Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 2 , Year A

                "The fourth gospel is all about the community indwelling with each other and with God.  It is not about the individual's appropriation of Jesus, but rather God's appropriation of humanity through Christ and how God lives in the greatest intimacy with his followers.  All through the gospel the words are plural, not singular."
John 1:1-18
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:
Prayer
May we welcome this mystery of your love and thus delight in the joy that will be ours as children and heirs of your kingdom.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some thoughts:
I like how Raymond E. Brown approaches this text. There is first the Word with God (1-2).  The opening verses of this Christ hymn used to frame an entrance into the Johannine Gospel is brief and it is completely, or I should say “seemingly”, uninterested in a metaphysical conversation about the nature of God. It is however very clear that Salvation history begins with the relationship between God, revealed through the living Word, and Man.  Quite simply God reveals God-self to us in the work of creation – and by John’s usage here; creation also reveals something about the salvation of man as well.  Creation is by its very nature a revealing act. (John, vol. 1, 23, 24)
Secondly there is the Word and Creation. “All creation bears the stamp of God’s Word,” Brown writes. (Brown, 25) Here we see the author reflecting and re-imagining the opening lines of Genesis.  We can see that what is clearly of importance is that creation itself existed primarily for the glory of God and the revelation of who God is. The problem is that the creation is broken; it does not fulfill its purpose as God intended.  It is not a sustainable creation.  Instead it is one where there is a constant battle to supplant the power and revelation of God.  We can return to the creation story in Genesis, certainly this seems on the author’s mind. However, it is not really that hard or difficult to see and imagine as we read the paper or watch television how humanity has created a non-sustainable kingdom for ourselves, and that we wrestle for power with God placing our needs above creations explicit purpose to glorify God. 
The third portion of our Gospel selection is the portion where we are re-introduced to John the Baptist. I say reintroduced, because we spend several Sunday’s reading passages from Matthew that dealt with him and his ministry. Yet here we get a slightly different attempt to speak about how John responded to the living Word, the Light in the world. How he was clearly not the one everybody was looking for, but that he dutifully gave witness to the revelation of God.  Moreover, that John the Baptist called everyone to a time of preparation and repentance for the light itself, the living Word was entering the world.
We come to the final and fourth portion of our reading and we return to the relationship between God and humanity; specifically in how the community of God (God’s people) responds to the living Word.  God is dwelling with his people. He has made a “tent”, he is incarnated, and he is present within the community. (Brown, 35)  The images here in this last section return not to Genesis but play on our remembrances of the Exodus and the idea that God came and dwelt among the people as they made their way in the wilderness.  Here too is an expressed intimacy between God and people.  God is not simply outside, having wound the clock tight and is now letting it run. On the contrary just as God was intimately involved with creation and the people of Israel, God also is involved in the new community post resurrection. God has come and is dwelling with the people in wisdom and in truth. God in the living Word is making community within God’s tent and is revealing himself and the purpose of creation to all those who would call him by name: Jesus.
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

Christmas 1 , Year A

                "The Gospel reading this day after Christmas strikes a new tone for the season by dramatically leading us away from anticipation of Advent and revelry of the holidays to the tenuous and dark days between promises and their fruition."

