandment it is now getting in the way of the commandments of God. It is in fact betraying God's Word - perhaps even working against God's grace. So, while in scripture and guided by scripture it is not of the same authority of God's desire to gaterh in his people.

He then makes a pronouncement about purity.  He states that because the "tradition from the elders" comes from the person (who we believe to be fallen)  it actually corrupts everything that is attempted, including the word of God.  He then (in the passage that we do not read this Sunday) will explain that instead of food being the presenting issue of this corruption, or we might postulate the cleaning of hands/pots/cups/and bronze kettles, it is instead the human heart.  For Jesus the seat of corruption is the human and their heart. (Marcus, 454)

This is a "revolutionary" notion. (Marcus, 456)  It was revolutionary for the disciples who want to hear more, it is revolutionary for us as well.  Just as we might recall the heavenly voice speaking to Peter in Acts about ritually clean foods, Jesus says God made these things, they are of his creation, they are good. What is actually happening is Jesus is himself saying that parts of scripture while important may not have the same validity as other parts of scripture. In a very Anglican way of thinking Jesus is saying that while the bible contains all things necessary for salvation, not everything in the law and in scripture is necessary for salvation

Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of Mark is clear: the human heart is the seat of a lot of bad things.  Joel Marcus says this well when he writes:

"[The] catalogue of human offenses is incorporated into a truly hellish picture, in which the interior of the human being is depicted as a Pandora's box, a cave of malignancy out of which hordes of demon like evils emanate....a wild force that propels people willy-nilly into actions that are opposed to God's will.  Nor is it by chance that, after this global category, the first specific misdeeds to be mentioned are sexual sins; in Hellenistic popular philosophy these sins were the premier example of the chaotic, ungovernable aspect of human nature, which precipitously pursues its own desires and is blind to its own true good, and in Judaism these sins were frequently associated with the promptings of the Evil inclination." (Marcus, 459ff)

The next important piece seems to be the notion that the disciples themselves do not stand apart form the group of humans whose hearts pour forth this evil in the world. (Marcus, 460)  That too is revolutionary.

This passage offers us a glimpse into Jesus' belief that we ALL are fallen creatures. We all suffer from this incurable corruption.  All of us, the religious leaders, the disciples, the first Christian community to which Mark is writing, all of us are naturally about the work of corrupting God's Word.  All of us.

Certainly, we then might respond that such a group of reprobates as the human race have no hope; so what does it matter anyway. Isn't this just an invitation to "moral disorder." (Marcus, 461)  Here I would pause and first say that the key message of Jesus is that all are saved in his work of the cross.  We must remember that every footstep, every word of Jesus, is walked and spoken on the way to the cross.  We ourselves are on our way to this dying.  Joel Marcus too, offers us a thought that defies tradition, logic, and law when he writes that Jesus wants us to understand that transformation lies in seeing the creation, the society, our religion through Jesus' eyes. (Marcus, 461)  In these two notions is our hope and salvation.  In these two critical pieces do we receive grace and learn a new transformational way of life.

All of this is uttered in the physical geography between the worlds of biblical Israel and the world of the Gentiles.  (Marcus, 461)  So this week as we ponder our inability and the root of our corruption, we might also ponder the notion of a new kind of religion.  Perhaps we might imagine a religion (lets say the Episcopal Church for instance) that steps out onto the boundary that lies between our church steps and the world and proclaims grace from our Lord's cross and simultaneously looks at the world with the eyes of Jesus, and in so doing does miraculous work. 




A Little Bit for Everyone



Oremus Online NRSV Text

"Glib pieties do not suffice purify the heart of a believer; if one thinks oneself secure simply for praising the Lord and carping at sinners, one has not made spiritual progress but is half-heartedly trying to hold on both to God and to sinful desire."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"Perhaps, if we as Christians were to follow James's precepts, we would do a lot less talking and a lot more listening."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Why do I find James -- at least in this instance -- so attractive? Because it reminds us of two incredibly important things: 1) faithfulness does not need to be heroic; 2) Sunday is not the most important day of the Christian week."

"Ordinary Saints," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

This is the first time we have had the opportunity to read the letter attributed to James in a long time! It is described, and many people think of it, as a letter.  However, it is really more of a description or encouragement concerning the conduct of a disciple of Jesus. It is probably given the name of the brother of Jesus in order to give it teaching authority in the midst of the late first century Christian community.

The premise of the letter is very much a dualist one. The Christian is a good the world is bad. The Christian is moral and the world is evil. The faith that Christians are called to then is to be a witness in this world.

