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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Monday, March 30, 2015

Reflections on the Scriptures for the Triduum

Below is a shortcut to the different services and reflections which will now make up the Christian journey to Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday, Year B

"It can be easy to "see" the risen Christ in a packed Easter Sunday worship service, or perhaps even in a sunrise or the spring flowers blooming; but where is the risen Jesus when the people return home -- to the drudgery of the same old things? The risen Christ has gone there ahead of them. They will see him."


Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks.
Prayer

This is the day, Lord God, that you have made!  Raising Christ from the dead, and raising us with Christ, you have fashioned for yourself a new people, washed in the flood of baptism, sealed with gift of the Spirit, invited to the banquet of the Lamb!  In the beauty of this Easter set our minds on the new life to which you have anointed us;and ready our hearts to celebrate the festival, with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 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 16:1-8

Key to the resurrection story in Mark is that Jesus has once again focused on mission.  Unmoored from the cross and tomb he is making his way now to renew Christian mission.  He is on his way to Galilee, that place in Mark's Gospel where the gospel and all good works take place.  All works of power and deliverance happen in Galilee.   No one will be able in the end to keep this movement of the good news of God in Christ quiet.

So as you preach this Sunday I encourage you to encourage your people to break the silence.  To courageously invite, risk loving, and try reaching out with the Gospel message of love.

I encourage you to speak about how the church, the global family of God, the Episcopal Church, too must come unmoored from the tombs of our buildings and the cross of our budgets to take a powerful message out into the world.

We must stop weeping about the empty tombs where we worship. God has gone before us out into the world to do the good work, the loving work, of the gospel.

God loves us and we are freed to love God in return, and to do so abundantly.  We must stop our vigil now, the light has come, Golgotha’s hill top is empty.

What was true of Jesus, the cross, and the tomb is true for our church and for us in this time. We are to give over ourselves completely.

We are invited to journey out and to venture down into the new Garden and new creation that God is rebirthing.  We have freedom and have been redeemed from the cross.  This freedom is purposed for the renewal of God’s relationship with his people and with all creation.

I hope on this Easter Sunday, as you marvel at children in their dresses, boys in their seersucker suits, as you and yours relish the spring day with an abundance of hunting of eggs, baskets, and flowering crosses.  That you will be inspired to allow Easter to be more than a one day event.  That you will inspire your people through your preaching, that we as a church may be inspired to realize perhaps it is all Easter.

This is more than an informative part of your Christian life – your faith.  The message of Mark is that it is a living.  It is a reawakened hope.  It is a part of your being…In other words Easter does not remain a thought but becomes an act, performative.  And, that you and your congregations will
see that as you are freed to love, that you are freed to love generously, that you can risk loving out of abundance, that you can dare to love without regard of what you will receive in return.

I hope your life and your hearts are lifted up on this Easter day. That you will be blessed and that you will love fearlessly and that the world will be changed by our love.

A Little Bit for Everyone



Mark 16:1-8



16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Good Friday, Holy Week, Year ABC



Quotes That Make Me Think


"Today the Master of the creation and the Lord of Glory is nailed to the cross and his side is pierced; and he who is the sweetness of the church tastes gall and vinegar."

Byzantine Liturgy, Triduum, (LTP, 1996)


Sunset to sunrise changes now,
For God creates the world anew;
On the Redeemer's thorn-crowned brow
The wonders of that dawn we view.
Although the sun withholds its light
Yet a more heavenly lamp shines here; and from the cross on Calv'ry's height
Gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o'erwhelming final strife
the Lord of life has victory;
And sin is slain, and death brings life,
And earth inherits heaven's key.

Clement of Alexandria

"In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard nearby mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, of course, because Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth."

Commentary, John 18:33-37, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Prostrate on the ground, your Son prayed, O God, that this hour might pass, this cup be taken away.  But then he rose to do your will, to stretch out his arms on the cross, to be lifted up from the earth an to be glorified by you.  Prostrate before you, O God, we ponder the mystery of your saving will.  In this hour of Christ's exaltation, we beg you: Open our hearts to hear the story of our salvation, to stretch out our hands in prayer, to venerate the cross by which the whole world is lifted up to salvation, life and resurrection.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 18:1 - 19:42
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel



Raymond Brown writes:  "The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. but the Fourth Gospel localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself: When the side of Jesus is pierced, there comes forth blood and later. In 7:38-39 we heard: "From within him shall flow rivers of living water," with the explanation that the water symbolized the Spirit which would be given when Jesus had bee glorified. That is now fulfilled, but the admixture of blood to the water is the sign that Jesus has passed from this world to the Father and has been glorified. It is not impossible that the fourth evangelist intends here a reference not only to the gift of the Spirit but also to the two channels (baptism and the Eucharist) through which the Spirit had been communicated to the believers of his won community, with water signifying baptism, and blood the Eucharist."

One of my mentors once remarked of how careful one must be when dealing in sermons preached in the midst of the great liturgies of the church. I have come to understand and to agree. When we address the text that is before us we quickly realize that the text itself, and the reading of it in publicworship, is carries a weight which can barely be matched by a few meager words from the pulpit.

