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 can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

You can also 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)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Proper 25A/Ordinary 30A/Pentecost +21 October 18, 2020


Prayer

Drive from our hearts the idols this world worships, money, and power, privilege and prestige, that we may be free to serve you alone, and, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, may make your Son's new commandment of love the law that governs every aspect of our lives. 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 22:34-46

"It leaves each generation with a new challenge: how do we speak about God in Christ in a way that communicates the essence of the good news to people in our culture?"
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 19, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

“Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


I have decided that the world would truly be better off if people (including myself) would follow this very basic rule - this summary of the law given in this passage.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we are to follow Jesus and what it is that we are supposed to be doing. Truth is it is not that difficult.

We are to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he claims that the summary of the law is from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." This passage is the most often used passage in the Gospel of Matthew and here in Jesus' teachings, we see it once again reflecting what was an essential ingredient in Jesus' own teaching and in the teaching of the early church. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 247ff) This statement fulfills the moral commands of the whole of the Decalogue from the rabbinic perspective and so we see that Jesus continues this teaching yet with a few changes.

Just as Jesus broadens the family of Abraham with a Gospel mission to all people; so too does he broaden the burden of the Decalogue's teaching beyond the neighbor who is family to include all people. His command is one that is universal. The Christian in fulfilling all righteousness (as did Jesus) must love all people and work for their well being. This is the very core of what it means to be a Christian - to love others and work for their well-being. The mission of the Gospel is a message for all people and our love for neighbor is to be an action to all people. Just as Jesus came into the world so we are sent with all power and authority to love all of his who are in the world.

The other piece of Jesus' teaching which is important is his understanding that the measure of our love for others is a measure revealed of our love towards God. In other words, so connected is God to all the people of his creation, that one cannot measure your love of God without the measurement of your love for all people.

To love God with all that we are and all that we have is ultimately incarnated in our love for ourselves and the people in our lives and whom we meet.

So why is it that the reality is that we can all name people, indeed we can convict ourselves (I can convict myself) for a lack of love of God based upon my lack of love for myself and my neighbor? The reason is quite simple and that is that we just flat out don't love God and we don't love our neighbor more than we love our self. The age-old truth about human anthropology is this - we just are bound and determined to create the world in our own image, run things for our own self-service, and ensure that we are cared for first and last over and above the needs of everyone else. Sure on my best days, I can do okay on this love others bit. We should cut ourselves some slack...I mean we do a lot of good work as a community and I know a lot of saints of God who do amazing service in the name of God. That is true. But mostly we serve ourselves. It is true. And, we should own it.

Our world and our church run on the notion that we can create laws and ordinances, canons, and policies, that will guide the human being into right action.

We believe in our own needs so much that we universalize them pretending they are God's desires for us and God's desires for our neighbors.

What is the solution, like the pietist I say measure in the privacy of your own heart your life, and actions and words (including emails) towards others? Set a rule of life that offers the opportunity to reflect on how you are doing. Get into an accountability group of some kind and see a spiritual director or seek the guidance of clergy. Your rule should also include confession. Take stock and confess honestly how you have fallen short. Only by doing this will you have the ability to reflect on opportunities to more carefully live into the virtue of Jesus' directions. Only then will you rest upon the Grace of God and Jesus Christ for the strength to try again. Go to church and place yourself in the presence of the God you love and see there in the community others struggling to love themselves, love others, and love God. Join in a bible study and discern your ministry and what God would have you do.

Most of all act. Do outreach. Serve the poor. Help your neighbor. Look for opportunities to do something good for someone every day and don't tell anyone about it. That is one of the best takeaways from my years in Alanon. Do something good, help someone, and don't brag about it. Begin to see that your life is better when it is focused on others and helping others with their needs.

Allison and Davies write this about this passage, "Jesus' words fulfill the law and the prophets; religious duties are to be performed not for human approval but grow out of the intimate relationship wit the heavenly Father, out of love for and devoted service to him; and the neighbour is to be loved and treated as one loves and treats oneself." (247)

When I die I would hope the simple life of having loved my neighbor will be a measure adequate for my fellows to say I was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ; and for my God to see that I have worshiped him in all faithfulness.



Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

"As Christians, we are all community builders, not just the pastor, or the choir leader, or the theology student. Paul calls each one of us to interact with one another in our present Christian community with bold speech, personal integrity, and soul-sharing."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Richard Ascough, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"...we each need to be faithful stewards, loving mothers, and concerned and involved fathers."
A Compelling Example for Ministry, from An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, by J. Hampton Keathley III at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

Paul is having a tough go of it in both his planting of churches in Philippi and in Thessalonica.  At every turn, there is a stumbling block.  Yet his work and the work of the communities is fruitful and growing.  

He now encourages is growing community at Thessalonica and reminds them that the fruit that is being born from their efforts is fruit that arises because God is at work in their midst. It is God who is approving of their preaching the gospel and authorizing their mission.  It is not about popularity but about God's intentions coming into reality.
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.3For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
It is not a crafty message or tricks that draw people into this fledgling community but God and God's spirit. It is not about people feeling good about themselves or flattery that draws them in but the message of God's love and grace.