Blogger Chris Haslaam (found here) describes it this way:
In a situation where trials and tribulations abound, and where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, the author exhorts them to joy, endurance, wisdom, confident prayer and faithful response to the liberating word of God, as they await the second coming of the Lord. The recipients appear to be a group of Jewish-Christian communities outside Palestine. 
In our passage for this Sunday the author is encouraging people to be wary and to not be deceived by the teachings of others or the world. God has given a perfect gift in Christ Jesus. Just as he has given abundantly in the very act of creation, so God has continued to give and to creation. Christ is the first fruit of a new creation - a reordered creation.  

The reason is that followers of Christ are to be examples of God's recreative act. We are, through our own offering of ourselves, to be about the work of God in the world. We are to do and act out our following of Christ Jesus. 

Here then is that great passage: we are to be doers of the word and not only hearers of the word. Once we are baptized, once we accept the great gift of Christ, the all powerful all forgiving act of Christ, we are then to respond. This is very important.

God does the saving. It is to this saving grace filled action of recreation that we are to respond. How are we to respond. The author says we are to hold up our lives to the Gospel. We are to be quick to listen to God and the Gospel. We are to be slow to anger or speak. So we are to listen to God and ponder what we hear. The follower of the Christ is to care for the poor especially orphans and widows. We are to be active in the betterment of the world by caring for other people.

For the author of this passage it is clear that the world does not care for the poor, for the orphan, for the widow. The world does not intend the transformation of the world as a sustainable creation. the world is filled with anger, deceit, and self-care. 

The author is clear, the follower of Christ Jesus is not any of those things. The follower of Jesus is one who is other centered and focused in their life and in their ministry - not just their ministry alone. The work is to be as Christ was for the world.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Proper 16B/Ordinary 21B/Pentecost 13

"...the bread of life discourse represents a christological exposition of the Old Testament manna tradition. Eucharistic language is thus probably used not as an end in itself, but because it enables faith in Jesus to be expounded in a way that is relevant to the Johannine community's legitimation of its beliefs and practices in the context of its conflict with the synagogue."

"Food For Thought: The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:25-71) in Johannine Legitimation," by James F. McGrath, from Theological Gathering 2 (Winter 1997).

Prayer

God our Savior, in Christ, your eternal Word, you have revealed the full depths of your love for us.  Guide this holy assembly of your people by the light of your Holy Spirit, so that no word of mere human wisdom may ever cause us to turn away from your Holy One.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 6:56-69

We have spent some time over the past few weeks reviewing and pondering the implications of the bread of life on our Episcopal theology, ecclesiology, and liturgy.  We continue in the first part of our reading as before. 

While in the previous verses we have focused our attention on real food, here John transitions to speaking about an "imperishable food that is the source of eternal life." (Raymond Brown, John, vol 29, 292)

If we compare vs 54 with 56 we see that eternal life itself is to be close and in communion with Jesus. (Ibid)  The very nature of claiming to be Christian and Episcopalian is rooted deeply in this notion that we remain in Jesus and that Jesus is in us.  We cannot stress enough that what we are speaking about is physical AND spiritual. That we believe that we, when we remain close and in communion with Jesus, participate physically and spiritually in the life of God, in the life to come, in everlasting or eternal life. This is the unbroken nature of communion which is provided between God through the incarnation to God's people. God proclaims that we are to be his people and he is to be our God.

So, when we arrive at the very last verses of today's reading (which are actually a portion of the following pericope in the scripture) we see that there is an acclamation of faith; a moment as important as Caesarea of Philippi.  It is an affirmation of the revelation of God by those around him which fill the gospel tradition.  We have an exclamation point if you will to the reality of remaining in Christ.

Here are the three key verses:

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”




It is true that many authorities believe this is added by a later author/editor. It is true that there are competing theories about this scholastically.  But here is the important piece: as Episcopalians we root and connect the first part of the text (bread of life) with the second part (a statement of faith).

We might be tempted as "want to be" scholars to preach and separate the two. I say we should not.  In fact to do so misses a very important part of who we are as Episcopalians; and Eucharistically centered Christians.

We believe that communion with Christ is mediated (regardless of your theology on presence) by the rite we use; which was instituted by Jesus.  A rite that includes the proclamation that "we believe" and the sharing of good news of God in Christ Jesus followed by the grace of forgiveness and a holy meal.  Moreover, we have believed and believe today that not only does Christ commune with his people in the Eucharist and his people with Christ; but also that a bond of communion is created between fellow Christians. 