The piece that I find the most interesting is the uniqueness of John's Gospel and in particular the last words of Jesus. There is a tremendous feeling of agony and suffering in the last words of the synoptics: "My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?" John's words echo Luke's in their triumphant nature and give us a sense that in this moment we have victory.

Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's plan to unite the world (its earthiness and creatureliness) with the Godhead. The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.  It relishes the death of death, the finality of sin, as the falling cross bridges the gap once for all between heaven and earth.

Psalm 22 gives us this victory song:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The Psalm captures both the defeat and the ultimate victory which is God's. It is John's Gospel thought that is most like the end. The words, "It is finished." are a victory cry and not some pitiful words from a dying prisoner!

Raymond Brown explains it this way, "In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is similar to "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final blow of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished." (John, vol II, Anchor Bible, 931)

If we combine this then with the images of Brown's above, Psalm 22, we see that the piercing then is the handing over of the sacramental life of the Godly community into the hands of those who will come after. The Spirit which is about to be poured out in chapter 20 is already here prefigured. Be cautious not to move into Pentecost too soon. However, I do think it is important to understand that the work of Jesus on the cross is the culmination of his earthly mission and for John it is the final death blow to the ruler of this world.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:16-25


Resources for Epistle

Paul has been teaching the Hebrews that the Holy Spirit has brought them to faith, and that it is the same Spirit which speaks to them in scripture.  As an example he pulls from a passage that I spoke about in the Maundy Thursday meditation and that is the passage from Jeremiah chapter 31.  
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The passage speaks of God's promise for a new covenant.  Paul says that the promise itself is that God's action on the cross, takes away the sins of the past and moves the follower of Jesus towards a sinless life. Craig Koester (Hebrews, Yale Bible, 441), Luther Seminary professor of New Testament, writes that Paul offers to his readers the notion that "God creates a situation in which he does not allow past or present sins to define his relationship with people."  God wills that such a divide is bridged by the cross.

There is justification and reconciliation between God and humanity.  The work on the cross is complete and final.  This is a unique Christian thought.  There is no need for a temple or Colosseum where sacrifices need to be made in order to create a renewed relationship between humanity and the gods.  There is no long list of law that is to be followed in order to fulfill the requirement to bridge the gulf.   God's action upon the cross is what puts and end to remembering the human disobedience.

We are boldly given permission to be in God's presence.  The sacrifice of Jesus, freely given for the sake of his friends and on behalf of sinners is what provides the release. This is new and it is a way of living.  Paul says the sacrifice is made and the curtain removed.

New life is given through the opportunity of putting behind us anxiety, fear, death, and impurity. (Koester, 444).  Instead we are given the opportunity as Christians to live a new life, to participate in the new covenant.  The Holy Spirit gathers us in and sends us out. We are purified by Christ's action and with the character of boldness and hope we are sent out to confess and make known our faith.  We are to "provoke" one another.  [Paul here uses a negative work in a positive sense. (445)  We are to encourage a new life of witness in one another.  Furthermore, this new life is to look like love and good works.

Craig Koester writes, "Love is not simply an emotion, but entails care for others, including strangers and the afflicted.  Love is congruent with righteousness and can be expressed in parental instruction.  Good works of love are the opposite of the 'dead works' of sin....they are the saving work of Christ in the believer's actions. (445)

The Hebrews text gives us both a theological underpinning to the Johannine Gospel of victory.  It defines what that victory is and it offers a vision of what the Christian is to do with their new freedom.


Good Friday Meditation: Boxes
Sometime in the early 1970’s the pop artist Andy Warhol moved from his studio at 33 Union Square West to a larger one at 860 Broadway.

As he looked at the acquired, comic, sentimental artifacts of culture that he had collected from both personal life and business affairs, he came up with a “crack pot filing system.”

Warhol from the time he was 11 had been fascinated with the 1939 time capsule buried at the New York World’s fair. This would be his idea; he would create time capsules.

So, he began to stuff time capsules with the artifacts of his life. Some required no more thought than emptying the entire contents of his desk drawer. Another devoted entirely to his mother contains articles of her clothing as well as correspondence. There is one which contains the contents collected on a Concorde flight in 1978. Still others contain taxi receipts, wig tape, invoices, a slice of Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake, a 17th century German book on wrestling, a letter from Dennis Hopper, a valentine from the poet Allen Ginsberg, an invitation to the Vice-President’s house warming party, and an angry letter from his florist regarding an overdue account.

By the time he died in 1987 Andy Warhol had filled 612 boxes with the memories, art, artifacts and refuse of his life.[1]

How many boxes have you and I filled? What are in our boxes?

I imagine lives lived and boxes filled with joyful memories, happy times, blessed moments and hope for a future yet to be filed away.

Then I imagine there are lives lived and boxes filled with unexpressed pain, hidden suffering, wounds inflicted, wounds acquired, abuse of body and the bodies of others, and pointed words which can never return.