Paul then has that beautiful passage about being emissaries of Christ.  That they are gentle and kind to those seeking God and greater knowledge of him.  Their generosity and their own imitation of Christ is what is having an impact on the broader community. Sure, there are still people who proclaim them crazy and a charlatan. Paul and the community though are simply being faithful to the Gospel they received.
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Paul reveals in this passage that he truly loves them and cares for them.  A friend of mine once told me that when looking at a congregation and considering your life and ministry in their midst you have to ask yourself do you, can you, love them. I think there is something important in that idea - something quite Pauline.  What would our churches be like if we loved the people within as well as the people without?  

I learned a long time ago that it is much more important to tell people you love them than it is to hear that you are loved.  It is an amazing thing and I have tried to look at those given into my care and to love them. To be gentle. Sometimes I have failed miserably! Oh my, and what a mess.  But in those instances where I have loved far greater things have happened.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 34:1-12


"Moses has been obedient and has had faith for so long that it must have been a profound gift to have his hopes and convictions confirmed by what he did see."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

"That story can continue to speak to people today who, even in the midst of disappointment, live by faith in the God of Moses, the God who does indeed fulfill promises."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV First Text


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
The simple answer is that obsession with death ultimately devalues life. Why fight against the evils and injustices of the world if this life is only a preparation for the world to come? Ernest Becker in his classic The Denial of Death argues that fear of our own mortality has been one of the driving forces of civilization. It is what led the ancient world to enslave the masses, turning them into giant labour forces to build monumental buildings that would stand as long as time itself. It led to the ancient cult of the hero, the man who becomes immortal by doing daring deeds on the field of battle. We fear death; we have a love-hate relationship with it. Freud called this thanatos, the death instinct, and said it was one of the two driving forces of life, the other being eros.
Sacks then writes, “Judaism is a sustained protest against this world-view.” (Sacks, Jonathan. “Nitzavim (5774) - Defeating Death.” Rabbi Sacks, The Office of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 4 Apr. 2016, rabbisacks.org/nitzavim-5774-defeating-death/)
It is my opinion that religious powers and authorities at our worst have used the scriptures to inspire a fear of death in order to gain support for their agendas. When in fact Jesus’ ministry was the opposite. Jesus’ work was to deal head-on with the powers of this world that we might have life in the here and now. Jesus sought to remove the fear of the future that we might have a life here knowing well that we have life in the future. The Gospel, especially Mark’s, is for those afraid that they might have hope in the face of the apocalyptic life lived in this world and in the face of fear of the apocalyptic doom preached about the future.

With this in mind then we turn to the story of Moses in Deuteronomy. Moses has led the people to the promised land, but he will not see it. A leadership fable it reveals the very nature of leadership and especially shared leadership. The person who steps out and leads rarely sees the results of such leadership. They write the story of transition and faithful sacrifice of self but do not write the last chapter. The next/last chapter is always written by someone else. Moses’ epitaph is a life well lived in service to God. “Never again did there arise a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to display in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land, and for all the mighty acts and awesome sights that Moses displayed in the sight of all Israel. (Deut. 34:10-12)

Moses, loved God even though he himself was not perfect like God. Moses, loved God’s people even though they did not always get along. Moses loved his partners, not because he needed them but because God needed them to help Moses fulfill his work. Most people do not know where the ordinary man is buried though some know where the famous are buried. “No man knows [Moses’] burial place” (34:6). Here is a great prophet who has no great monumental tomb because of all the things Moses was – he was a humble leader.

Moses is the ordinary man, in every day ordinary life (where the battle of the powers and authorities is waged), with whom and through whom God did extraordinary things. When life is over we have no fear of death. And, when we look back, we will value most the things that Moses valued: the love of friends and family; the love of God’s work well done; the love of having been part of a blessed community of shalom – peace.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes as he ponders Moses' life and his end: “The greatest tribute the Torah gives Moses is to call him eved Hashem, the servant of God. That is why the Rambam writes that we can all be as great as Moses. (Hilkhot Teshuvah 5:2) Because we can all serve. We are as great as the causes we serve, and when we serve with true humility, a Force greater than ourselves flows through us, bringing the Divine presence into the world.” (Sacks, Jonathan. “Moses' Death, Moses' Life (Vezot Habracha 5775).” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 4 Apr. 2016, rabbisacks.org/moses-death-moses-life-vezot-habracha-5775/)

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Proper 24A/Ordinary 29A/Pentecost +20 October 11, 2020


Prayer
Let those who exercise authority over others defer always to the primacy of conscience; and help us to use rightly the freedom you have given us, that we may fulfill Jesus' teaching, by rendering to others what is rightfully theirs but rendering to God alone the deepest loyalty of our hearts. 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
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

"It is God who claims us, who made us in his own image. We do not belong to anything or to anyone else." Commentary, Matthew 22:15-22, Clayton Schmidt, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"How can a Jew be faithful and observant and also stay alive under Roman rule? Yikes. But it is precisely this position of being caught in a bind of irreconcilable, conflicting obligations and duties that make real life so interesting. The desire to make the tension go away, to solve it, is the enemy of true faithfulness. " Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 22:15-22, David Ewart, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


As we have noted we are in the midst of a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.
The passage for this week is the passage on giving to God what is God's.  The leaders in the story are trying to get Jesus to make a seditious statement, a revolutionary statement so they can accuse him and dismantle his ministry.