Communion, participation in an Episcopal service of the Eucharist, is a very physical, spiritual, and personal engagement with God.  It includes an activity of God towards his people, a thanksgiving for that action, a surrendering and outpouring of love towards God, and the "individual union with Christ, both Go and [people], in whom the self-giving of God and the self-surrender of [men and women] meet." (Doctrine in the Church of England, 165)  As our own Book of Common prayer states it:

"The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.  The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life."


To say and believe any more or any less may certainly be Christian, but it is not Episcopalian.

We have come to believe that God in Christ Jesus is the very Holy One of God.  And, therefore, we seek communion with him, through the means he gave us: the Eucharistic feast. For Episcopalians the unity of our affirmation of the revelation of God is experienced in the meal we share together around the table of Jesus Christ.



A Little Bit for Everyone


 go? You have the words of eternal life.69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 12 August 16, 2015

"Ultimately all hunger cries out for satisfaction and the oldest Jesus traditions report the promise and agenda of the kingdom: Blessed are you who hunger; for you shall be satisfied. (Luke 6:21); so will those who hunger and thirst for justice (Matt 5:6). The two must not be divorced, because in the bread of life we are being nourished by the one whose being is love and compassion."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The verb here translated abide (meno) occurs 40 times in John and 29 times in the Johannine letters. It means to remain, stay, abide, live, dwell, last, endure, continue."

"Living in Jesus' Heart," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"God provides, that life is abundant (10:10), that eternal life is not something you can conveniently and conventionally postpone to your future but is your promise in the present, that any claim about life with Jesus, life with God, means an abiding, a unity, a reciprocity, and oneness."

"A 'Living' Bread," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.




Prayer

Here in the midst, O good and gracious God, Wisdom has built herself a house, she has set her table and mixed her wine: The flesh and blood of Christ become our food and drink.  Fill us with your Spirit, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, so that we may be a canticle of praise to you and for our brothers and sisters a feast of joyful love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 6:51-58

What is interesting here as we continue our Bread of Life narrative in John is that we have the words of institution here rather than in the setting of the Last Supper narrative.  Which means that there are some very interesting combinations happening as the Gospel of John unfolds theologically. The image we are given is two fold.  Jesus is proclaiming that he is the living bread, and that those who eat of this bread AND believe will have eternal life. This is not the bread or manna in the wilderness that was transitory.

While the synoptics record the Eucharistic words only John's Gospel explains what it is and what it does for the person who follows Jesus.

Here in this passage Jesus is the dominant actor, he is the source of salvation.  He is the means of salvation and unity with God.

When we see the nature of believing and abiding united we might be reminded further of Jeremiah's words in 24.7 that we are God's people, and God is our God.  Jesus is not some independent player within this abiding life of the Christian but is rather an unbroken link to the Father. 

The words are difficult for many to hear.  They were difficult in the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus spoke them.  Within his hearing they very people listening are struggling with the meaning. 

We also must remember that the revelation is completed on the resurrection day. 

I believe this is very difficult for us today because we prefer the message of the Gospel to remain a spiritual thing.  We do not want it to be about both the believing and the physical life in Christ for to do so means that we must be at work in the world not just as believers but as physical vessels of the life promised in Christ. 

We are redeemed, both our hearts/souls and our bodies.  God does the work.  Our Eucharist itself reflects the redeeming work at work in our liturgy and in our mission and evangelism.

This past week we remembered the live and ministry of the Virgin Mary.  And in the scriptures appointed for the day we were reminded that God in Christ Jesus feeds us spiritually and he gives the poor good things to eat.  Likewise both the spiritual and physical are tested by our passage this Sunday.

While the preacher may be tempted to remain in the head and heart parsing out the spiritual revelation of belief about the body of Christ, we should also be clear that the work of incarnating Christ in the world is about the feeding and care of others.  The feeding and care of neighbor and family members is a very real mission given to those who abide with Christ.  This is when bread lives in the hands of the world.

Ephesians 5:15-20

"The promises of the Gospel on this Sunday may make it possible to hear the epistle's commands in the spirit of their intention."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:15-20, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"How are we supposed to live in love the way Jesus did if we avoid the people Jesus loved?"

"Where Is the Love?" Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2012.
"These verses continue instructions regarding the Christian life. This life is the result of the reconciliation that God has brought about in Christ..."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:15-20, Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

The letter of Paul to the Ephesians is instructional to the churches in his care. It may have had special intent in spreading a normative set of standard practices or discipleship qualities among the churches. In fact the verses directly preceding are possibly an ancient baptismal hymn based upon Isaiah 60.1.
 