Sin and brokenness openly and secretly engaged are then hidden away. Late nights, trips, parties, pornography, alcohol, food, and over indulgence purchased with our lives on credit hoping the creditor never knocks on the door.

Boxes more subtly filled. Scarcity of food and resources globally stored by others on our behalf… boxes of wasted consumption. Boxes and bins filled with the refuse of a green planet now in decay.

Lives lived and boxes filled with vivid moving pictures and recorded sound of events played over and over again paralyzing our lives, relationships, and ministries.

Lives lived and boxes filled with a past we store away, peaking at in darkest hours then locking away again the world only seeing what we want to be seen.

Lives lived, boxes filled, -- stumbling blocks each – stumbling stones in our relationships and in our relationship with God … scattered throughout a life’s journey.

The joyous moments we discover will never be enough. The hope not quite what we thought it would be. The highest moments never quite high enough.

How many boxes? How many shelves of boxes? How many storage units of boxes?

Jesus’ journey into darkness carries with it a mass of boxes, each box, one by one, step by step is carried to Golgotha.

Jesus’ binding and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane binds our boxes of violence, betrayal, and darkest fears to the heart of Jesus.

Jesus’ trial before the high priest puts on trial our boxes filled with religious intolerance, religious abuse of power, religious abuse of authority, our tendencies towards conservative and liberal fundamentalisms, and our willingness to diminish faith into meaningless platitudes of inaction masquerading as concern for our common man.

The handing over to Pilate of Jesus opens for scrutiny our boxes of idolatry, scapegoating, our lack of honor, honesty, and onus. We see in Pilate’s courtyard our own willingness to allow others to sin on our behalf, abuse on our behalf, and falsely accuse and punish that our own consciences may be relieved of any wrongdoing and our feasts not spoiled by the true cost of our wealth.

The mocking of Jesus mocks our boxes filled with just enough faith to be respectable. Instead of the crown of our heart we give Jesus a thorny crown of false adoration. Instead of the throne of our souls we wrap Jesus in a purple robe to hide the wounds and lashings of an inactive faith that fails to make our relationships healthy and whole, the wounds of failed family and friendships, the scars of a faith that leaves people hungry and without shelter.

So painful is the work of Jesus, the picking up and opening of our boxes, one by one, humiliation by humiliation, pain by pain, sin by sin, scar by scar that when forced to look upon him we see all that we keep secret. And we do what we must in order to escape the truth -- we reject him.

When Jesus stands before the seat of judgment, upon the stone pavement, our boxes laid open around him, contents spilled and mingled, we are so ashamed that we must turn from him, we cannot bear our countenance, we cannot bear our humaneness bent down and taken upon him our God and our King.

So we say what we must…hoping to close our tiny boxes…hoping to hide again…we say: crucify him. Crucify him.

Lives lived and boxes locked away into the darkest recesses of our hearts cannot be hid before the suffering of Jesus. They are here and now brought out into the open and picked up and carried by Jesus to Golgotha.

It is so easy not to look now though. As he walks to the place of the skull it is so easy to turn away. Much better not to look at our lives carried up that hill. Perhaps the grey sky and the rain will hide what was once hidden. Maybe the mud will cover the remains of our life laid before him on the cobbled streets of Jesus’ walk to the cross. But they are not.

And so when we dare to look at his walking his caring we see that the weight of the cross is the weight of our lives and our boxes, our memories, art, artifacts and refuse. The weight is of those things done and those things left undone and those things done on our behalf.

Each step, then each nail, is a memory now of our pain, and sin, and brokenness.

For those who look now see something different than the death of a criminal. For those who look now see more than the death of a prophet or a wise man. For those who look now see more than just a man on a cross.

For those who dare to look with Mary and Peter and the few gathered we see the death of all that we have believed keeps us from the love of God. We see the death of every event, every word, and every action taken that has kept us from our God’s embrace.

We see the death of our sin.

We see the death of our hypocrisy.

We see the death of our consumption and the death of our indulgence.
And here we see the commingling of Jesus’ suffering with our suffering.

Here at the cross, with Jesus’ body almost lifeless, the pain a pain we wish not to imagine, the last boxes of lives lived are opened. Here are broken open the boxes filled with our pain inflicted by others. Here are our boxes of suffering from illnesses our bodies cannot fight alone. Here are the boxes of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by others on our lives.

And, here are the boxes filled with the pain we carry in our hearts for the death of our loved ones. Boxes filled with photographs of those lost at war, those lost from disease, those lost in tragedy, those lost with lives before them, and those lost after long lives lived.

We see today, again, perhaps for the first time, the bearing of our sins, pain and our own suffering here in this place.

We see our lives laid bare before us and before Jesus and his cross.

We mourn and we weep for Jesus and we mourn and weep for ourselves.

We must let this Jesus go. We must let him go and carry our lives with him into death. We must let him die and the brokenness of this world and of our lives die with him. We must let him and all of our hidden lives be buried in the tomb. We must let him be buried beneath the earthworks of our sin.

That is all, there isn't anymore today. We couldn't bear to see anymore.