This is a masterful moment of play and humor. It is masterful moment of debate in which Jesus is seen outclassing his verbal opponents.  The reality is that all things are God's. So Caesar can think that coin is his and we should indeed give it to him. But the message is clear all things are Gods.

This is not an argument for a division about church and state. Surely, Christians over the years have understood that they have a virtuous citizen role to play in the world of government and politics.  But this text is far from being a text that offers a view on the nature of our current debate between religion and the public square.

In this passage Jesus is clear: all things are God's.  Even in the subtext as we see the plotting and the future revelation that Jesus is surely to die for his teaching and for his eating with undesirables (as taught in the previous weeks text and lived out by Jesus) we are sure that God will prevail. Even the person hood of Jesus is God's own possession.  The workings of the state may indeed crucify and torture but the kingdom will belong to God and to his son Jesus.

So this Sunday, situated in the midst of the fall, is located right in the middle of many a stewardship campaign.  And, I think the message Jesus offers his detractors and the people around him is just as applicable today.

Every week we proclaim through the Nicene Creed a particular kind of God. We proclaim and give voice to a God whom we have faith in is the very one who has created all things and for whom all things were made.  The whole of creation was ordered and breathed into that it might reflect the glory of God.  Our Gospel today reminds us that in fact all things are God's.

This flies into the face of our modern conception of stewardship.  We teach and we preach that God gave us all things and so we are to give back to God.  That is not the same thing though.  When we teach that we change the meaning of the whole text and the whole of scripture.

The reality is that all things are created by God and all things are God's.  So the question isn't what am I supposed to do with my 5% or how do I get to my tithe goal.

The chief stewardship question I would challenge you to ask the members of your congregation is this: If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

That is a radical notion.  Yet it fits with the understanding of creation. It fits with the understanding of Christian stewardship in the New Testament. It is very uncomfortable and it is so culturally foreign to Americans that most people will not preach it and when it is preached most people won't be able to hear it.

If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

You see when we get this confused and we then adapt the stewardship notion (the idea that all things are God's and we are God's stewards) then what we get is the idea that the owner has actually given over the property to the steward. That really the steward is the owner.  When the steward becomes the owner then there is a new owner, and that owner is not God.

It is a very subtle concept. Perhaps it is so subtle that our authorities challenging Jesus don't even get his joke.  You see we can pretend all we want. Yet as we are reminded on ash Wednesday and at every funeral: dust we are dust we shall return.  Yep. All things are God's, they are God's now, and they will be God's when we are finished using them.

The very heart of stewardship is understanding that all that we have and all that we are is God's and purposed for God's use. The only stewardship question is how does God want me to use all this stuff!

There is another more sinister stumbling block in this text and that is the one that is sneakily portrayed by the emperor's image.  You see we, not wholly unlike the emperor, believe most days we deserve what we have. We deserve what we have, in fact we deserve more than what we have. Remember the one with the most toys wins.  That's right.  The reality is that most of us Americans are still firmly rooted in the false notion that if we work hard God will bless us, if we believe right God will bless us, if we do the right things God will bless us.  Therefore, all the stuff we have is because God blessed us.  No matter how you look at it the second most human way of life (behind it is all mine) is the notion that the more I have the better I am.

In varying degrees all humans are hoarders.

We believe if we can have it, possess it, keep it, hide it, collect it, then we are good, safe, whole, and holy.

I love the wake up call that Charles Lane gives in his book Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving stewardship ministry in your congregation.  He writes:
Our American culture has trumpeted the "self-made man at least since the time of Horatio Alger. The rags to riches story of a person who has pulled himself or herself up by the bootstraps and made something out of nothing has a long-standing place in our nation's mythology. We tend to take a very individualistic view of "success," ignoring the multitude of complicated factors that have caused one person to achieve wealth and power, while others have not.  ...Countless forces over which we have no control have helped make us what we are. The brains and the hard work for which we want to take credit for are God's, and God entrusts them to us.
What we have should not focus our attention on how kingly, wealthy, or blessed we are, it should make us ponder and think about how God would have me help others with what I have been given.  How do I as a steward of God's stuff understand and enact the kingdom of God?

We are not unlike the Roman legions occupying the holy land who produced that coin Jesus held many years ago.  We occupy our fortresses and we think only of the small offerings we should make to the Lord our God who has created all things, gives them life, and by his hand has brought them into being.

