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

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Day

"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."
Lectionary Blogging, John 1:1-18, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2010.


In this most gentle dawn, O good and most gracious God, we have hastened to behold the wonder that has taken place, for the goodness and loving kindness of our Savior has appeared.  Give us words inspired enough to make known the mercy that has touched our lives, deeds loving enough to bear witness to the treasure you have bestowed, and hearts simple enough to ponder the mystery of your gracious and abiding love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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

Some Thoughts on John 1:1-18
Christmas morning this year falls on a Sunday. The brave and faithful will sneak out of their homes before gifts, some with children in hand, to hear the story of how God became man. 

I like how Raymond E. Brown approaches this text offering a vision that if John is the most beautiful of New Testament texts then the prologue must assuredly be the pearl within the Gospel.  This is the reading for Christmas day.

Brown is clear...there is first the relationship between the Word that is with God (vs 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's-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 we have in the prologue the relationship between the Word and Creation. “All creation bears the stamp of God’s Word,” Brown writes. (Brown, 25) Here we see the author of John 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 to see this played out as an eternal truth, certainly this seems on John'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.

We might even reflect on how quickly all of the Christmas season's preparations are quickly consumed! How many minutes did it take?

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 Mark and John recently 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 how 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) respond 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.  I am reminded of Habakuk who mans his station in order to have a vision of God, or Naham who retells the story of how God dwelled with Abraham, and now dwells in the Temple.  God has returned over and over again to be with his people. Now in the story of Mary we discover that God has come not only to dwell with his people, but to dwell as a person. 

 Here 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.

I have found over the years that the Christmas morning service is perhaps one of the most intimate of services in the christian year.  Holy, and present is the living Word. I hope you as you preach and offer a vision of Sunday worship post our evening celebrations of God incarnate remind people of the incredibly intimate God we worship and how the God news of God dwelling with us is truly Good News. News that all creation is groaning to comprehend and embrace.  As Christians and as Episcopalians gathered together in the early morning hours of Christmas day, it is a message of comfort and joy that draws us closer to God and closer to one another.

Merry Christmas.

A Little Bit for Everyone

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.

Christmas Eve Meditation

"In moments of our own deeper truth we can also find ourselves facing our raw humanity, facing our own poverty, stripped of our shining garments and clad in just the basics. Then the angels are there for us."

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


Shaped by your hand, O God of all the generations we are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem, a land you marry and a people in whom you delight.  With Sarah and Tamar, with Rahab and Ruth, with all of our ancestors, sinners and saints, from Abraham and David to Joseph and Mary, we praise your steadfast Love and sing your faithful covenant.  make us a people firm to trust in your promises and quick to do your will.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:1-20
Across the world on Christmas Eve and Day we shall sit huddled shoulder to shoulder singing carols and Hymns to God. Our children will be eager for gift-giving and sweets; all the while learning the enduring quality of patience. Adults will be gathered, filled with memories and hope for what might be. In the midst of messy family lives and longing for salvation, we shall gather. What I know is that on Christmas when our voices are united in praise of a God who chooses us, regardless of our circumstance, our hearts will be warmed.

We shall gather and we shall retell our sacred Christmas story in which God chooses Mary and Joseph. They were two homeless and poor individuals, forced to wander far from home because of an authority whose rule controlled their lives. With children and parents gathered around we tell the story that Jesus was brought into the world in a manger; in the midst of shepherds. All of this we remind ourselves foreshadows his inheritance to live among the poor and have no place for his head.

Yet it is neither his surroundings nor his lot in life as the son of a poor carpenter that makes our Christmas story special. On the contrary, we speak an ancient and holy truth: Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel, Lord, and Messiah. It is the angel’s words proclaimed to the shepherds that we ourselves echo on this holy of holy days.

We celebrate a living Word birthed into a particularly difficult and hard world. We celebrate light birthed into darkness. We proclaim wisdom birthed into longing. We proclaim glory in the mundane.

It is true that we will all come together as a Christian family celebrating in our own ways the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. We will find him in the midst of our holy worship. However, the Christmas message is clear, the incarnation of God is more than likely best experienced in the world around us.

“Let us go and see” is the shepherd’s cry. So let us, like them, leave our hallowed service and go and see the Christ Child present in the lives of families and friends. May we be buoyed by our mutual joy and hope. Let us with confidence proclaim that God has chosen us, his lowly people, in which to be seen and discovered.

May this season move us to realize the opportunity we have to witness to the Christ Child in the world. Let us offer hope where there is despair, faith where there is doubt, pardon where there is injury, and joy where there is sadness. Let us give food to those who hunger and warmth to those who are cold. Let us love the world into a just society. And let us redefine our neighbor as our family.