Matthew 2:13-23
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:
Prayer
God ever near to us, you numbered your Son, together with Mary and Joseph, among the homeless of the earth, and counted them among the countless refugees who have fled into hiding out of fear for their lives.  Shield our families from the dangers to which this world exposes them.  Clothe us with compassion and kindness with gentleness, patience and mutual forgiveness, so that we in turn may provide others with the shelter of a home where everyone is welcomed.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some thoughts:
This passage from Matthew exists within a wider framework of short stories collected into a narrative. While on the one hand it is tempting to separate them each out and look at the differing pieces something wonderful happens when they are held together. Certainly Matthew intended them to be read in one sweeping episode.
As in Advent, the Gospel continues with a theme of individuals, in this case Joseph, responding to the Word of God proclaimed. 
As we look at the text the remarkable presence of the Book of Exodus strikes a note .  We cannot read the Matthean text without thinking of the innocents killed by the king of the Egyptians, and hwo Moses was saved by Pharoah’s daughter and how Moses himself flees later.
Moses is considered the greatest prophet of the Hebrew faith and here Matthew makes it clear that the Word is alive and dwelling in our midst. We read clearly that the individuals throughout Matthew’s narrative are hearing and responding to the Word.  Moreover, that Christ himself, the living Word, will proclaim and free God’s people once again.  However, this time it will not be freedom from an external earthly power (Kings, Romans, etc.) but rather from an internal power which is as deadly – sin.
Yes we must look backward to Moses, at the same time the author is driving the narrative to the cross and resurrection.  While this passage does not include the story of the Magi, we must keep in mind the Gospel sequence.  This passage looks back to Moses but moves forward to the worshiping kings and eventually the worshipping disciples.
Jesus is in this passage deeply rooted in the story of the people of Israel, changed forever by the presence of the living Word in our midst.  Just as Joseph is faithful and responds to the Word brought by a messenger you and I are challenged to worship God in the person of Jesus Christ and to follow him through acts of faith.
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

The Incarnation: Christmas Eve Year A

The Nativity , Year A
  "Luke is fond of the word today and uses it repeatedly to mean the present period of salvation brought about by Jesus (4:21; 5:26). Salvation is not something to be expected only in the future at the second coming of Jesus or in heaven after death. It can be experienced here and now. "Today salvation has come to this house," says Jesus to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9)."
Jirair Tashjian

Luke 2:1-20
2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
A Little Bit for EveryoneOremus online text

Textweek general resources

Textweek resources for Luke’s Gospel

Some interesting articles on this passage:

William Loader’s thoughts
Chris Haslam
Working preacher

Great treasures website

Prayer: Place on my lips the word of salvation, in my heart a love that welcomes all, and in the depths of my being, the light of faith and hope, which the darkness can never overcome. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some thoughts:It is a miracle you and I are here reading this.

According to biologists, and reported by the author Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is a miracle you and I are here at all. It is possible that if your two parents had not bonded just when they did, possibly at that very second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here. And if their parents had not done so in the same timely manner you wouldn’t be here either. Likewise this is true for their parents, and their parents before them, and so on and so on.

These ancestral particularities add up. Trace your lineage to the time of Abraham Lincoln and you have 250 of these unique and time sensitive parings. Go back to the time of Shakespeare and you have no less than 16,384 ancestors exchanging genetic material in a way that would eventually and miraculously result in you.

At 20 generations each of you has 1 million, 48 thousand, and 576 unique parings. At 25 generations you and I have no fewer than 33 million 554 thousand 432 men and women upon whose “devoted couplings our existence depends.”

At 30 generations (remember these are moms and dads only) you are at 1 billion, 73 million, 741 thousand, and 824.

At 64 generations, roughly the time of Jesus, our eventual existence depends upon no less than 10 to the 18th or 1 quintillion. If you trace this back to the time of King David you can more than double the number of unique, timely, miraculous couplings that have taken place to make you and I – quite particularly – us.
Surely by now you have figured out that surely something has gone wrong with my math. As a graduate with a degree in Studio Arts, this would be a good guess. Remember though this is Bryson’s math, based upon biological research. And you would be partly correct if you were led to this decision by the realization that there haven’t even been that many people in existence on the earth. However, the biology and math are pretty accurate. What we see in this example is that, while unique and dependant upon precise time and exact exchanges of DNA – we are also all, quite literally – family.

And so it is tonight that we gather as family to celebrate what is a very unique birth, the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to Mary and Joseph.

In our Gospel Luke is eager to provide the story of that unique and particular birth, in an orderly account not shy of giving names, dates, and places of our Savior’s birth.
Jesus as our Messiah and Savior is born into a royal but all too impoverished family of the House of David -- to Mary and Joseph.