We are invited into a sacred relationship with the gardener, with the vineyard owner, with the one who is God above all Gods, Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.  And we are given the privilege of serving as stewards for all things come from thee O'Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.  All things are God's and we have the honor as stewards to ask how God wishes us to use all things.

Only when we begin here by opening our eyes to our faithful claim of a creator God and our role as stewards may we begin the journey of discernment about how to use God's stuff.



Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

"It can be tempting, when we receive the 'word', to think that we have received a special revelation, understood only by God and ourselves, and we allow this to become a justification for all we do and think. But the Holy Spirit moves in others as well as ourselves."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The content of the Gospel is grounded in faith and action?faith insofar as one must accept the message of the return of Jesus, and action insofar as one must turn away from the practices of idolatry. The presentation of the Gospel is found in words and action."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Richard Ascough, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

This week we shift to the first letter of Paul to the community in Thessalonica.  Typical of most letters we have an introduction which was routine at the time of Paul's writing. It is possible this intro was done by a scribe in preparation for the rest of the text; this would be true for the ending of the letter as well.  This is in part why so much of the Pauline texts begin and end in a similar manner.

After the greeting Paul tells them that despite all the adversity they have faced they have continued in faith.  They have undertaken a labor of love and a work of faith.  They are responding to God and God's love for them and have endured their sufferings.  
6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
They have done all this not because of their faith but the faith of Christ that is in them. They have been chosen by God.  Yes they are faithful but Paul is clear it is God working his purposes out in them. In this combined way (God's faithfulness and their own) they are successfully imitating Christ for the community around them to see.  

The families connected together in this gathering (which is really the meaning of the word church here) are known as people who worshiped the Roman gods.  They probably had altars and idols in their homes.  Yet they have come to know that Christ was resurrected and is a living God - he is not dead or a useless idol.  Moreover, it is this living God who will save them regardless of what their end may be.  Their witness is spreading from Thessalonica across the region and it is having a great affect.
in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
What kind of witness are we making to the world around us? How are we letting God's faithfulness be revealed in our actions and in our daily lives? What false Gods do we continue to manifest in our lives and what altars do we have set up in our homes?  Paul challenges us today to figure out how we are living like Silvanus and this gathering of faithful people or how we are not. I don't think this is a moment for shame but rather an honest question about asking: do we really believe the altars and statues we are erecting in our lives are going to save us?  And, are our actions in the world revealing the kind of God we believe in?

Some Thoughts on Exodus 33:12-23

"The fact that Moses' request is not granted reminds Moses, and us, that God is still God. For all his chutzpah, even Moses cannot presume too much. Even Moses cannot know or comprehend God completely." Commentary, Exodus 33:12-23, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Preaching on this passage could address the uncertainty that is a necessary part of faith, or it might emphasise the way in which worship and discipleship are themselves acknowledgements of the presence of God with us." 
The Old Testament Readings: Exodus 33:12-23. Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

"YHWH extends grace, mercy, and assures the promise of a holy presence and a communal presence. YHWH also sets up a tension that is at the heart of our own relationship with God. God gives of Godself, but in God's infinite holiness, God also places limits on accessibility." 
Commentary, Exodus 33:12-23, Eric Mathis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.


In today’s passage Moses complains that God has not revealed who God is going to raise up to assist Moses, then he angles for a view of God, and God essentially responds by showing Moses his backside.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that this passage falls between the Golden Calf story in 32 and the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy” in 34 which includes the second set of tables. And, Sacks questions: what is Moses trying to accomplish here? (Sacks, Jonathan. “The Closeness of God (Ki Tissa 5776).” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 25 July 2016, rabbisacks.org/the-closeness-of-god-ki-tissa-5776/.)

Let’s face it, the passage is weird. Leaning on Sacks here to fetter out the strands, we clearly see that a) the people of Israel are lost in many ways, a “national crisis” is at hand, and Moses is seeking theological understanding and a look at God; b) the actual sentences don’t make sense together (editor’s mistakes, see verse 14 specifically and the order of things); C) some confusion on what the people’s sin was – actually. (Ibid)

Not to mention Moses has moved his tent outside the encampment! The whole story is a bundle of emotions and leadership anxiety.

Sacks writes:
It was as if Moses was saying, “Until now, they have experienced You as a terrifying, elemental force, delivering plague after plague to the Egyptians, bringing the world’s greatest empire to its knees, dividing the sea, overturning the very order of nature itself. At Mount Sinai, merely hearing Your voice, they were so overwhelmed that they said, if we continue to hear the voice, ‘we will die’ (Ex. 20:16).” The people needed, said Moses, to experience not the greatness of God but the closeness of God, not God heard in thunder and lightning at the top of the mountain but as a perpetual Presence in the valley below. 
That is why Moses removed his tent and pitched it outside the camp, as if to say to God: it is not my presence the people need in their midst, but Yours. That is why Moses sought to understand the very nature of God Himself. Is it possible for God to be close to where people are? Can transcendence become immanence? Can the God who is vaster than the universe live within the universe in a predictable, comprehensible way, not just in the form of miraculous intervention?
What is important here is the arch of the narrative which gets somewhat lost in our chip choppy way of reading it. The story goes that Moses is essentially pleading with God to come close to God’s people. That God cannot always be the God of mighty acts and transcendent power.