In the last few weeks we know that Paul has been speaking to them about their treatment of one another within the community and those outside of it. These are admonitions to be kind and tenderhearted. They are to focus on the good and people's best nature. They are in everything to build up the body and people through care, love, and forgiveness. They are to put away anger, hate, and demoralizing behaviors. They are to have a  positive approach - in other words.

While these are external behaviors, Paul also admonishes them on their own behavior as well. They are to be wise. The reality is that at the time the Jewish society believed that everything would go down the tubes just before the Messiah came. There would be great social decadence and debauchery. We see this in Qumran as well. (Notes taken from Markus Barth's Ephesians, Anchor Bible)

Part of the wisdom Paul believes, comes from the fact that as followers of Christ, baptized in the Spirit, we participate in the wisdom of God ourselves. This enables us to live within the will of God. We are to work on ourselves, and be wise about how we conduct ourselves. Paul writes, "So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit." (17ff)

I would point out that throughout Paul's letters there is a focus upon worship. Worship is the place where all people's gifts come together for mutual instruction, mutual glorification of God, and mutual transformation. The unity which Paul believes is essential is most often reflected in Paul's writings, as it is here in Ephesians, exemplified in the common worship of the community. So bring songs, psalms, lessons, and allow the Spirit to work. 

In this we are not drunken or foolish but we are together wise and joyful. The spirit helps us to give thanks for the work of Jesus Christ and reorients our gaze naturally from our own desires to God's for us, and our desires to treat others poorly to treating others with kindness and generosity. Liturgy (worship) is formational for Paul.

As we think about this Paul is clearly saying that we are to treat others with kindness, forgiveness, toleration, and love. We are to speak truth but lovingly and tenderheartedly. We are to work on ourselves rather than others; seeking to reform and transform our ways of life. And, we are to come together in worship for the building up of our own discipleship, our own community, and for the glorification of God in thanksgiving for the work of Christ Jesus.

So it is that I was reminded by one author that Paul repeats here in Ephesians what he says elsewhere, especially in Colossians 3:16-17, : “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. 

How very Anglican!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Proper 14B/Ordinary 19B/Pentecost 11 August 9, 2015

"At some point a human being quits grasping for life and griping at God and begins instead to give herself away with Christ, as a piece of his flesh, for the life of the world (v. 51)."

"Foodstuffs," Jerome Burce, Sabbatheology, The Crossings Community, 2009.

"The good news is that Jesus, rather than our knowledge and understanding, is the source of our calling and the source of our strength."

Commentary, John 6:35, 41-51, Craig A. Satterlee, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"'Murmur' here and in v.41: Perhaps 'grumble' or 'complain' would be better, but the idea of Jews/Judeans murmuring brings to mind the wilderness stories of the Exodus, when the people of Israel ‘murmured.’ See, e.g. Exodus 16:12, where the people murmur (γογγυσμὸν in LXX) and God, in response, sends Manna, later called the 'bread of heaven' (Psalm 78:24)."

"Murmuring about Bread from Heaven," D Mark Davis, raw translation and exegesis/questions, Left Behind and Loving It, 2012.


Prayer

Guide your church, O God, on the paths of its earthly pilgrimage, and sustain with the food that does not perish so that, perserving int eh faith to which christ has called us, we may come at last to your holy mountain and gaze on the beauty of your face.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 6:35-51


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel


Our gospel today continues with the "Bread of Life" theme that is marching its way through our summer readings in John's gospel.  As I go a little deeper with the bread of life texts I was fascinated by the history of scholarship and theology on this text.  Raymond Brown has a lovely paragraph in the beginning of his exegesis on this passage that is worth repeating for you history buffs.

As Brown begins to unpack the notion that Jesus is either a) speaking prophetically and about himself as the bread of life from heaven and so this is a revelatory passage on the incarnation; or, b) it is about the flesh of Jesus and the Eucharist.  He writes:

"Even in antiquity there was no agreement.  Some of the early Church Fathers, like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Eusebius, understood the whole discourse (vss. 35-58) spiritually: for them the flesh and blood of 53ff. meant no more than did the bread from heaven - a reference to Christ, but not in a Eucharistic way. For Augustine the flesh referred to Christ's immolaiton for the salvation of men.  In the heart of the patristic period, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, the Cyrils of Jerusalem and of Alexandria gave a preponderance to the Eucharistic theory. Skipping to the Reformation, we find that many of the reformers did not accepts the Eucharistic interpretation, but then neither did the Catholic champion Cajetan." (John, vol 1, 272)

In the end Brown himself will settle on the notion that Jesus is preaching on a text selected for the seder meal in the Capernaum synagogue at Passover time.  (ibid, 280)

I think this passage gives us the ability to mold and shape a discourse of our own; wherein we meditate upon the nature of Jesus and of the Eucharistic feast.  For Episcopalians this is an important time to speak about our own particular and faithful understanding of the Eucharistic meal.  We believe that the Holy Eucharist is a gospel sacrament that is essential in understanding the revelation of who Jesus is, his life, death, resurrection and our hope of his return.  For Episcopalians you see this passage is a both/and revelation. It speaks to us of who the incarnation is and how we recognize him; and it speaks to us of the sacrament itself.