Arriving in Bethlehem, the site from which the Messiah is to be born, Mary gives birth to Jesus. We are told she gives birth in the middle of an outdoor or open air place where travelers gather and animals are fed.

At the end of his life, Jesus will be wrapped in linen, tonight he is swaddled in bands of cloth.

He will have no place to be laid to rest; tonight there is no room in the inn.

He will be laid in a tomb, tonight he is laid, the bread of life, in a manger where animals feed.

His parents are literally homeless, and for family are surrounded by shepherds – the first ones to hear God’s Good news. The lowliest laborers come to the poorest of places, to worship and impoverished king.

To those whom no good news is ever given, receive the very first tidings by God’s angel, accompanied no less by a legion of angels singing: Glory to God.

The shepherds received a prophecy telling them how, where, and in what state they will find their Savior, their Davidic King, their brother, their hope and their life.

So it is that they are the first in our human family, unique in and of themselves, to come and worship Jesus, telling Mary all that had happened and why they were there, which she had wondered about…

The shepherds as a response to the unique birth, the glad tidings, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy family leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen and had been told to them.
Children are always gifts to us, and Jesus Christ is a true, special, and unique gift to the human family, and to our spiritual family.

We, you and I. are like the shepherds in this story; perhaps not in the outdoor agricultural kind of way – but in the fact that we are hopeful members of Christ’s family. Uniquely us and particularly us, we are given the opportunity to make a worshipful response to Christ’s birth tonight, again for the first time, but we are also given the opportunity to leave this place glorifying and praising God.

We are given the opportunity to place the words of salvation on our lips for others to hear.

We are given the opportunity to feel in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ that welcomes all people.

We are given the opportunity to embrace a light that enlightens our souls with faith and hope – which darkness may not overcome.

So it is that we wish one another Merry Christmas tonight – out of hope, love, faith, and the promise of peace which comes from unity. Tonight no one is a stranger, all are brother, sister, mother, and father.

In many churches around the country on Christmas Eve, when the service is finished, we will walk into the darkness together lighting the world with the light of a newborn child – Jesus Christ: Mary’s Son of God, the shepherd’s Savior, the angel’s Messiah, and our impoverished and humble King.

The Lambeth Bible Study MethodThis Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4, Year A

"This lection is, of course, one of the prime passages used and preached on during the Christmas season. The challenge is to say something fresh but yet familiar and reassuring about it."
Ben Witherington








Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.


A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus online text
Textweek general resources
Textweek r
esources for Matthew’s Gospel this Sunday

Some interesting articles on this passage:
William Loader’s thoughts 
Chris Haslam 
Working Preacher 
Great treasures website, parallel bible
 