My hope for you and your family is a blessed and Holy Christmas. I wish you the greatest measure of peace and joy in the company of friends. May we with one united voice proclaim God in Christ Jesus to a world that even still groans with a longing heart for a savior. Merry Christmas.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Luke 2:1-202In 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.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent 4.b

We may call the Annunciation a “joyful” mystery, but surely the experience was a mixed one for Mary herself. I believe that saying “yes” to God did indeed bring joy to Mary, but that “yes” was also the beginning of terrible responsibility and heartache for her, heartache that would extend all the way to Calvary. In the meantime, she had all of the usual anxieties of the unexpectedly pregnant (and then some). Through all the uncertainty, in the face of every overwhelming obstacle, she was able to trust that God loved and guided her, whether she sensed God’s presence or not.

Certainly this isn’t the only or the best way to interpret the Annunciation. Nevertheless, it was the version I needed that day.

Waiting For God by Elizabeth Desimone


Great and merciful God, from among this world's lowly and humble you choose your servants and call them to work with you to fulfill your loving plan of salvation.  By the power of your Spirit, make your church fertile and fruitful, that, imitating the obedient faith of Mary, the church may welcome your word of life and so become the joyful mother of countless offspring, a great and holy posterity of children destined for undying life.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 1:26-38

Are we confused?  So what is the meaning of Advent and Christmas?  As we wait we might ponder and think about the meaning of our life and the life of those closest to us. If we stop for a moment we might look and around and ask what are we doing and for what are we making this great effort?  If the bumper sticker wisdom is true and Jesus is the reason for the season we might pause on this Sunday and ask ourselves do our actions tell that story or a different story?

For many people life is simply moving along.  We are getting by. We are making our way towards another Christmas.  The anxieties about family and being together are growing.  Perhaps financial stress and strain is pulling on our souls. We are ramping up and we are wondering is this or that really important?

We are going to Christmas parties and making the rounds and something in the midst of those conversations and relationships may actually seem more real, more worthwhile, than the rest of the business of the season.  More people are in church and more people are thinking and wondering as well as wandering quietly about life.

We are confused.  It is in fact a confusing time of year with competing messages.  It is a confusing time economically. It is a confusing time as people look to the past and then forward into the future.  We are a bit confused and we are hoping someone might offer some good news.

I think that is what we are waiting for...a little bit of good news. We are waiting for a little direction.  On this Sunday as the fervor is building I believe people are hoping our preachers will some how give us some wisdom, some direction, perhaps interpret what we are experiencing and what it all means.

Mary was confused to be sure.  Luke Timothy Johnson translates Mary's response to the angel's words as "utterly confused." (Luke, p 38)  At the same time it is likely that all those who heard this story were not confused but rather expected it to be so; this is the way great births happen. This is true in other parts of scripture and it was true in the writings and story telling of Jesus' own day.  We might look at the birth of Samson in Judges 13:2-7 as an example of such writings. (38)

Mary is a woman with no special position within the body of faithful people like most of us.  Mary is not a particularly righteous person (according to Luke); she is not known and a pious woman but rather an ordinary citizen like most of us.  "She is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy.  Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence." (Luke Timothy Johnson; Luke, 39)  She actually is of very little value at all.  I think that is actually how most people feel about themselves.

In a society which has more, spends more, consumes more, and prides itself on liberty, freedom, and happiness, we are today a body of individuals who feel pretty miserable, imprisoned by our stuff, and of very little value.  I think that is why there is so much unrest in our culture.  We are confused about our place in the world; our place in relationship to one another.  In this world there are those who are poor in spirit and poor in individual wealth.  While most Americans may not be the latter we are more often than not poor in spirit.  And, in that recognition we discover how much we need one another and how much we are bonded to those who in this holiday season will go without.

It is to Mary, and to humanity, that God comes and gives grace.  God gives grace and favor to all people in this moment of annunciation. God conceives in the world grace and love incarnate.

Unlike Zechariah who demands proof of this coming Christ, Mary simply wants to be less confused. She just wants to know, in a simple way, how can this be?  How is it that such a simple person with no seeming value can be a bearer of God's grace and favor in the world?

After all that may be the question for which we are all seeking the answer. 

Such  a simple question and we seem so adrift.  I think this is the great travesty in our church, that we may have forgotten the answer to this question. We in our church have forgotten that everyone, ALL people, those like us, those unlike us, those we agree with, those we don't agree with, those who worship like us, those who do not worship like us, those with money and those without money...ALL people are created in such a way that through God's power (and God's power alone) we are vessels of grace in the world.