The incarnation itself, Jesus as manna from heaven, is remembered and we give thanks for God's intervention in the world around us. We understand that the service and Eucharist itself makes Christ's sacrifice present for us in both a physical and spiritual manner. The Eucharist is the place where in the people of God, the Church, gathers for refreshment as it makes its pilgrim journey through the world.  It is part of the narrative of life which stretches from baptism to the passing from this life into the next. 

The narrative life of Jesus and his Church is an important part of this because there is much that is taking place here and much that is at work in the life of the believer: there is in this Eucharist the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of the union with Christ and with one another, and it also is a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.  It is a service where people are invited to examine their lives, repent of sin, and seek to be in love and charity with all people. 

So as we turn and look at this passage from John's gospel we see that Jesus' words and teachings profoundly impact and build our narrative. Jesus is the bread of life. His promise is a promise for a world hungry for life and thirsty for salvation.  Those who follow him and partake as family are never lost to him.  Jesus as bread of life, manna from heaven, the incarnation, is part of the reordering and recreating of the cosmic order.  Which is remade in Jesus' incarnation and whose culmination will be the earth's reunion with heaven in the last day.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2



"Even with the transformative effects of the love of God, the writer of Ephesians recognizes that sin does not disappear."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"The Spirit wants to bear the fruits of love in you and through you. Fundamental to all of this is forgiveness. It means giving, not holding oneself back and holding something against people. Let it go, embrace them; God embraced us."

"First Thoughts Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"We must admit that the condemnation ingredient in anger always involves an illusory self-perception. But sometimes illusions are an inevitable part of our human situation and ones that we get around not by eradicating them but by compensating for them."

"Tempering the Spirit of Wrath: Anger and the Christian Life," Robert C. Roberts. The Christian Century, 1997. At Religion OnLine.


Resources for the Epistle

One commentator on this passage wrote something like, "Paul gives advice you don't often hear in the ancient world." The truth is that Paul's letter to the Ephesians was and is unique advice. As a circular letter meant for more than one community we might remind ourselves that it is good to hear and it might just be meant for us.

Paul says we have to speak the truth to one another. This is key. We must be honest with one another and in doing this work we are then true members together in the community. We should never ask that people hold back their honest selves from us. And, we should work to be honest with others. This is a key quality to the kingdom of God and the vision for Christian community. 

This is not license though to be mean. This truth telling is not license to hurt other people. It is not the freedom to get in another persons face and tell them like it is. It is not freedom to hate or be angered against another person. Hate speech, hate, being ugly, demeaning another person, humor at another's expense or in order to degrade another person, treating people poorly or in an unkind manner because you think you have the truth - is evil, sinful, and of the devil Paul says.

If you are a follower of Jesus you can't talk this way. You can't treat people this way - no matter what they do or did. You are to instead build people up, to speak words of grace, and to make sure they hear you speak of them and to them in this manner. 

God wishes to move and work through you as a witness to God's love and mercy. Hate speech and anger will not be vessels of God's love. Bitterness, wrath, anger, arguing, slander, malice and mean intent cannot be transformative vessels of God's love.

I have actually heard people say that kindness is not a biblical value. Paul would disagree. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. This is the nature of Christ and when you are these to other people you are yourselves images of the Christ and much fruit will be born in the world because of your witness.

This is what it means to be imitators of God. To be a beloved Child of God is to live in love and to give your life for those who would harm you. You are to give your life and give up your mean spirited, hate speech, your ugliness, your anger and hostility, and your demeaning of other people if you are to be a child of God. No matter how just you believe your cause to be - God will not have beloved followers who do not imitate these qualities of Christ himself. In fact to behave in this fashion is to actually frustrate God's own mission and ministry in the world. 

This is not some kind of politically correct way of being - it is God's way of being. If we are to be with God and be imitators of God then we are must be about this work in the world too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Proper 13B/Ordinary 18B/Pentecost 10 August 2, 2015

"Preachers may need to remind their congregations about last week's text and the feeding of the multitude because in today's text, John begins to unpack the meaning of that earlier event."