Prayer
God of mystery whom no eye can see, you yourself have given us a sign we can behold: te virgin is with child and bears a son whose name is Emmanuel, for god is with us.  Plant within our hearts your living Word of promise, that, into a world grown weary of empty dreams and broken promises, we may bring forth the living presence of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, 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
The stage is set and Matthew is our guide: "Now the birth of the Messiah took place in this way."  The Genesis of the Messiah took place in this way...
Daniel J. Harrington, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, in his text on Matthew's Gospel points out a few important pieces of information that help to make sense of the Birth narrative.
    1. Jews of Jesus' time understood marriage as a civil contract. Joseph and Mary and their families have rights.
    2. Betrothal had legal consequences and was arranged through elders in families, and the two parties were in their early teens.
    3. In Matthew's Gospel the two are living separately, Mary with her parents. Joseph visits from time to time.
    4. Reviewing Deut 22:23-27, we understand that at first glance Mary has broken the betrothal and should be put to death. We don't know how often this was carried out.
    5. Divorce proceedings were typically easy and included a written document.
    6. An angel who is a messenger comes to visit Joseph.
    7. Such a visit most often was described in ancient times through dreams.  In continuity with other great leaders of Israel the angel gives a message with the identity of the child and the name.  We see this with Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon and Josiah.
    8.  There are many questions about lineage and birth.  Is the idea of Jesus' virginal conception a response to a charge of illegitimacy or is what leads to the charge? Regardless, early Christians believe in the virginal conception of Jesus and it remains one of the oldest and most ancient traditions about Jesus and his birth. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 36ff)
    All of these things are important because the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient tradition of Israel.  Matthew, as an author, will use this theme throughout his text: 1.23, 2.5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 38)  Just as in last week's comment from Jesus that John the Baptist belongs to a prophetic age, here in today's reading we see that Jesus himself is the culmination of and the new beginning for Israel.
    It is out of this theme of fulfillment that Joseph becomes for us a major character of the Advent season.  Joseph is almost the "everyman" of the Gospel.  I imagine him not unlike many of the new members of the Matthean community or new members today.  Like Joseph they had some sense of the past. Like many others, Joseph is a good guy. He is wrestling with some pretty weighty stuff.  He is struggling to understand and discern how to take the next steps in life.  He has a religious experience. He becomes aware that God is with us - specifically with him.  God is Emmanuel. Joseph awoke, and his awakening was in more ways than one. He decides to take different a course and to follow the Word of God that came to him.
    Some might want to go into a discussion about the creed and belief in the virgin birth. I love that conversation.  But I think a more interesting conversation and train of thought is how Joseph represents the life of one entering into community with other Christians and Jesus. I find it revealing to sit and ponder the idea that in this reception of the message that God is with him and the reception of the incarnation, Joseph goes from being a man who, within his rights divorces a woman, to the earthly father of Jesus and a key actor in his lineage and birth. What a precarious moment this is! What an amazing view of how one person's action determines the future.
    I am sitting in my study at home as I write this and looking at one of the many manger scenes dotting our shelves and tables.  It is Joseph who is there - not someone else.
    As our Gospel began "Now the genesis of the Messiah took place in this way..." we can see how the genesis of the incarnation takes place in the life of Joseph. We might look at our own lives and see how the genesis of God was rooted in our lives or is taking a place in our lives.  How is the arrival of God in our lives remaking our own story and our own narrative? How is the incarnation of God the fulfillment of our life lived up until this moment?
    God is with us; this is the foundation of the Good News of Salvation. The incarnation is the fulfillment of our past and the promise of our future.  It changes our perspective on the world and changes what we do with our lives. The incarnation changes our relationship with others and causes us to act differently, perhaps even going against what is justly our right.  The incarnation is a powerful revelation and in this season of expectation Joseph stands before us as one transformed by its message, meaning and invitation and in that moment of action Joseph reshapes the narrative of Good News.  Yes, Joseph is everyman and he is a symbol of our potential and possibility.  He is a symbol of faithful action deeply rooted in the message, the Word of God, which proclaims: God is with us, together we are reborn, together the world is changed and the continuing narrative spun and re spun.

 
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
     Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
     Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”






Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 3, Year A


Anathea Portier-Young, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Duke Divinity School,Durham, NC


Matthew 11:2-11
Painting of a prison by Francisco de Goya
y Lucientes, 1810-1814, Bowes Museum.
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.


A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:


Prayer
Give us strength for witnessing, that we may go and tell others what we see and hear.  Give us patience for waiting, until the precious harvest of your kingdom, when the return of your Son will make your saving work complete.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts
We have skipped to the end of the second major section of the Gospel of Matthew in order to continue with the theme of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus. While our reading for today does not include the whole pericope it is important to note that Jesus has been offering his missiology, his missionary vision for the reign of God.  The framework of Jesus’ teaching was to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”(10:6) Jesus is giving instruction and continuing the overarching Gospel message that the Word and its proclamation include action. As we saw in last week’s reading the action was repentance: change of heart, mind and place.  Now in the preaching of the reign of God we see action as proclamation of the reign of God, healing, raising, cleansing and casting out.  Jesus has finished giving his orders and he has sent the disciples out to teach and preach – to act out the mission.