In a world where reputations, wealth, and personal identity are more often than not built upon tearing others down we desperately need to be reminded of this simple truth - god chooses Mary particularly and in so doing God chooses all of us. 

We in the mainline denominations in this world have spent a lot of time making clear who the righteous and who the righteous are not. We have chosen to use our pulpits publicly to require proof of people's righteousness. And, we have chastised used our power to make others feel bad about themselves.  I believe that preachers (both liberal and conservative) do this.  And, in so doing what has happened is that the rest of the plebes sancti dei (the sacred people of God) have born witness and are left wondering if they too may not be good enough.  Who is?  We have echoed consumerism's maxim that we are not worthy enough alone we must need something else to make us special.  We have translated right belief (whatever you define that as) to be the status criteria for all believers; and in the end we have preached the leaving out of one another from God's embrace.

When we make Mary out to be anything other than the poor, culturally worthless, outsider she is we destill a message that is not good news at all. 

This Sunday, across the globe, Episcopalian and Anglican preachers will stand in pulpits and in front of their congregations and look into the eyes of virtually every kind of person that God has created.  And, we have a moment.  Sure some will preach for 8 minutes others longer, but in that sermon there will be but one moment in which we have an opportunity to offer God's people an answer to the questions and concerns they bring with them and set before God and God's church.  They are asking, they are wondering, is it it just possible... that God's grace and favor if meant for the likes of Mary is meant for me?  Overwhelmingly the answer must be a loud cry of "YES."

May we have the courage to look our people in the eye and see their hearts and speak to them and to say: "Yes, you are chosen like Mary, and God's Holy Spirit is upon you, and you are of value to God, for in you and through you God has chosen to make his Grace, favor, and love known in this world.  Yes, you are the one.  You have been chosen."

A Little Bit for Everyone

Luke 1:26-3826In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent 3.B

"If last week we met the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn and meet a whole different John."
Commentary, John 1:6-8, 19-28, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Much of the pain and suffering around us comes from people imagining that they are the light themselves. In psychological terms, my mind turns to Carl Jung when thinking about light and darkness within us. Jung warned of the dangers of trying to live only in our light. The shadow within is dangerous when ignored."

John 1:6-8, 19-28, Rev. Todd Weir, bloomingcactus.

Gof of peace, whose word is good news to the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted and freedom for all who are held bound, gladden our hearts adn fashion the earth into a garden of righteousness and praise!  Sanctify us entirely, in spirit, soul and body, for the coming of the One who even now is among us, your Son, our Lord Jesus Chrsit, who was, who is and who is to come, your Son, who lives and riengs 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 1:6-28

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,As I walked out in Laredo one day, I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay. I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy; I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too; We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too. (listen to it here)
I grew up listening to the Smothers Brothers and this was their version of The Streets of Laredo.  I have always loved it.

Who are you?  I can tell you who I am by telling you my life story. Ultimately, you will guess it by my clothes and by my car and by my house...the rings on my fingers and bells on my toes.  Today's Gospel lesson asks, who are you?

To get to the bottom of this we must take a good look at what is going on this week in the Gospel Text; especially since we have taken a dog leg into John's Gospel from Mark!

This week's Gospel reading is really in two parts. Those of you preparing a sermon (if doing so on this text) will find that it is really two different parts of John's introduction.  The text for Sunday is 1:6-8 and 19-28.

The first piece falls well within what many scholars believe to be the greatest part of the New Testament.  Raymond Brown in his first volume writes this about the prologue which stretches from 1:1-18.
"If John has been described as the pearl of great price among the NT writings, then one may say that the Prologue is the pearl within this Gospel.  In her cmparison of Augustine's and chrysostom's exegesis of the Prolgoue, M. A. Aucoin points out that both held that it is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in the Prologue." (18)
I think it is important to think of these first verses well within this first piece of writing which has both a form and a purpose. Brown breaks it up this way...  The first section is 1:1-2, This is the Word of God section which offers a poetic vision of God very being.  The second section vss 3-5, reveals the Word's work in creation.  It is the light shining in darkness, shining through man's sinfulness, shining in the birth that flows from the fallen woman Eve in Jesus.  Then, and only then, do we arrive at our piece which is nestled quite nicely here.  The third portion is vss 6-9 and is John the Baptist's witness.  As Brown points out the second part is about the Word's work throughout creation, here that comes to fruition in the proclamation of God's incarnate Word Jesus. (Brown, John, vol 1, 18-17)  Many bloggers this week noted the difference between the John of Mark and the John of this Gospel.  I think the reason for the striking difference is primarily this Gospels tightly focused presentation of God in Christ Jesus. The only reason to even have John in this section is to make clear he is preparing the hearts of humankind for the incarnation, and proclamation of the Word made man.  Brown tells us that following this proclamation we return to the fourth section (continuing the ancient hymn outlined in the text) which is about the Christ of God working his mission in the world.  This is followed by the community's response.   The last of the five sections is another few words by John the Baptist but here in 14, 17-18, is John's proclamation that the Word spoken before time is this Jesus.  He is the pre-existant one.  A radical, revolutionary, and prophetic revelation is being offered in this last section for in this time the common person would have understood that God is invisible; so it makes sense that the Word spoken, the Son, is the only one who has seen this God.  The unique relation between Son and God not only helps with the contemporary thought of the day but it gives rise to our common undestanding of who Jesus is: God's only Son.  (For my theological followers, there is a great discussion in Brown's vol 1 on page 35 and 36 about this last section; and it is well worth reading.)