To this God replies in a similar way to Moses as to Job – you people cannot and do not understand my ways. I imagine him saying to Moses, “Do you not know my story and how I have been with you and your ancestors in every step, in your dreams, and upon your lips? Do you not know how I have walked with my people in the garden of their lives? I am a mighty God of mighty acts but I am also the God who knows the intricacies of human life, hairs on a head, and the sweat of your brow.” So it is that God does then what Moses asks and comes and fills the people with his presence.

Such inexplicable transcendence and immanence is alluded to in the gospel of Mark chapter 6 when Jesus walks on water. Here the Gospel taps into this very idea alluding backwards to the story of Job 9:4-11 and our passage from Exodus for today. Jesus passed them by. (Richard Hays, Echoes of the Scripture in the Bible, p. 72.) Here in the Gospel then is the revelation of God in the person of Christ Jesus (through whom all things were made), the eternal incarnation revealed. It is the very Christ, the incarnation who may be seen passing by Moses and Job. The great mystery that Moses and the people can’t seem to comprehend is that God is and has always been nearby in God’s incarnation. The question Sack’s asks we see as a revealed and unequivocal, “Yes!” God is both transcendent and cannot be contained fully in any vessel, though is revealed in the person of Jesus and all of creation and its history, as immanently present.

There is always quick move to make God somehow contained in the vessels we make for God – whether that be a tent of meeting – the Mishkan, a church by the sea where Jesus walked on the water, or in our very hearts. This is merely religious thinking though. The reality is that God is present and always present. We may glimpse this God only but for second and from time to time but God is present always, in all places, and with all people. Religion inserts a notion of dualism here that is essential to religious power. But God is both the God who shaped the universe through Christ and the God who floated down the Nile watching over a baby basket. God is both the mighty voice and presence upon a mountain top and the one we intimately call our relative: father, mother, brother, and sister. Like a mother hen he gathers us and with a mighty voice she shatters a rock and water comes forth that we may drink deeply of the mystery of a God revealed.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Proper 23A/Ordinary 28A/Pentecost +19 October 4, 2020

Quotes That Make Me Think


Prayer


Open our community to all who seek you, and adorn it with the rich diversity which is your Spirit's special gift. Let our assembly on each Lord's Day bear witness as a living sign to the banquet of eternal life where all will be welcome. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 22:1-14

"I am drawn to understand this double parable through the lens of James 2, and the tension between his affirmation that one's faith can be seen in one's "works" (by which he means deeds, especially deeds of justice and compassion), and Paul's more famous affirmation (in Galatians and Romans) that our standing before God depends only on our acceptance of God's grace."
Commentary, Matthew 22:1-14, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


"The challenge of the story lies both in the warning about refusals and in the richness of the image of salvation as a feast...Beyond the strategy to save the party at the story level is the much richer notion of God's generosity, not as an afterthought, but as God's enthusiastic being and delight in all people and pain at their refusal to share the life freely offered."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Pentecost 17,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia,

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


So the reality is that this parable continues themes from the preceding lessons in the Matthean text.  One of those themes is greatly defined by Jesus' own mission in contrast to the authorities of his own day; and the contrast between the growing Matthean community and the religious authorities some sixty+ or so years after Jesus' resurrection.  We can do a great deal of harm if we are not again careful with how we set up this parable.  The danger for the preacher is that the divisions of the past can easily slip into hatred for others today. I would think that no good preacher wishes to (intentionally or unintentionally) create hatred for any ethnic or another religious group. Moreover, when we focus on this one aspect of the text we completely miss what the text is saying to us today.

The second theme is the one that I think has the most traction from our pulpits today in our particular context.  We are a church that is in the midst of a great and diverse global society. We are a church that sits ethnically divided and does not typically represent the community around us.  It is easy to see this when we graph out the ethnic diversity of our church or the age diversity of the church.  

The second theme of the text is that the kingdom of God is passing from one generation to another. The kingdom of God was once something that meant belonging to a particular group but now through the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, God's fuller plan of inviting the whole world into fellowship and kinship is underway.

The parable tells us first and foremost that the kingdom of God is the (will be in the end) fulfillment of a universal mission.

The cautions of the text are well put by the scholars Allison and Davies who write in their third volume on Matthew:
The evangelist was all too aware that criticism of others as ell as the doctrine of election are both fraught with moral peril; for the former tends to nourish complacency -- censure of our enemies always makes us feel better about ourselves -- while the latter can beget feelings of superiority...the two things can foster illusions...Thus it is that Christian readers of 22:1-14, who necessarily identify with those at the king's banquet, cannot read the text and feel self-satisfaction over the wrath that overtakes others. They must, as the homilies on this text throughout the centuries prove, instead ask whether they are like the man improperly clothed, whether they are among 'the many' despite profession to be among 'the few.'  God's judgement comes upon all, including those within the ecclesia.  The author of 1 Peter well understood this when he wrote that judgement begins with the household of God. (p 208)
In this light and in light of the particular reflection of the kingdom of God we offer as a church we might readdress the parable and ask ourselves the following questions.  Are we going out on behalf of our householder? Are we going out and inviting all to come to the banquet feast?  Are we accepting the invitation to sit at the table and to invite others? Are we willing to invite and/or to sit at the table with both the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Are we really interested in sitting in a filled banquet hall?  Are we prepared for the feast?  The question is not so much are you wearing the right clothes but are you ready to invite, connect, and welcome the people God intends to gather around for the wedding feast?