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"'The hymn powerfully portrays the plight of so many of God's children: "Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live before ...'"

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Craig A. Satterlee, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"In this text, Jesus is trying to repair the faulty understanding the crowd took away from last Sunday's text."

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.




Prayer

To our stewardship, O God, you have entrusted the vast resources of your creation.  Let there be no lack of bread at the table s of any of your children, and stir up within us also a longing for your word, that we may be able to satisfy that hunger for truth that you have placed within every human heart. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 6:24-35

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We now move into the bread of life discourse in John's Gospel.  This passage follows on the heals of the feeding of the five thousand.
So the crowd of five thousand and more follow Jesus by boat across the sea.  And, there Jesus tells them that they are there because of their hunger and because Jesus fed them. He then reorients their hunger to the hunger for enduring life.  Here Jesus invites them into the deeper life of the spirit. The people were dealing with their physical need and Jesus invites them to lift their eyes to their spiritual hunger and the potential of a spiritual life. 

So, what is this work?  The work is clear in this passage. Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  They then demand more signs.  Jesus again reorients their vision.  He said to them that their religion relies on signs.  And, that as humans they are more likely to give credit to the one who performs signs; this is natural.  But Jesus is clear again that these signs are from God.  And, he, Jesus, is from God.  He is a new bread of life. He is the incarnation.  Those who come close and move beyond the simply physical will find God in the One who comes from heaven. 

Jesus is the living word that feeds the body and the soul.  Raymond Brown reminds me of the tradition in which this conversation about manna from heaven is taking place.  From the book of Wisdom 16:26 we may read, "That your sons whom you loved might learn, O Lord, that it is not the various kinds of fruit that nourish man, but it is your word that preserves those who believe in you."  Or, Nehemiah 9:20:  "You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst." Of course the crowd seems unable to understand these links or even to see the revelation of God made man in Jesus that is standing before them.

The revelation of Jesus as Son of Man, the incarnation, is indeed good news. It is good news because it reminds us of our chosen nature. That we are built to love and to long for God, and that though we are constantly seeking to fill our love and longing with bread of this world, it is God who provides a manna which nourishes both the body and the soul.  Indeed, we are beckoned into a new life with God through the incarnation.  A very real Jesus who gives us physical bread is also the the very real living word who gives himself as manna from heaven. 

Today we find this living word not only in the community of faithful people who share communion, we also find the living word in the preaching and teaching of the church.  We are able to find the living word in bible study (private and corporate). We are able to hear the living word in prayer which is petitional and contemplative. We are able to listen for the living word in conversations with fellow church goers and with strangers.  We are also able to find this living word out in the world.

It is too easy to see it only in church. God has sprinkled the world with leaven and in its stories, in the lives of people (even those who do not share our faith), in the arts, in film and in music. If you look, listen, and are attentive you will see that the leaven of God is all around us speaking of revelation, of incarnation, of resurrection.

We thirst and hunger for the living word, some thirst and hunger for real food, the mixture of this physical and spiritual hunger is a nexus in which the incarnation may be experienced in our own day and in our own time, within the confines of a Christian community and without.



Ephesians 4:1-16

"This section of Ephesians begins a series of ethical instructions firmly based on the preceding three chapters."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:1-16, Sarah henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better."

"Eternal Life," Frederick Buechner from Wishful Thinking.

"We live in a time that tends to undermine any claim to truth out of fear of being divisive or intolerant. But Paul advocates 'speaking the truth in love' (4:15). In other words, our bearing witness to the truth is grounded in a deep humility (4:2)."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:1-16, Mark Tranvik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


Resources for the Epistle

What seems powerful about the letter to the Ephesians is not only its focus upon unity but also the reality that it was probably meant as a circular letter among many early Christian communities. The communities are flourishing and growing. New members (new families) are being added to the community. Not unlike our own efforts with evangelism - when we add people the community itself changes.  

The church is growing and thriving because God is present.  Consuming this religion is not the only reason for participating though. The Christian community has work to do and membership comes with obligations. 

The obligation is to live a life “worthy of ... [their] calling” as Christians. Unity will be the essential ingredient to this work because it brings about humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance.

There are in fact, 7 ways in which we must work on this unity. 
4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Paul reminds us that Christ himself did not wait upon our perfection, nor our agreement, to come and begin the work of gathering us in. The Church, the Christian community, is not perfected - though Christ through the Holy Spirit is even now doing this work. 

Often times as we think about our work of being unified and becoming Christ like we immediately exteriorize the process. We make it about others and about our community or about someone else. We say you should be unified while I go my own way. You should love while I enjoy my hatred and anger. You must put down your sword while I remain an instrument of division.  We put the work of Christ-likeness on others and remind them they are not fully ready yet. They are not worthy. They are not to be included in this community or that community. Their ways are not our ways. 