To summarize then, we have in the first two verses of our reading a very clear focus on God in Christ. Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Word made manifest, and the word at work in the world.  As if marching to a drum we hear for the first time in these very first words what we have faithfully memorized as Christians and Episcopalians who have a Common Prayer Book and that is that the only Son of God has come into the world to save the world.  Such comfortable and hopeful words. Everything in this first section of our reading verbally illustrates that John the baptist is someone they knew but now is so transparent to the Gospel that all they see now is the coming of Christ.

On the first day of John's ministry in the Gospel he disappears as the living Word and Jesus take center stage. On the second day he offers a vision of who Jesus us; he is the transparent vessel of a living Christ - of light in the world.

In this third week of Advent a number of things are going on in our context here in the U.S.  One is what I would call the holiday breather.  We began the holiday with a thanksgiving mad dash to fill our bellies and our shopping carts.  We redoubled our efforts to get to church. And, we are now in the slump; it is the week long wednesday between Holiday and Christmas day.  Unfortunately, preachers are in the same predicament.

Into this slump we re-read a passage about John the baptist. Now, you and I both know that is not precisely true. This Sunday's passage is very different from the last.  Brown and practically all modern scholarship recognizes that John the Baptist in John's Gospel is completely different than the one portrayed in the synoptics.  He looks different that the previous version we preached on last week.  This week he is the transparent vessel of God's grace - Jesus Christ. He points only to God and to Jesus.

Just as John the Baptist in John's Gospel, you and I are as Christians intimately tied to who we say God is.

You might remember Stephen Colbert's radical statement that caused so much attention recently:

"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
I will tell you that not being who we say we are is a crippling missionary stumbling block in a world that is seeking some kind of authentic view of God and Grace and hoping someone will be a true voice of transformation and life in a world of gifts and purchases whose shimmer and shine will fade a few weeks after their delivery.

The truth is that as Christians we proclaim and reaffirm that the pre-existant Word of God is Jesus Christ who is God's only son.  And that we are as a people and as individuals (as is proclaimed in the Isaiah passage for this Sunday) inheritors of a divine relationship with the unseen God through the waters of baptism.  And, that we DO believe we are related as brothers of sisters of God's family.  And, therefore we are to treat people in a certain way with special attention to God's most intimate friends - the poor. 

We say and affirm as a defining part of who we are that we as Christians believe we meet God in the text of scripture and in the faces of our neighbor.

We meet God in John's proclamation. We meet this unseen God in the very speaking and retelling of the story of the incarnation of God offered here on the other side of the Jordan just as it is offered from the ambo's and pulpits of our churches.

Moreover, like John we meet God by venturing out across the doorway of our church onto the other side of the side walk where we have the opportunity to meet the living Word in the storied lives of the people we find out in the world.  We encounter God and his Son in the words of scripture which helps us to hear the same living incarnate God spoken in the story of our neighbor.

This week we did a bible study with this passage at our meeting of the governing board of the diocese.  A friend and fellow clergyman said he had been praying and thinking about this passage. He realized and offered to the group that quite frankly we were simply to be at work being witnesses to Christ (like John the Baptist and John the Gospeller); and if we were not then we were being witnesses for something or someone else.  In the latter he had in mind those folks who traveled all that way to meet John the Baptist in the desert and to shut him down for not bearing witness to what they stood for.

This religious stuff is a dangerous thing.  The world right now is taking a breather from its holiday consumption. It is quiet before the holiday storm.  We have an opportunity to tell the truth.  The truth is that how we live out our holiday will reveal if we are bearing witness to God in Christ Jesus, or if we are representing something else.  Yes, what we say and what we do are incarnational symbols of the living God or something else entirely.

Religion on a Sunday like this is dangerous because when we don't tell the truth about the world we live in (the addictions we have, the way we attempt to purchase our belonging, and how we are stewards of God's things) we sell a little piece of our corporate soul to the secular world; creating a consumer faith.