So we watch and we listen. We listen for our cue.

And, we hear Jesus say, “It is finished.”

And it is. It is finished.



[1] Box Pop, author unknown, The World of Interior, December 2008, n 12, p 172.

Maundy Thursday, Holy Week, Year ABC


Quotes That Make Me Think

"Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet. Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch."

New Zealand Prayer Book

"Oneness in love is the language of intimacy. It applies to our relation with God and Christ (and to their relationship). It is to apply also to our relationships with each other in community."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter 5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Fortunately, this passage actually has TWO new commandments: 1) Love one another as I have loved you. And, 2) Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Christ-like-love is the goal. Forgiveness is the salve that heals brokenness and makes love possible once again."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 13:31-35, David Ewart, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Prayer

With joy, O God of salvation, the assembly of your holy people begins the three day pasch, in which Christ manifests the gospel in his own flesh and blood.  Stir our hearts by the example of this Savior, who welcomed to his table even those who would betray, deny and desert him, the Lord who knew their weaknesses yet bend down to wash their feet. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 13:1-35
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


Much like the place of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of Christian Passover or the doorway into the Triduum, our passage is the beginning through which the disciple walks into the important teachings in following chapters which then lead directly into the crucifixion.  This passage is a doorway in John's Gospel for the disciple to follow Jesus to the cross, through the grave and to Easter.

Meister des Hausbuches,
Jesus Washes the Feet of the Apostles 
Most scholars including Raymond Browne see that our passage falls into three distinct sections.  The action in 1-5, the interpretation to the disciples, and the further interpretation to those who read the Gospel and believe.

Section One: The Action
13Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

We see a clear Johanine understanding that Jesus is returning to the Father. We might remember the earlier teachings on John wherein I talked about how Jesus clearly is the incarnate word come to dwell in the world.  Furthermore, we see the very deep roots of our orthodox faith which understands that it is Jesus' loving of the disciples that brings them into the family of God.  Despite the work of those that would destroy the community and creatures of God, Jesus will be victorious. He washes their feet. This may be a sign of baptism. What is clear is that Jesus serves the disciples and loves them as if they were his own to care for and tend.  This is the first and essential piece of the Gospel; and it is radical.  Jesus serves his followers.

The Second Section: First Interpretation
We shall remember that this is "Commandment day", this is the meaning of Maundy. Here we have the essential ingredient to all of Christian teachings about discipleship.  While avoiding words that are liturgically connected with baptism Jesus offers this very basic exercise of cleaning and washing.  Jesus is enacting a sign of hospitality. It is a welcoming into the company of God's family, formally in baptism, here signified with the tenderness of a mother or father.  Jesus is uniting all of creation and all of humanity with God. We are being adopted into Christ's household as a person might be brought into one's own home (Genesis 18:4  1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:4422:27).  This is the way our community is to be like. Within the covenant community which claims Christ we are to accept the freely given grace of our Lord and share it with others by repeating the act of loving embrace to others.

We know that the outward washing of the body does not cleanse the soul, but it is clear that this love and care is to be a hallmark of the inward grace.  It is the hallmark of Jesus' ministry and it is to be the hallmark of our own lives lived in the wake of Jesus' ministry. The hospitality of God is to be echoed by all who come after him. 1 Peter 2:21, the author writes: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps”.

The Third Section: The Second Interpretation Here it is as if Jesus stops focusing upon his disciples and steps out of the Gospel in order to focus on the reader.  When we welcome, when we open ourselves up to those who have been sent by Christ into the world we too become part of the family.  While certainly Jesus is to be betrayed, nevertheless we are to act in accordance to the witness we have been given. We are to “love one another”.  This is the basic sign of ones salvation and knowledge of God and his Son Jesus.  We witness in this text the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the emblems of a self-giving God.  We are to love and keep his commandments.  While we often will spend our time in the pulpit on this Holy night speaking of love, it is important to recognize the reality that forgiveness is also part and parcel of the life lived in Christ.

And in a miraculous way, beyond all that pulls at our church, all that works to destroy and condemn us, all that we do to one another in word and action, in our most broken and most divided, it is tonight, this holy night that we pause, and remember to love and forgive. We pause and put down our destruction and remind ourselves of the service and hospitality of our God. We remind ourselves that it is his grace and love which unites us one to another and into the family of God. It is his love which binds us forever. And so, it is on this night that we are challenged to be a better people, a loving people, a hospitable people, a kind people. This is our work should we choose to follow.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, though didst not come to the world to be served, but also surely not to be admired or in that sense to be worshiped. Thou was the way and the truth - and it was followers only thou dist demand.  Arouse us therefore if we have dozed away into the delusion, save us from the error of wishing to admire thee instead of being wiling to follow thee and to resemble thee." Soren Kierkegaard


Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 11:23-26



This section of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians is dealing with accusations by fellow members of the community that others are abusing the Lord's Supper.  Our theologians have pulled out of the text for us to read on this Holy Thursday the passages that deal with the tradition of the "supper" itself; and Paul's interpretation of Jesus' actions at the Last Supper.