The truth is that Paul has a much higher standard than this - as does our lord. God is not interested in how others are at work undertaking their obligations of unity, transformation, and Christ-likeness. No. God is much more interested in my personal journey towards unity in the family. God is much more interested in your personal journey. 

So you might ask yourself today as you ponder and pray about this passage - how are you doing with that? How is that working for you?

Where are you learning humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance by unifying yourself (as did our Lord Christ) with those who are so foreign to you? How are you a person of unity and a person being transformed by living among and working with those who are so very other than yourself? 

The work of unity is not some simply nicety. It is at the core of discipleship because it requires a life lived under the power of the bond of relationship with another - setting aside your desires for them and allowing yourself to live in relationship with them. 

This was the work of Christ to come into the creation (though it was not his nature), to embrace its creatures (though they are not of his own kind), to love (even though they would not understand or return it), and to give of himself fully (even as they took his life from him). This seems the measure of discipleship. This seems the necessary ingredient to a thriving God like community.

So, as we think about all the ways we would have it our way we might pause to think of the obligation of following a God who models something quite amazing.




Saturday, July 18, 2015

Proper 12B/Ordinary 17B/Pentecost 9 July 26, 2015

Proper 12B/Ordinary 17B/Pentecost 9

ordinary time,new revised common lectionary,Sermon notes,bible,lectionary,Gospel,sundays readings,RCL

"Love that feeds hungry crowds cannot be explained. Love that turns no one away cannot be explained. Love that causes one to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another cannot be explained."
"Chasing Jesus," William H. Lamar, IV, "Chasing Jesus," The Christian Century, 2003.

Prayer

In the Sunday Pasch, Lord God, you call us to share with one another the living bread that has come down from heaven.  Fill us iwth the charity of Christ and stir us by his own example to break the bread of earth as well adn to share it generously with others, so that every hunger of body and spirit may be satisfied.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 6:1-21

Ok, so we now switch to John's Gospel.  Today's text is particularly interesting to many scholars because it is right in the middle of a hotly debated section which is arranged and rearranged and so much of the work here is concerned with order and sequence. I am going to leave that up to you if you are interested in going down that particular rabbit trail. 

Or, perhaps you may wish to think a little about why these two stories (last weeks and this weeks) are chosen together.

But here is a significant change in the ancient tradition that I do think has more to do with this lesson than last week's lesson, and that is the connection of this feeding with the Eucharistic feast.  This is also highlighted as we pause to notice the mention of the passover.  

Here in this passage we see (very differently from the synoptic tradition) that Jesus gives out the bread as he does in the last supper narrative.  "Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.." (vs 11)

We might read the section on chapter 6 in Raymond Brown (John, vol 1, 348) to see the other places where there are textual parallels between this and the Didache- which was an early church teaching.

They respond to this revelation of who he is by wanting to make him King or by recognizing his prophetic nature. This of course accentuates the reality that he is the incarnate Lord, and that his work in feeding is transformative for the whole world. Jesus, like Isaiah prophesied, is the means by which God feeds the people with good things.  

Here then the walking on the sea is again part of the passover theme and offers a glimpse of the promise the meal itself will hold for those who follow Jesus.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the feeding of people bread.  Here is what is interesting to me, the reality is that we as Christians are called to truly give people good things to eat. We are called to feed the hungry.  It is an amazing thing that we spend so much time figuring out how to feed those who come into our church that we will miss completely the point of the meal here made in the wilderness.  And, that is, that is a meal made in the wilderness. We are called to go out and feed people. We are called to share and to multiply what God gives us. We are to be Jesus' hands in the world. 

This passage is echoing the Eucharist because the Eucharist leads to the feeding of the multitudes for Christians.  We are literally to make table in the midst of the community and feed people.  This uniquely Christian understanding of mission is tied into the Gospel. We are to feed their minds and their bodies. And, we are to do it out in the world.  

The church can be so very narcissistic sometimes, thinking that it is all about us! The reality is this is all about the world and our call to be agents of feeding in it.  We are the new Eucharistic symbol that is to literally feed people.

To flip this around means that we are completely out of sync with the narrative story and in some ways let off the hook for doing the right thing in the midst of a very private gathering and failing our mission as Christians. 

I hope that I will leave a Christian mission to the next generation that has walked across the stormy seas of change and the parting of our front doors out into the world where truly hungry and hurting people's needs are met by a eucharistically empowered people of God.  The multiplication of our efforts to change the world around us will be a miracle indeed.