It is in this important framework of mission, the word is spreading from city to city, that we arrive at the first verse of today’s Gospel reading. John is in prison. He hears of the work being done.  John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?”  Most every scholar I read this week showed an interest in how out of sync this question seems to be with the proclamation made by John the Baptist.  The premodern scholars too, ask similar questions.  The themes of doubt, disappointment and disillusionment are present throughout the scholarly wrestling with the text.  Perhaps it is a crisis of faith. Maybe it is the narrator’s desire to distance John from Jesus’ ministry.  It seems to me though to go too far down this road of inquiry (while Biblically fascinating) can lead us to miss Jesus’ answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus then continues teaching them and reminds them of the image of the prophet and the message of transformation.  He says:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Our translation does something interesting here in verse 11.  Perhaps you are using a Bible that translates it differently, too.  In the translation by Daniel J. Harrington (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 157) he believes Jesus is saying, “Amen.”

Harrington also writes:
The assessment of John is prefaced by “Amen” – an indicator of special solemnity on Jesus’ part. His saying assumes that John does not participate in the kingdom of heaven, that is, he belongs to a different stage in the history of salvation (see Luke 16:16 [The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until the time of John] for a similar schema).  John may be the greatest figure of the past.  But from Jesus’ perspective he belonged to another age.

As I meditated on this passage this week I wondered what age has passed for our church. I too think it is the age of prophecy.  We have, for many recent years, spent our time prophetically calling the world to change.  This era of prophecy was captured best when one political leader remarked the world had changed from the time when the Presiding Bishop was sitting in the Oval Office to a time when the Presiding Bishop was across on the lawn picketing the actions of the Oval Office.  To everything there is a season.  John’s question and Jesus’ answer tell us of a season of proclamation and prophetic work that prepared the way for the incarnation.  Jesus is saying that season is over, this is the season of incarnation, of the reign of God.  Perhaps the challenging message for our congregations today is the message that as communities that have received the prophetic Word, we are to be at work in the world.  You and I are to be in the world and at work in the world incarnating Christ’s love, community and transformation.  It is time for action on behalf of God’s people. It is a time when the church must enter a new age, an age where it is known not for what it says, but for what it does.


The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
     Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2, Year A

"Repentance is a correlate of freedom. The tearing away that takes place in detachment is only possible because a deeper, more powerful and superior attachment has come: the attachment of faith, the grip of the kingdom." 

The Matthean Advent Gospels, James Arne Nestingen, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1992. 

Matthew 3:1-12 
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

A Little Bit for Everyone


Some interesting articles on this passage:



Prayer
With righteousness you judge the poor, O steadfast and faithful God, and with justice you decide aright for the meek and lowly of the earth.  Shatter the silence of Advent’s wilderness with the voice of the one who cries out to prepare your way and to make straight your paths that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance, lie in harmony with one another, and be gathered at last into the peaceable kingdom of your Christ who was, who is and who is to come.   From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts
It is clear that in the passage set for today we have two important and foundational messages, which add to our Advent work of preparation but, are also signals of what the Gospel of Matthew is all about.  On the one hand we have the expected “brood of vipers” speech of John the Baptist to begin our season and call us into repentance.  More importantly however, I believe we have an inauguration underway.
     We begin with words that tell us that times are changing. The simple statement of  “now in those days” is deeply rooted in the ancient psyche of storytelling within our scripture as an indicator that we are moving into a new time. 
     We are in a new play, we are in the desert, in the wilderness. An apt setting for an Advent message more importantly are the parallels with the ancient connection to the dessert and the wilderness wanderings of our Abrahamic ancestors. 
     The message from this man is clear: repent.  And here we begin to see something important and uncomfortable emerge in the Gospel.  Repentance is tied to the eschatological, our actions of changed mind (which is the literal Greek translation in this case) is very much a partnership with the coming Reign of God.  The kingdom of heaven is near and this act of repentance is a component of preparation.
     We then receive the quotation from Isaiah.  Here, the voice and the wilderness would have been powerful images in the minds of John's audience, and to the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel.  This is a new time, we are in a new place with ancient meaning, we must act in accordance with the drawing near of the Reign of God, AND it is a particular kind of reign.  Our deliverance, which is coming, is the fulfillment of God’s prophetic words to the captives in Babylon.  God’s promise is coming true in a new and revelatory manner which shows a link to God’s Word of the past with the incarnation, which is at hand.  The listeners could not help but hear the powerful words of the prophet Isaiah linked with John the Baptist’s quote: 