The first followers of Jesus have already formed a tradition and this tradition is given to the Corinthians from Paul.  He provides the words that have been given to him and the meaning that these remembrances are to remind the follower of the first supper and the grace they receive by continuing the tradition.  The elements are offered with the same words we use in our liturgy today.  Thanks is offered, blessings made and the gives are shared.  The bread is broken, literally, and shared.  This is a very different tradition than the Aramaic formula in the Passover tradition. (Joseph Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, Yale Press, 438).  Like the washing of feet in tonight's Gospel from John, it is very clear that these things are done, broken, and given to those gathered - the faithful.

Fitzmyer reminds us (443) that the "new covenant" that is mentions is a reference to Jeremiah 31:31-34.

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
It is Paul's, and the new Christian movement's, understanding that Jesus and this meal is fulfillment of this ancient prophecy and promise.  For Paul the rehearsal of these things by those who follow Jesus - was essential.

In the last verse we have Pauline material which makes clear his understanding.  Fitzmyer says it well:

The active sharing of the bread and the cup is a way not only of expressing one's belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and of commemorating the Last Supper, but also of announcing to others what the death of Jesus has achieved for all Christian believers.  The act of sharing is not only memory and recollection, but above all, proclamation, based on the Passover event of old...this double aspect of the Eucharist, remembrance and proclamation, is not to be neglected....there is no worship without remembering, and there is no liturgical remembering without proclamatory narrative. (444)

Therefore, the remembering and rehearsing of this ancient meal is not simply something God is doing but it is essentially something the one who follows this God does in order to remind themselves of the Gospel narrative.

Chosen on this night of Holy Thursday as our reading, it is has special meaning.  The congregation rehearses and retells our sacred story.  For the preacher it is an opportunity to make the connection between our weekly remembrances and the first supper of passion week.












Monday, March 23, 2015

Liturgy of the Palms B, March 29, 2015

"This Palm Sunday can we get beyond a scrap of palm we never know what to do with, & a feel- good procession that leads to nowhere?"

Marginally Mark, by Brian McGowan, Anglican priest in Western Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Special Resources for the Reading of the Passion


Prayer

O God, for whom all things are possible, you have highly exalted your suffering Servant, who did not hide from insult but humbled himself even to death on a cross.  As we begin the journey of Holy Week, take our sin away by Christ's glorious passion and confirm our worship and witness, so that when we proclaim the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and  every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. 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 11:1-11

Online NRSV Text

"Let us remember, by turning our hearts and minds to the actions of God’s dearest Son, who went not up to joy but first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified. May God bless us in these days, that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace."

How will you bear witness to Jesus' passion and resurrection?  How will you walk the way with Jesus this week?

One of the first things I want to encourage you to do this Sunday is to really pay attention to the triumphal entry and its narrative offering.  All too often we rush to the foot of the cross! While we certainly have a long tradition of reading the passion this Sunday, we also have a long tradition of bypassing the triumphal entry.

Encourage your people to attend the pilgrim journey through Holy Week.  Dare to preach the passion narrative as it comes. Resist the "cliff notes" version of preaching Good Friday's message Sunday.  Invite people back and invite them into the life journey of Jesus as experienced in our liturgy this week.

So then, what to do with our passage from Mark 11?  This carefully constructed passage parallels 14:12-16; and provides for an understanding that what is taking place is of central importance to Jesus ministry.

He has been very clear from the beginning of his ministry (in Mark's Gospel) that to walk the Way (the reoccurring theme of this Gospel) is to walk towards the cross.  This is true for Jesus' own ministry. It is true in the life and ministry of all those who would follow him.  Here in this passage the pilgrim way of walking leads directly to Jerusalem and to the Temple.  Therefore the way is tied inextricably to the faithful traditions of our Abrahamic ancestors and will in the end unleash God's presence in the world, God's embrace of the world.  The triumphal entry is the point at which walking the way TO the cross arrives on the doorstep of Jerusalem to become the the way OF the cross.

The entrance rite is royal (see Genesis 49:10-11 and Zechariah 9:9).  This is an eschatological and messianic reign that is being unfurled into time.  The stage and the plan are underway and the unfurling of a new creation and new order of living is at hand.

From Psalm 118 comes the imagery of a new Davidic reign.  The gates are open and the people fervently receive their king; yet as the reader know this crown will be laid upon the king not in victorious triumph but complete and utter powerlessness.  The worlds undoing and recreation will come from an explicit rejection of power as this world deals it out and an embrace of forgiveness and grace of which the world had yet to behold.

Note in this Gospel there is not cleansing of the Temple but only an embrace.  Jesus enters, and retires to rest.

And, so we begin. We make our journey. We choose to follow Jesus along the way of the cross. We pledge fidelity not to power which overcomes, but a power which will yield unto death.  Unlike those who met Jesus at the gate, we greet him this Sunday knowing that only complete submission and not a powerful revolution brings about the creative cataclysm.  And, we rehearse, remind, and remake our way to the foot of the cross as a reminder that our Christian way is clearly marked by grace, mercy, and forgiveness - and not by authority, power, and abuse.