How will the church, how will you the preacher, how will the people answer the essential question asked on the shore of the Jordan river so many years ago, and which is still relevant today: "Who are you; because you look like someone I once knew?"

A Little Bit for Everyone

John 1:6-28
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.

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2.B

"As we anticipate these words from the angels in heaven, Mark asks us to view God's good news in a different way."
Commentary, Mark 1:1-8, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.
"When God sent his Son into the world, he took care, and when he sends him into the heart, he takes care, to prepare his way before him."

From Matthew Henry's Commentary.


O God of all consolation, to us who journey as pilgrims through time you have promisd new heavesn and a new earth.  Speak today to the inmost heart of your people, that leading lives of holiness and godliness, and with a faith free from spot or blemish, we may hasten toward that day on which you will manifest in the fullness of its splendor the glory of your holy name.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:1-8

A tale of Thanksgiving: Good news, as it had been forcasted by news media who sent out word well in advance, people made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web.  They cried out in the wilderness for deals.  The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones.  It was a wilderness out there! Commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the developed world over came out and baught and charged.  You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds  of clothing, ragged by the days end.  They looked and they looked so the story goes until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodenss. 

I want you to know that while I personally only baught a small fraction of this merchandise (1 bag of catfood and 1 gallon of milk and a new coat). I did participate.  That is the confession I have to make.

As I reflect on the week that is past I have several topical thoughts rumbling around in my head.

Global desires and hopes for spending to help our economy.
Football games galore.
A ton of food.
The poor and the hungry on a wet and cold weekend.
Advent wreath making.
Time with family.
People dealing with the complexities of family.
Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thanksgiving Day parade.
Political election anxiety and hope.
The readings of Advent 1 regarding the coming of the Messiah.
It was a great holiday in so many respects. Yet it was a holiday of extremes as well; was it not? I wondered first: what is it that we are looking for? As a culture and as individuals what is it that we are hoping to have in all these things? With all these gifts?

I have decided that the truth in such spending, chaotic action and wild divergent events is actually not best described by analyzing what we sought through our actions but in what drives us in the search. 

I think the real thing we must deal with is "human desire."  Humanity is made to desire and long for that which is outside of itself.  Certainly we are seeking to purchase and make real our own some kind of imagined normal life. We are trying to attach ourselves by virtue of our needs to something meaningful.  We are hoping that somehow we will fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.

It is as if the desire for our constituional right of "happiness" has become confused.  One might even say that for a people who have the right of happiness, consume most of the world's resources, we are some of the most unhappy people.

I offer all of this because the Christian understands that human desire is created within so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus.  We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God.  And, we are created to long for one another.

What we do though is that we fill that longing with all kinds of other things.  This is an age old axiom and is explored in the first autobiography by Augustine of Hippo: Confessions.

Today we fill that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media. We fill that longing by consuming food. We fill that longing by hoarding.  We fill that longing by not dealing with familly dynamics or by not facing up to our own shortcomings.  We fill that longing by scapegoating others in our lives, in our workplaces, in our governemnts for problems we ourselves are intimately involved in.

I say all of this not to be some Christmas (or Advent) scrooge.  Quite the contrary.  I say this because the message of Mark's Gospel this Sunday it turns out is really good news (and quite inexpensive).  The message is that God is the one we are longing for and his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world so as to fill that missing piece of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God himself desires.

As Ireneaus once described, the reality of God's creative act is the ultimate outpouring into creation of God's own longing to walk with his creation in the garden at the eve of the day.  The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole.  He has paid the ultimate price and we may find our longing transformed into fulfilment in the community of friends called the church.

It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, aging parents, and complex lives, poverty, and longing.  It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out and proclaiming, "Stop! Listen! Here is some good news!" This voice is important and one to be listened to.

The wilderness is a refuge it turns out in Mark's gospel. It is a place tied to the fleeing slaves from Egypt.  It is the place of good things, and good happenings.

Tied intimately to Isaiah's proclamation of freedom to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40.3) this passage refers to the same promise of freedom to those who now choose to live a different life in the wilderness of our time and culture.

Unlike many apocolyptic communities in Israel at the time of John's proclamation, his was not a proclamation of sectarian private life or private faith; that certainly was present but it is not a Gospel notion.  In point of fact it was quite the opposite of what most people will experience as church this coming Sunday. The proclamation was public, it was in the wilderness of the world, the confession was public, the washing was public, and it was all focussed on living life in the world.

As we lean into the Gospel of Mark we must be aware of the central motif of "The Way." This is a Gospel of The Way. And, the way leads to the cross and to resurrection.  John proclaims, Jesus shall lead us, and as disciples Mark intends us to follow.