Isaiah 40:2-5
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Matthew+3:1-12&vnum=yes&version=nrsv)

These are words of great comfort and wisdom from a new Elijah.  The clothes that he is wearing are clearly the clothes mentioned in the text from Malachi 3:1.  This is not only a prophet with powerful words calling people to repentance, but he is also and must be promising great deliverance and hope for all those who feel trapped and consumed by their sin and brokenness.
     Then our author, our narrator tells us that ALL were going out to him. This was powerful--a new time was coming, a new emerging message and revelation. It was a time of renewal for the people and they wanted to be a part of this ritual.  These first images of baptism are rooted in this hope for something new and for change.  In the text this model of baptism is clear: the word is proclaimed, the individual is moved to change their way of being, they are baptized to mark this repentance and confession.
     This was a powerful movement and the Gospel’s witness to the fact that John was a powerful actor and player in the politics and religious life surrounding Jesus’ own emergence.
     We then add a second scene to our already meaty story of proclamation and repentance.  It is here that we begin to see the architecture of Matthew’s story telling. The narrator moves us quickly from the idea and the Word to action and then into community and community action.     
     John sees that some of the people (Pharisees and Sadducees)  who are coming for baptism are arriving and that perhaps they are seeking something other than true amendment of thinking and being that will lead to transformative action.
     John and the Gospel are clear: your heritage does not save you, your fruit will reveal who you are.  The scholar Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. writes: “The Pharisees and Sadducees are warned not to imagine that the mere ritual of baptism will preserve them from God’s wrath.  Rather they must do the good deeds that are appropriate to genuine repentance in view of the coming kingdom … Belonging to the children of Abraham will not protect those who refuse to repent and do good works.  There may be an allusion here to the rabbinic idea of the “merits of the fathers” according to which, the righteousness of the patriarchs is charged to the account of Israel.” (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 56)
     I want to be very careful here by identifying too much the Pharisees and Sadducees, and to name and recognize the all-too easy-way Christian preachers scapegoat them and the anti-Semitism prevalent in our culture.  When we make too much of them we miss the powerful message of the Gospel.
     You and I are the ones to hear John the Baptist charge.  We are the ones who must hear that perhaps we are about our religious life in a manner that must change.  We are the ones who must look at the fruit of our faith and what it is or is not bringing about in our community. The question is not for someone else, but for us: Have we for too long stood on the shoulders of our ancient traditions and ancestry as Anglicans and Episcopalians? Are we bearing the fruit of the kingdom of God?
     Are we, as we sit in our pews on Sunday morning, able to bring to the altar labors that are not simply prayers and offerings of our hearts, but the glorious work of changing people’s lives?

     You and I, as we sit and ponder the words of John the Baptist, can see that the Gospel of Matthew holds a clear message that we are to be at work in the world around us, bearing fruit fitting our loving God’s reign.  The proclamation of the word leads to transformation and repentance, which leads to real works of faith.  Bearing fruit for the reign of God is not ancillary to a life of faith but an essential component to healthy spirituality in the family of God.  “Repent and return to the Lord” --those words from our Baptismal Covenant are essential keystones in a life well lived with a God who reveals himself incarnationally.  We must make real in our world – outside of ourselves -- our heart's transformation. 

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:
http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”