This Sunday many a sermon will focus on the violence of this parable. Some will focus on the "us and them" reading. Some will speak out only to make the insider feel better.  The truth-teller will challenge their community gathered to go out into the streets and gather in God's people, the sacred people of God, created by God, a diversity of ethnicities and beliefs. Yes, the preacher this week who speaks the truth will be the preacher who challenges our church to a missionary imperative of sharing the Gospel.

No, we do not intend to preach a Gospel that does violence to others but a Gospel of love that binds us together in the harmony of God's community. We shall invite with our actions of care and hospitality. We shall gather God's people in through actions which incarnate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I do believe in judgment; it happens every day. But I will tell you that I wish to be judged on the love and the kindness I show to my fellow man. I wish to be judged on the Gospel of love which invites all into God's heavenly embrace. I wish to sit at the table with the good and the bad, the old and the young, people of every color and people of every language.  After all...aren't those always the very best dinner parties?


Some Thoughts on Philippians 4:1-13

"Paul's concern is unity in the church, which can only arise once we recognize our redemption as coworkers for the Lord, giving us a spirit of gentleness, and thereby turning our sight from earthly matters that lead to petty squabbles, derision, and anxiety. Only then can we experience the peace that transcends all understanding."
Commentary, Philippians 4:4-7, Jacob Myers, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"But Paul sees a different reality alongside the violence and duplicity of Rome. The small and struggling Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Philippi is itself a kind of 'colony,' a separate polis with a more powerful Lord who alone has defeated death."
Commentary, Philippians 4:1-9, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.



Paul takes a bit of time with the Philippians to warn them of the trouble with appetites that will derail their pilgrimage with Christ.  So he comes now back to the intention of these last verses which is to draw the letter to a close. BUT he just can't bring himself to do it. So again he brings up a concern.

There are two individuals in the community Euodia and Syntyche and they don't agree about their understanding of a life lived following Christ. Sound familiar?!?  Moreover, their dispute is causing division in the community. REALLY! I hope you are reading my sarcasm here...  People are not agreeing with one another and then causing a division.  We don't know which one is the loyal or faithful person but we do know that Paul believes this is problematic for the mission.  Division is problematic and reconciliation is essential.

So Paul closes the letter reminding them of the need for gentleness and kindness, thanksgiving and peace.  God will be faithful in helping them through their divisions and trials. God will come soon. (Paul still believes at the time of this writing that God's second coming is approaching quickly.)  He blesses them and challenges them to be faithful.

This is apostolic leadership. The apostle rises above the division. In a nonanxious way, he points out with clarity that mission is the most important thing. He reminds them of their personal and individual journey with Christ and how this is important. Then he points out who it is that is causing problems and calls them to be unified. He challenges them to be reconciled one to another so that the mission may be undertaken with faithfulness.  And the apostle raises before the community their call to unity and mission over and above those who are divided. 

No matter what the division is, for too long we as leaders have been on the ground mucking it up instead of being the apostolic leaders we are intended to be.  I'd love to see a unified and prophetic voice rise up from leadership across every church and every denomination with a vision for evangelism and the cause of Christ - over and above the shouting, raising fists, and prophecy bent on dividing the people of God. Now that would be reformation worth listening for!

Some Thoughts on Exodus 32:1-14

"I suggest we discontinue referring to this text as the "golden calf" incident and begin calling it the "God changes God's mind at the request of Moses" incident."
Commentary, Exodus 32:1-14, Shauna Hannan, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016.


"With the golden calf narrative, preachers have an opportunity to explore with their congregations the stunning, and even surprising, character of God and God's way with the world."
Commentary, Exodus 32:1-14, Amy Erickson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


The commandments have been given to Moses and to the people. But, Moses is delayed in coming back. So, the people do what people do all the time…in the absence of leadership and God they make gods, idols.

It is possible that the story of the golden calf actually is a reference to a dispute between the later Northern and southern kingdoms. See I Kinds 12:28-30 where the story might link up and reveal the purpose here isn’t just that Israel has one God, but that Israel has one place of worship and one kingdom. But let us not dismiss the story too quickly a mere historical controversy in narrative form.

Essentially what happens is that God gets upset at the idol-making, the people plead with God not to be so angry, and God allows for a bit of grace. Moses gets angry and smashes the tablets. Aaron offers a lame excuse and blames the people. Then there is some killing as punishment while the rest of the people are spared.