As we read John's charge to us today the message is much the same. We are leading a particular life, in a particular world, making our communal way with Jesus. 

We are to make room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions. Notice the passage does not say that God makes the paths straight and the valleys low.  It i is we who are to do the work of making room in our lives for God. We are the ones, not unlike the inn keeper, who in Advent remind ourselves and so create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God.

John the Baptist like a new Elisha or Elijah is offering us a moment of change. A moment to see the world differently and to be differently in the world. Most scholars believe there is a scriptural link.  At the same time for those gatehred at the waters edge and those hearing Mark's Gospel for the first time would have actually recognized John as a vision of the great prophet because of the word pictures used to describe his clothing and eating habits. 

John himself, in his words, and in his actions, is making way in the wilderness. He is both prophetically offering a word of transformation and the vision of his ministry also offers an understanding that now is the time!

The understanding was that the waters themselves remade the body right and that this was an event of urgency.  They prepared it for the mission ahead.  Furthermore, important is the proclamation that a public confession and a singular baptism given by another, as opposed to daily ritual cleansing administered by yourself privately, was enough.

John's unique baptism for sins, for repentence is a message of incredible grace.  It is one where in we understand that the waters of baptism are themselves the powerful waters of grace and freedom to live in relationship to this God.  We are freed to live without the great consumptive game being played out all around us. We are freed to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ alone, and for our neighbor.  We are given in the words of Isaiah and in the proclamation of John the Baptist an opportunity to turn and repent from lives lived for ourselves alone and not for God or others. We are invited to walk a path, a road, with Jesus allowing our desire for other things other than God to be crucified and our false selves as well. 

And what we discover is that in the end, though we are not worthy to embrace our savior Jesus or to stoop to untie the thong of his sandle as if a servant, this God calls us friends most of all.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Mark 1:1-8
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas 1B December 31, 2018

(Simeon nimmt Christus in seine Arme, Quelle:  
"Notice, Simeon wasn?t looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"

"The Consolation of Israel," Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach. "Focus on scripture from a justice perspective." Exegesis, study, and teen study and activities.


God of the covenant, looking graciously upon their fiath, you brought Abraham joy and Sarah laughter int he birth of the their child and in the beginning s of a family countless as the stars of heaven. With Simeon and Anna, with Mary and Joseph, our eyes have seen your salvation, and we hold it in our hands.  Fill us with wisdom to trust your promises, and let your gracious favor rest on this family you have gathered.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:22-40
This day brings our holiday season to an end. The most brave of all will come out on Sunday, January 1st, to celebrate the new year in church.  Perhaps this will be a double low church whammy. It is both the Sunday after Christmas and it is also New Years Day.

In contrast to Mary in the Gospel written by Luke we have Simeon who is a faithful, righteous, and patient man.  A pious man he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. 

Mary and Joseph bring their son to the Temple for circumcision as per their custom. 

It is in the midst of this familial tradition that we see another revelation of who Jesus is and is to be.

In this moment Jesus is the Messiah for Simeon.  He proclaims him so.  Going on to reveal that he is the the one he has been waiting for, but that he is also the savior of Israel and of all the peoples of the earth.

In the back of our minds we must be aware of how Luke tells the story.  At once we know he is to be rejected in this first volume; while accepted in Acts.  Likewise within the Gospel narrative we see that some people will accept and welcome him others will reject him. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 57)

Simeon and Anna are people who welcome the savior. 

One week has past. A season is over and a new one is beginning.  As we make our way through the Christmas lessons and then the Epiphany lessons I believe that we have an opportunity to refocus ourselves on living out the Gospel. 

On this day perhaps it would be good for us to consider how we are welcoming God into our midst.  How are we welcoming God into the midst of our lives? Are we making room for him? How are we welcoming others into our communities?  Are we making room to see the face of Christ in others?  Are we doing this in the church and on the streets? I love Goebel's quote above; a very good internalization of this morning's Gospel:

"Notice, Simeon wasn?t looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"

On a day when we begin our New Year's resolution it is a good time for us to rethink our work as individuals who make room for Jesus Christ in our lives and in our communities.  What would happen if we as clergy made a resolution for our selves. What would happen if we encouraged others to do so? What if our church's made resolutions?  What would they be? To be more like Simeon, Anna, the faithful family?  To wirte a rule of life? To launch an intentional ministry of welcoming? To redouble our study and engagement with the bible?