A Little Bit for Everyone



John 6:1-21


6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Pentecost 8 July 19, 2015

"The mission is so successful that one could be left wondering where it will end. Mark's hearers then and now know that this is not the whole story, but it does not change the nature of the mission: to offer leadership in teaching and in acts of compassion that bring healing and set people free from what oppresses them."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


Prayer

As we gather again, O God, to celebrate the weekly Pasch, grant your church the joy of tasting again the living presence of your Christ in the word that Jesus proclaimed and in the bread of life we break. Drawing apart on this day of worship and rest, of refreshment and renewal, let us recognize in Jesus the true prophet and shepherd who guides us to unfailing springs of eternal joys. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 6:30-56
Let us begin first with the meaning of the word "apostles."  I think when we hear this word we immediately think of the chosen and the first 12.  Am I wrong? Nope. That meaning, and that is certainly one way of understanding the word, is correct but it is applied after the church became the Church.  In our reading today we might better read it in the way the gospel means it: those who were sent out.  I think this changes things a bit as we read our text.
Jacopo Bassano, "The Feeding of the Five Thousand"
So, the ones who had been sent out gathered around Jesus.  They explain all the powerful work they have been doing. They had been participating in the building up of the kingdom of God. They had gone out and done work which Jesus himself had been doing. The power of God was now present in the world and flowing through them as well. They had been sent out to do God's work of building up and proclaiming the good news of the reign of God and it had worked.

So they gather and a great many people gather around, as if in a symposium or a teaching time.  And Jesus sees them like Moses, as sheep without a shepherd.  And, like Moses who see his people hungry and longing he provides for them. This is a miraculous story that synchronizes Jesus with the powers and vision of Moses to see his suffering and lost people and to come to their aid.  His followers do not all understand this, nor can they understand the fact that Jesus himself is to be the bread of life.  But here for those of us who are also sent out, who are also sent ahead, we are able to see God's compassion and love and care for his people. Neatly tucked in here is this notion that those who are sent and are able to do great things sometimes also need help seeing that those challenges right before them are also theirs to overcome.

Our text today has a one/two punch as we take two specific and different pericopes into consideration.  In the second part of our text the disciples, his inner circle of missionaries, are gathered and are sent out onto the sea to make their way to Bethsaida. It is another crossing and we should know by now that whenever there is a crossing and water that we are about to see again the creative power of God in Jesus. Indeed we do.

They are trying to make their way. The ones who have been sent out, are now sent ahead, and are struggling to make their way across the boiling sea. Again, they are challenged. We cannot dismiss this as simply difficult work.  The image of the sea is always in Mark an image of powers of creation and powers against Jesus. It is the place of leviathon and the deep.  Jesus walks out to them. And, they see him again as the one in whom all creation has its being and for whom even the waves obey.  It is an epiphany event.  In the midst of the feeding we are treated to a vison of Jesus as the bread of life and a new Moses, on the sea we see him as Moses walking through the waters to deliver his people.  This passage is filled with old testament imagery and the linkage of feeding in the desert and the Red Sea crossing should not be dismissed.  Jesus is the "I am."  Jesus is the lord of the Haggadah, the ego eimi, the one who is, and he is the image of God at work in Moses, and in the new law. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 431ff)

Just as this motif of Moses and the Exodus looks back it also looks forward.  It looks forward to the reimaging of Christ as the crucified Lord who makes way through the sheol of death and brings us to a new banquet table which is set on the mountain top and not in the wilderness.  We are given images of Christ as the bread of life. He is our new shepherd and our new deliverer. He is our messiah who leads us all and forevermore out of death into life.

As we pause and think about this for our people today we must ask what are they hungry for? What do they need deliverance from?  

Moreover, we might ask as the church who is being sent...what are we being sent out to do?

How do we as church feed the masses with the Gospel of good news? Are we willing to not only change the world; are we willing to transform it through the proclamation of God in Christ Jesus? 

This is a both/and scenario.  Mission is at once the feeding of the body, shelter for the head, and healing for the sick.  But mission is also hope for the mind, guidance home for the lost, and restoration for the separated.  It is one thing for people to know that Episcopalians care. It is quite another for people to experience the caring of the Episcopal missionary and their story of transformational life.  

Mark's gospel is never only about the wind and the waves, it is also always about the spirit.  These two combined are the key to an incarnational message of the gospel which is apostolic and life changing.  


A Little Bit for Everyone



Mark 6:30-56


30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late;36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”38And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.42And all ate and were filled;43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by.49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out;50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.