So, I charge you to remember, Walk with determination turning your hearts and minds to the actions of God.  A God who went suffered pain, and entered was crucified. By walking in the way of the cross, may you find a blessing, and a way of life, and a way of and peace.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lent 5B March 22, 2015

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."
"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"John alerts his readers to the seductive powers of the world. There can be no compromise."
Commentary, John 12:20-33, Marilyn Salmon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"During this season of Lent we follow him all the way to Golgotha, all the way to the cross, where we will stand beneath it, together with those followers who asked at the beginning of his ministry, "Where are you staying?" (1:38). It is there, in the face of the world's many ways of death (e.g., poverty, economic collapse, hunger, sickness, war) that we are drawn even closer to Jesus. It is there, in the light of the stark reality of life at its end that we begin to catch a glimpse of life at its fullest."
Commentary, John 12:20-33, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Hear, O God, the eternal echo of the prayers and supplications your Son offered when, to establish the new and everlasting covenant, he became obedient even unto death on the cross. Through all the trials of this life, bring us to a deeper, more intimate share in Christ's redeeming passion, that we may produce the abundant fruit of that seed that falls to the earth and dies, and so be gathered as your harvest for the kingdom of heaven. 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 12:20-33




Jesus has finished his public ministry. The arrival of the Greeks reminds us of 3:14ff: that the world is being saved through the lifting up of the Son. Even sheep not of his own fold are being drawn near as the time arrives. We ourselves, reading through John's Gospel arrive at the essential truth that the mission of the cross is not to be stopped. God, in Christ Jesus, is recreating the world. The grain is replanted, and new fruit is to grow and thrive; a gospel fruit of salvation. The cross is itself forever changed such that it shines a light on the disciple's life and upon the world revealing truth and making known that which has been hidden: God will not stop the drawing to himself of his creation or his creatures.

There is a great deal of debate over the Passover imagery between scholars. Yet, for the Christian there is ultimately a clear understanding that it is we who are passing over through the sheol of death into a promised land by virtue of Jesus (like Moses' own staff) being lifted upon a cross, descending into the dead, and rising on the third day. This is the vulnerability of courage and the power of love overcoming death itself.

As Jesus' ministry comes to an end so ours in the mean time begins. Our work is to begin the sowing of the seeds. To scatter the birds, to remove the rocks and weeds, and to make sure that the seeds of individuals are carefully planted within the earth that they may truly be transformed and reborn; growing and bearing fruit. We are to create safe spaces for people to become vulnerable to the workings of God's love. And, we are to do this for ourselves first; making sure we are planted carefully and fed upon the wellspring of the waters of life.

I was touched today at the opening of the Texas Children's Pavilion for Women as one of the primary philanthropist spoke passionately about her desire to be apart of projects which are transformative. I was touched by the transformation through vulnerability spoken about by Brené Brown in her TED talk which can be found here or here. Both women speek to me of the challenge of transformation and being involved in transformative work where "vulnerability is itself the birthplace of innovation and change."

We are to be at work. We are to allow the work of the cross to first shine a light on our own arc of transformation and pilgrim journey. We are to engage and embrace our own vulnerability. We are to follow its direction and seek our own change by the grace of God. We are then to preach to, lead, and help organize a mission which itself transforms the world around us. This is the kind of organization we wish to be part of. This is the kind of church we long to be.

We are to be the one's - through the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation and the witness of the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus - bear fruit from the deep nature of our own vulnerability that is worthy of our salvation.

All of this begins with us, our own vulnerability and our own willingness to be vulnerable to others, and to the Gospel and cross. Only then does our old life end and our new life begin. Perhaps only then will others be drawn to our witness.

For it is the world of false courage, a lack of vulnerability, and a willingness to reject transformation and rebirth that allows and leads to abuse, the crucifixion of others, and ultimately the shaming of the week and poor.
Some Thoughts on Hebrews 5:1-10




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Why does salvation depend on a high priest who is subject to weakness, who prays in crisis, who learns what the human lot is like? Why does Jesus' service as high priest require his identification with us?"
Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Pentecost 21, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"...right in the heart of God there is empathetic love for each of us on our life's journey."
"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 21, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Each Sunday I remind myself that we have a great high priest in Jesus. This prayer, commonly said before receiving communion (BCP 834), is rooted in this particular passage of scripture from Hebrews.

The author is responsible for giving us the metaphor that Jesus has taken the place of the priest's office and is our great high priest.  While we have chosen priests to help us and represent us before God, Jesus is the priest who is to intervening on our behalf before God. When it comes to the offering and sacrifices for the removal of sin (which would have been normal in the temple of Jesus' day) now Jesus is our offering and sacrifice.

The priestly role that we humans fill is always limited because of our own humanity. We are indeed to strive before God to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek (that ancient Canaanite priest who ministered to Abram and Sarai - blessing and feeding them) but we are limited. We fail, we sin, we are all too human. Jesus is our high priest.