In such rules of life, and resolutions, perhaps we will in the end find some liberation - some freedom.  In living a life that proclaims and lives out the promise of Jesus as Messiah perhaps in fact the whole world might experience what it means to come within the reach of his saving embrace.  Just maybe if we were to keep our resolutions, just maybe, people around us might have the same expeience as Simeon.
A Little Bit for Everyone

Luke 2:22-4022When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent 1.B

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"
"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"The question for us today is—in a world of woes and suffering, when the powers and principalities have not yet been (completely) dethroned—how are we to stay alert?"

"Falling Stars, Failed States, and the Power of Advent," Amy Allen, Political Theology, 2011.


Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail.  Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace;  that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day 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.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37
The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man.  In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement.  It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers. 

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site.  The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true?  Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.? 

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it.  There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope.  My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest)  I don't want a judgement.  Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete.  (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.)  Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, having said that I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be.  Sure we all want this great salvation to be true.  And, being the humans that we are we then let ourselves off the hook.  Yep!  That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter? 

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot.  Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament.  Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming.  Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do.  Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster.  Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.

Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.

Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over.  I think it matters to God.  Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned. 

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well. 

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people."  Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel.  I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement.  Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: well how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions.  And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe."  I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end.  Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need.  Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock.  And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?

A Little Bit for Everyone

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King Sunday - A Feast of the Church

"In church on Sunday, or at the cricket, we will be a motley bunch. There’ll be folk like my grandma who always worried, a little bit, that grandpa might not make it into heaven. And some of us will worry that perhaps we will not be among the sheep."
"Love Changes Everything," Andrew Prior, First Impressions, 2011.

How wonderful a king, Lord God, you have given us in Jesus your Son: neither a monarch throned in splendor nor a warrior bent on revenge, but a shepherd who seeks and rescues the flock, bringing them back, binding them up, strengthening them and feeding them with justice.  Prepare us for the day of Christ's coming glory by shaping our lives according to his teaching that what we have done for the least of his brothers and sister we have done for him, the Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:31-46

This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday of the Christian Year; it is the Sunday before Advent 1.  We have been reading from Matthew's Gospel and we are about to seguay into Mark's for the second of our three year reading cycle called the Lectionary.

So in this last passage for the year we have an image of Christ as King, at the end time we have a great judgement going on and a division of the sheep and the goats. I love the quote above because of the incredible anxiety and wierd things this passage does to us as Christians.

Andrew Prior is right.  There will be a great number of people in Church this Sunday discomforted by this passage.  And the few that are comfortable probably shouldn't be.  Let's be honest: we do worry about getting into heaven and it is typically such a disquieting notion that we don't pay any attention to it at all and so dismiss all accountability for our actions. Or we lord this over others. We say things like we must save all those goats. Or, we should do mission and just let God do the sorting out.  We worry about parents and family members and ourselves. we have lists of things we have done that are bad and really bad. All in all I think we read this passage and we miss the whole point.

Do I think there is going to be a judgement? Yes, I say so every week in the creed and I believe it. I sure hope the meager life of service and a full measure of God's grace and love will help me make the cut.  But that is not what this text is really saying to me and to us as a church. At least I don't think it is. I don't think God wants us to worry about that stuff; the end times and what will happen when we die. We all die and it will eventually happen and we hope that when it happens we may pass from life to everlasting life. That is our hope and upon such hope to I have faith.

But I think the purpose of the passages which urge vigelence and seek to encourage action on our part have three basic points to offer us as Chrsitians trying to live a Christian life, as Episcopalians trying to live out that particularly difficult baptismal covenant that we are continuously promising to keep.

First, I think the entention of Jesus' ministry has been to tell people that God does love them and God cares for them. God cares so much that he wants to gather them in and that God wants for us to be one unified family.  I think as part of that message Jesus also conveys in his teaching the reality that God cares what we do and how we treat one another. 

In a society where most people believe in God, believe God is distant (except when they need something), and believes God wants them to be a good person and be happy this is a very difficult passage to read. It says quite the opposite in point of fact. The passage says that God is near, God cares, God hopes we will live a life completely oriented on God and not our happiness, and that God wishes us to act and make the world sustainable for all people.

The second, point that I think this passage is clear about is that God wants us to act now and not wait.  This is a Gospel shift from the inherited Jewish tradition that understood it was good to confess on your death bed assuring your ammendment of life.  Rather the Gospel of Jesus seeks ammendment of life - this reorientation to God and action on God's behalf daily.  The sense of urgency, the idea the kingdom is now, it isn't just coming, but that we have an opportunity to live in the reign of God today is an ancient Gospel truth.

The last thing point of this passage is that God wishes for us to understand that one of the primary ways we amend life is by serving others who have no value to society but who have value to God.  The poor, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison are of such value to God that in our passage today they are the incarnational (little I) presence of Jesus in the world. 