Interestingly, Rabbi Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra (in his work Ibn Ezra) believes that we get the story confused. The idols were not to take God’s place but instead to take Moses’ place. They were to become the means by which in the absence of a leader the people could commune with God.

Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (one of the great 20th century Jewish thinkers) wrote, “They felt that they themselves did not have access to the Almighty. Only somebody of great charisma and ability could have access to him. The people sinned because they were perplexed. Moses has been gone for a long time… They did not understand that, while Moses was the greatest of all prophets and the greatest of all men, every Jew has access to God… Sometimes it is a sense of one’s greatness that causes sin; sometimes it is a sense of one’s smallness.” (Vision and Leadership pg 131).

Finally, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England, puts it eloquently, “Every Jew is an equal citizen of the republic of faith because every Jew has access to its constitutional document, the Torah…”(Radical Then, Radical Now; pg.129)
For the Christian then, this story is not truly about replacing God with other lesser gods but instead believing that man-made items will touch the divine in such a way to help us with our fear, anxiety, sense of lostness, despair, and hopelessness. For the Christian, we have not the church as an idol, nor clergy. We have not morality or some other stand-in. Instead, we have the life of Jesus as our mediator in whom all are made citizens of the reign of God.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Proper 22A/Ordinary 27A/Pentecost +18 September 27, 2020


Prayer
Cultivate your church, we pray, enriching it always with new shoots, so that, grafted onto Christ, the true Vine, the community of your people may bear fruit in abundance and produce a rich harvest for eternal life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:33-46


"Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel. This is one of those weeks, I think, when with equal measures of patience and faithful pressure we can give witness to the God made most clear to us in Jesus."

"Crazy Love (a.k.a. Preaching Matthew against Matthew)," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Exodus 20:1-20

"Yet their uniqueness is not straightforward. As moral principles, they were mostly not new. Almost all societies have had laws against murder, robbery and false testimony. There is some originality in the fact that they are apodictic, that is, simple statements of 'You shall not,' as opposed to the casuistic form, 'If … then.' But they are only ten among a much larger body of 613 commandments. Nor are they even described by the Torah itself as 'ten commandments.' The Torah calls them the aseret ha-devarim, that is, “ten utterances.” Hence the Greek translation, Decalogue, meaning, 'ten words.'"

The Structure of the Good Society (Yitro 5775) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

"The directions for living we find in the commandments are intended to be put into practice in real life to make that life more whole, more peaceful, more joyful. When we live this way, we are allowing the life and love of God to flow through us, healing the broken and wounded world around us."
"Non-Virtual Faith," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2015.

"The Decalogue, when viewed as a part of this series of tests that were to shape the people's identity, is thus not only a series of laws but a fertile ground from which blessings and health and prosperity can grow from God."

Commentary, Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Callie Plunket-Brewton, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.



Today’s Old Testament reading is the Ten Commandments. The work for the people of Israel, and for the people who claim to follow Jesus today, was to learn to “love as God loved and loves” wrote Stanley Hauerwas in The Peaceable Kingdom (78).

What is interesting and somewhat important for us today is to on the one hand lean into this deep meaning offered by the passage and elucidated by Hauerwas and at the same time reject the Constantinian and Enlightenment/Reformed diversions from the story. Hauerwas defines these typical approaches to taking out the gospel in such passage in this way. The impact upon our reading, preaching, belief and practice is shaped by a “Constantinianism” that offers “the conviction that Christianity is about being religious in a general and diffuse sense.” Meanwhile the Enlightenment/Reformation “makes Christians into apologists to and for the modern world. (See Hauerwas, Scripture and Ethics, 111) Moreover, he cautions us to not make this about “advice” or about how to live in particular “circumstances”. In other words the Ten Commandments are not an ethical prescription to be filled by the loyal disciple but instead they are about a kind of community that is seeking to live into the blessings and grace of God.

For the Christian who lives between Constantine and the Reformation we find it all to easy to embrace the scripture as a list of moral imperatives – a biblical ethic. Again, Hauerwas, “The problem of revelation aside, however, the view that the Bible contains a revealed morality that can be applied directly by the individual agent, perhaps with some help from the biblical critic, flounders when considering the status of individual commands.” (71) When we do this it is all to easy to dismiss their meaning. What I am getting at is that the nature of the community seeking to respond to God’s freedom is essential, the tradition of handing along that response and then the response to Jesus’ ministry is essential. What this helps us to understand is that our own response is not one of a person alone. Christians inherit a tradition wherein the biblical story is part of a very real community that stretches over millennia and arcs towards the end of time. Moroever, that the ethic of such a community is one defined by holding community, tradition, and its scripture in hand. Scripture in this way becomes, as Hauerwas offers, “revealed reality” instead of “revealed morality”. (72) This then leads us to virtues – which is the Christian manner of approach.

So it is that when we return then to the Old Testament and read the commandments we are able to hear them in a different manner. We may instead of hearing a list hear the virtues. The community today is invited to seek to learn to love as God loves. In this way then we see a community attempting live out that learning. We might do well to return to our own Book of Common Prayer to read our approach in just such a context.