Yet, Jesus suffers, prays that his task may be removed, has the human qualities of weakness and fear. Our author tells us this is because of his humanness. It is this humanness that enables him to know our suffering and fear - and then to take it truly into the heavenly kingdom and lay it at the altar of God.

In Jesus we see the culmination of worship, sacrifice, and offering. We have in him perfect oblation and satisfaction (as the prayer used to say) for the sins of the world. Jesus has made the offering once and it is eternal. He remains our high priest and it is he that intercedes on our part before the great throne of God. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lent 4B March 15, 2015

"Nicodemus had heard enough about what Jesus was up to in Jerusalem to make him think he ought to pay him a visit and find out more. On the other hand, as a VIP with a big theological reputation to uphold, he decided it might be just as well to pay it at night. Better to be at least fairly safe than to be sorry, he thought, so he waited till he thought his neighbors were all asleep."

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

"As a small minority, the Johannine community did not have the power or influence to marginalize others or cause harm by excluding them. In the western world, Christianity has been the dominant religion for centuries, whether supported by the state or not, and it has the power to marginalize and exclude those who do not conform."

Commentary, John 3:14-21, Marilyn Salmon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Whatever our own solution to the issues of inclusion and exclusion, John?s gospel asks us to recognise that to reject the love and light and truth we see in Jesus is to choose death ? wherever and whenever we do it, and to receive it means life, life our world which God still loves desperately needs."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

God of mercy, who sent your Son into the world not to condemn it but to save it, open our eyes to behold Jesus lifted up on the cross and to see in those outstretched arms your abundant compassion.  Let the world's weary and wounded come to know that by your gracious gift we are saved and delivered, so immeasurable is the love with which you love the world.  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 3:14-21







Raymond Brown wrote an article with advice for preaching John, he wrote in the article, "The Johannine World for Preachers," is the necessity to enter into the world of John and its symbolic universe. Brown advices, "Do not domesticate the Johannine Jesus. It is his style to say things that border on the offensive, be puzzled and even offended; but do not silence this Jesus by deciding what he should not have said and what your hearers should not hear." (Commentary, John 3:14-21, Marilyn Salmon)  With this in mind then, what are we to do with this passage?

So let us begin by remembering that these words come from a conversation that Jesus is having with the Pharisee Nicodemus.  He has come to believe in God and in Jesus because of the many signs.  Key to John's Gospel are not the signs themselves but the revelatory power of Jesus who happens to be performing them.  The purpose of the signs is belief in the Gospel.  So it is no wonder that Jesus in our passage has moved from a previous discourse about spirit to one about God's intentions: the salvation of the world.

Second, the passage we read today follows directly upon Jesus' teaching about being born again.  The baptismal conversation is important.  How it plays out sacramentally is one discussion that I will not go into; nevertheless, it seems that the basic idea here is that one is born both by the spirit and through water.  (Raymond Brown, John vol 1, p 142ff, has an excellent discussion of the details surrounding this particular piece of Johnanine liturature.)

What Nicodemus has heard so far is that while coming to believe through signs, entrance into the kingdom is not something humans can accomplish on their own.  In other words your faith does not save you, only God saves you.  Moreover, one is brought into the Kingdom of God through God's outpouring of the spirit.  We believe in the Episcopal Church that such an outpouring is measured in the sacrament of baptism.  Nicodemus then asks, "how does this happen?"  He fades into the background as we move into the monologue we have for today's passage.

We receive the Holy Spirit, we are are welcomed into the Kingdom of God, only through the power of Jesus' work on the cross (vs 14), his resurrection, and his ascension (vs 15).  Leaning on Isaac typology (Brown, 147) Jesus explains.  The purpose of not allowing death to be the final answer (just as Isaac's death was not required)  is for the gathering in of the world and its people.  God intends the embrace of God's people; and their freedom to live and be who they were created to be.  The creation story will be successful.  We enter the reign of God only through Jesus' work.  The incarnation and Jesus' presence in the world will necessarily create a decision point for individuals: to either live life following Jesus; or to live life not following Jesus - perhaps against him.

What is interesting here at this point (vs20-21) is what we typically do with this passage.  While Jesus is not here to condemn the world - we do.  Our human nature is to immediately divide up the world into working groups we can get our minds around.  That typically means we go to the save and the not saved. We move quickly to do the judging.  But it is (according to our Nicene Creed) Jesus in his second coming that will judge.  It doesn't seem to stop us, so we typically take what comes next to decide who is in and who is out.  I also think we do this in a way that automatically removes us from the sinning proposition and into the category of people who "do all kinds of good works."  Such a missionary mindset is hardly one I think Jesus would recognize.  Raymond Brown writes:

"...the purpose clauses which end vss. 20 -21 are not to be understood as giving the subjective reason why men come or do not come to the light, that is, a man does not really come to Jesus to have it confirmed that his deeds are good.  Rather, the idea is that Jesus brings out what a man really is and the real nature of his life.  Jesus is penetrating light that provokes judgment by making it apparent what a man is." (John, vol 1, 148-9)
Before the cross we are all judged.  And, instead of condemning we are to engage in a conversation not unlike the one between Jesus and Nicodemus. We are to let people come to the cross for their own judgment and make their own faithful pilgrim way into relationship with Jesus.