If we are serious about placing God in Jesus Christ at the center or our lives, upon the throne of our hearts, we cannot separate this trifold reality of his reign from our spiritual pilgrimage on this earth.  The king of our spiritual life cares how his subjects treat one another.  The king expects actions to be taken on his behalf now and in this world; the kingdom is not about what happens to us when we die.  And, the king himself is incarnationally present in pauper's robes, with a hungry outstretched hand,  and with legs shackled.

We live out our life towards our passing and towards the final judgment by making God first, and making neighbor second. 

This notion is not simply a discipleship rule but it is the rule that Jesus lives out in his own life. Remembering the model for Christian fellowship, mission, and discipleship in Matthew's Gospel is a reflection of Jesus own life we cannot help but hear the last words of this Sunday's Gospel as fulfliment of Jesus' own princely rule lived out in this world. He will love God whom he calls Father to the very end, he will love us (event forgiving us from the cross) and he will love us as neighbors and friends.  In the end Jesus himself comes to us and gives us his very self, sacrificially, for his fellow men; though we be bound by the shakles of sin, have the outstretched hand for grace, and a heart clothed in the robes of earthly pretenders to the throne. Goats we are, in Jesus sheep we become.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +22

"Christ keeps no servants to be idle: they have received their all from him, and have nothing they can call their own but sin. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him."
From Matthew Henry's Commentary.

Into the hands of each of us, O God, you have entrusted all the blessings of nature and grace.  Give us the will and wisdom to multiply the gifts your providence has bestowed, and mke us industrious and vigilant as we await your Son's return, so that we may rejoice to har him call us "good and faithful servants" and be blest to enter inot the joy of your kingdom.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30

In a season of news speculation about the always empending global economic crisis, Occupy Wall Street movements, Greek debacle, housing crisis and questions about where we might invest our money for the future...comes a passage from Matthew that is very timely.

A master goes away, leaves funds to be managed, and returns to find one steward has not been a steward at all but has buried the masters treasure.  The scene is ugly but the message is clear: risking for the kingdom of God and being prepared for the masters return is a task to be embarked upon at this very moment.

In this passage Jesus is teaching about the end times. Are we waiting for the Kingdom of God? If so when is it coming.  Jesus' intent appears to be to say the Kingdom of God is now.  Yes there will come  a time of judgement but now is the our of work. 

The goal is to be clear that those who follow Jesus are to see life as the place in which they are to be tillers in the garden, soil tenders for God, and harvesters.  Those who recognize their value in God and choose the Way of Jesus are choosing to work now and not to wait.

According to scholars Allison and Davies there could be many reasons for the importance of the story for Matthew's community. Perhaps because rabbis at the time taught people to insure confession just before their death, or maybe it is important because there is some waning enthusiasm in the community as years pass between Jesus' ascension and his return.  We do not know.

If we take this whole section of teaching between 24:36 and 25:30 there is a stark contrast that emerges between the work of every day life and the end time.  We have people feasting, and marrying, we have people working and serving.  It is contrasted with images of fire and earthquakes, famine and disaster. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 412)

N. T. Wright (author and theologian) in his innaugural address recently at St. Mary's College wrote this:

It was, as Acts 17 (already quoted) indicates, the royal announcement, right under Caesar’s nose, that there was ‘another king, namely Jesus’. And Paul believed that this royal announcement, like that of Caesar, was not a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It was a powerful summons through which the living God worked by his Spirit in hearts and minds, to transform human character and motivation, producing the tell-tale signs of faith, hope and love which Paul regarded as the biblically prophesied marks of God’s true people.[1]
N. T. Wright's lecture has been sticking with me recently and as I think of it and in connection with the every day life Jesus speaks about in this section I am struck by the importance to Paul, to the early Gospel writers, to the first followers of Jesus, indeed to Jesus himself this notion that our work as creatures of God and followers of Jesus is to be about our master's work; and to do so with a sense of urgency.

When we fear the end and are paralyzed into inaction or conversly when we place the end so far in front of us we need not pay attention to it, we are likely to be burying the possibility of living now in the reign of God - the Kingdom of God.

When however we choose God as our master, and Jesus as our Lord, we bring accountability close at hand and in so doing may in fact be encouraged to risk for the sake of the Gospel.  If we over turn the cry at the pretorium "We have no King but Caesar" and claim instead that Jesus is the ruler of our lives we may indeed begin to (through the power of the Holy Spirit) live our our live in faith, hope, and love.

What greater investment can there be?  What better time to invest than now?

[1] The Right Reverend Professor N. T. Wright ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’ St Mary’s College October 26 2011.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’