Q. What do we learn from these commandments?
A. We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors. 
Q. What is our duty to God?
A. Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
I. To love and obey God and to bring others to know him;
II. To put nothing in the place of God;
III. To show God respect in thought, word, and deed;
IV. And to set aside regular times for worship, prayer, and the study of God’s ways.
Q. What is our duty to our neighbors?
A. Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
V. To love, honor, and help our parents andfamily; to honor those in authority, and to meettheir just demands;
VI. 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;
VII. To use all our bodily desires as God intended;
VIII. 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;
IX. To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
X. 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.
Q. What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors. 
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.

We are not simply people after peace and justice but we are people who are deeply rooted in a tradition that seeks to tell our story through virtuous action. We know God’s will for us and for creation. We know what we are to do... We are to be virtuous citizens not only on Sundays, not only within the walls of our homes; we are to be virtuous citizens at work in the political and social environs of our community. And, when we don’t follow these commandments we are to repent and return to the Lord, and begin the work again.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +17 September 27, 2020


Prayer

Let your Spirit make our hearts docile to the challenge of your word, and let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus: may we walk the path of obedience and sacrifice, finding in the self-emptying love of the cross, the way to exaltation and glory at your side. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:23-32

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

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

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

"Voltaire quipped that we ought to judge a person by his questions rather than his answers."


Commentary, Matthew 21:23-32, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Exodus 17:1-7


The people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness. They grumble and they camp here and there. They quarrel with each other and God. And, they want something to drink. So, Moses went to Horeb and struck the rock and water flowed from it. Moses renamed the place, not for God’s providence of water, for the people’s quarreling and testing of God.

This passage is referred to in the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 when the Devil tempts Jesus. Jesus’ reply is that God is not to be tested. This relies on Deuteronomy’s and Number’s account of today’s passage. See in particular Deuteronomy 6:16. 

The religious leaders of the day have put God to the test by asserting themselves into the powers and principalities of this world. They have put God to the test by actually doing the things the devil tempts Jesus with. They have sought to be part of the powers, they have sought to feed their greed, they have claimed God’s sovereignty over their actions. Jesus rebukes this way of being in the world and he rebukes the devil in Matthew. He rebukes this way of being by reminding that God is not pleased with this “self-assertion” or “self-enrichment”.

The Sinai God invites instead a different way of being in the world one that is about neighborliness. The Sinai God invites love and love of neighbor as the highest commandments. God in Christ Jesus fulfills such with his own obedience in the face of powers, principalities, wealth, and self-protection. Instead Jesus shows his obedience to the Sinai God of Moses by keeping the commandments, loving others, and being obedient. God in Christ Jesus reveals a complete dependence upon God.

As John reminds us everlasting water which quenches all kinds of thirst will be given by God through Jesus (the one through whom all waters spring).

Shall we grumble and quarrel or shall we be obedient to the command to love each other and love God by doing so? Jesus in the end shows the way through the wilderness in a manner that is foreign for the humanity that confronts Moses.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +16 September 20, 2020



Prayer
Open our hearts to the wisdom of your Son, that, without concern for the cost of discipleship or the reward of our labors, we may grasp how incomparable the honor of working in your vineyard from morning until night. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16

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

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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is talking not to the establishment but the newcomers.

We would do well to remember this when preaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Philippians 1:20-30


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some Thoughts on Exodus 16:2-15


The passage for this Sunday from Exodus is the story of the manna and quail in the wilderness. It is about God’s providence for the hungry. It is about God’s listening ear and God’s intervention in the world.

The passage appears in John’s Gospel and is an allusion along with other Exodus mentions that correlate the ministry of Jesus with the work of Moses. Scholar Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p. 291, makes the comment that while the author of John’s Gospel does use the references there is no particular explanation but rather that the reader is supposed to understand the significance. The Passover of Israel is a common theme mentioned four times throughout the Gospel as it makes its way towards the Last Supper.

Left to our own devices we might see that at the minimum the Gospel is revealing in the work of Jesus the themes of God from the history of Israel. Jesus’ own ministry is defined in similar spiritual terms as that of Moses. Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 is connected then to the manna and quail from heaven. Here what we can say is that God in Christ Jesus is doing and working out God’s purposes just as God did so with Moses. God hears God’s people crying and God frees them, feeds them, and delivers them. 

It is not simply that Jesus mimics what came before in the history of Israel but that the arc of salvation stretches backwards just as it stretches forwards. The very nature of God is to care, deliver, and provide for God’s people. In this way the work of God in Christ Jesus is not unique but part of the continuing and emerging story of the relationship between God and God’s creation.

Furthermore, what John’s Gospel does tell us is that while it is similar work it is also different. Jesus is not another Moses, or doing similar work, but in line with God’s eternal work. The difference is important though. That difference is that while the manna and quail in the wilderness was temporary and perished the work of the Christ will be eternal.