Our work is the invitation.  We are to invite people into this sacred relationship.  Not unlike Jesus, we are to make the Gospel message known:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

As a Christian we believe that this is the only way to salvation.  To believe anything else is essentially to not be a Christian but to be a henothiest; that is believing there are many gods and many salvations.  We have one language and one cultural story to tell and that is of Jesus, his cross and his resurrection.  We are to engage the world in a conversation that allows people to be listened to, and invited into, a deeper profoundly transformational relationship with God in Christ Jesus.

The world will be drawn into this relationship not by condemning the world but by disciples living transformed lives.  Through the rebirth experienced in baptism, through the grace and mercy of God, and the empowering Holy Spirit, we are to live lives worthy of the cross and resurrection.  As we do this people will be drawn into life with Christ and may in turn be discipled.  They are drawn in by our example.  Subsequently, like our own, their lives are transformed by their own coming to terms with who Jesus is and his work.

When we as a church community move away from this singular proposition we are apt to argue over all manner of condemnations: sex, structure, liturgy, and polity.  When we begin with this singular proposition (that we are saved by grace alone) then we may all find ourselves truly transformed as we come to the foot of the cross together.  



Some Thoughts on Ephesians 2:1-10




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Even Jesus? name, as theologian William Placher reminds us, means 'the Lord saves.'"


"Just As I Am," Thomas G. Long, The Christian Century, 2006.

"To be a Christian, says the text, is to be crucified with Jesus, to die with him, to be buried with him, to be raised with him, to be enthroned with him. Spiritual? Yes. Mystical? Perhaps. Subjective? Partially. Will-o'-the wisp? Never. Experiential but inseparable from history? Always."

"From God, to God," Fred Craddock, The Christian Century 2003.

"And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."

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

"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you."

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


Paul begins by speaking about those who received their faith, baptism and the Holy Spirit. He prays that they will receive wisdom and revelation as they continue their journey.

The reality is that the following of Jesus is a journey, a process, by which people come to understand more and more their inherited faith.

I always feel Paul is buttering them up for the one-two punch. And, here he goes...he reminds them of their life before faith. You must remember that the world in which they live is diverse and filled with a plurality of beliefs and different religions. He reminds them that this faith is typically a faith which is self-centered and focused upon their own needs - their own life.

He uses powerful language about being spiritually dead and living apart from God and under the wrath of God. This language reminds me in my time that Paul is correct that living a life focused upon my needs is to live a life oriented around a god of my own making. When I focus on my needs as the primary directing power of life not only am I the god at the center of my universe - I worship other gods in order to control my world - money, sex, social standing, pleasing others, and many many more.

Then we get the grace! Even though we were far off God loved us. A fellow blogger, Chris Haslam, Anglican Diocese of Montreal, wrote:

God loved us greatly, so greatly that he brought us life together, raised us together and enthroned us together – "with Christ". Christians have been given a new status, a new life, and new freedom, in order that, by living in this way, we may be channels through whom God shows his gifts to us to the world. We are saved by God’s freely given inestimable gift of love (“grace”, 2:7). Our salvation is already happening through the medium of our “faith” (2:8), but even “this” (salvation) is a gift from God, rather than a result of our efforts (“works”, 2:9). God’s plan has always included making Christians what we are: “created in Christ ... for good works” (2:10): being saved, we do “good works”.
I once learned that when emotions are deep and high it is easier to get angry than it is to get sad, or feel the pain of loss, and suffering. Sadness, loss, and suffering can be so painful that avoiding them with a bit of anger is an easier way to go. 

Sometimes when we get to a passage like this we are tempted to do the same kind of avoidance. We will find it easier to focus on how we were far off and worshiping other gods, etc, and etc. "Let's have a shame fest" is always an easier answer...even better with a touch of anger. We can go to anger rather than to a place of reality where we recognize, name, and honor our deeper selves, our deeper emotions, and our deeper pain. We have tremendous guilt for what we have done and left undone. Shaming people for being beyond hope will never give them the hope they are looking for now.

I dream of a church that is preaching, teaching, and living a grace filled life. I dream of a church that is hopeful and redemptive. I hope for a church that can be honest about the pain most people are sitting in, their hopelessness, and sense that everything they experience now is "as good as it gets". The message Paul is trying to communicate is one worth communicating today: even when we were far off God loved us. Even when we are far off God loves us. We are given freedom to write a new story. Everyday we are surrounded by grace and given the opportunity to move beyond our sadness, loss, and suffering. We are offered through the continuous recreative work of god the opportunity to put behind us the guilt of things done and undone. This is Good News indeed - we have a new life, even our failures are redeemed, and our loss honored with an opportunity of redemption. WE are forgiven, we are saved, we are resurrected, and enthroned with Christ Jesus.