Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

4th Sunday in Lent, Year A


"Religion is assaulted most by the pretence of religion: but the more it is pressed down, the more it rises up."  From John Calvin's Geneva Notes.

John 9:1-41
9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Image is by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-60. World Mission Collection, WELS.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text


General Resources for the Texts this week


Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from John


Some interesting articles on this passage:


William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Loader writes: "Obsession with observance is a characteristic of religion which makes it very dangerous, as many forms of fundamentalism have shown, not least the recent most violent. Such rigidity at the expense of people is not, however, limited to certain widely acknowledged types, but can flourish on both the left wing and the right, among the biblicists and among those serving other ideologies."
Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today


Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart,
Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.


Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)
Click here for more Lenten collects and prayers.


Some thoughts...
God's work is revealed in us. This is the message of the Gospel today.  God's work is revealed in our own healing as we come to make our pilgrim way with Jesus.  Gods' work is revealed in our own mission and ministry to others.  God's work is revealed in us; both as we are healed and as we get our hands dirty doing healing work.

As we read along John's Gospel we see that this miracle is the second in a group of three.  Jesus is passing by a place were beggars usually gather and the question about sin and his blindness is posed.
All the scholars I read point to both the social history and the scriptural interpretation of the time giving evidence that people believed that people's trials were punishment for sin. (We might remember Job's friends.)

Jesus answers that the God's works are revealed in this man.  The glory of God is revealed.  John's Gospel repeats that the work of Jesus, who has come down from above, is here to glorify God.  (see John 11:4, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”.)
The next verses remind us of the imagery of night and light explored last week and are ever present in this Gospel.  We might remember that “I am the light of the world” parallels 8:12 where Jesus says: “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

Like many healing practices at the time of Jesus, he spits in the ground and makes mud.  I believe here we see the remaking of humanity by God - the new genesis of life.  John's Gospel is a new creation story and the image here of God remaking this man so that he may see and bear witness to the light is essential to the Gospel and the understanding of this pericope.

The people are divided and amazed and concerned.  Our response to our remaking is clear though we are to “‘Give glory to God!’”   This is the response and our work.  We might look elsewhere in the scripture to understand the meaning of this.  When we do we see that it is "a technical term meaning tell the truth! It is a formula used when people are to confess their sins. In Joshua 7:19, Joshua urges Achan: 'give glory to the LORD God of Israel and make confession to him'. See also 1 Samuel 6:5; Jeremiah 13:16; Acts 12:23 (Agrippa dies); Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:2. [BlkJn] [NOAB]" (Chris Haslaam's Clippings)

Of course the religious establishment wants none of this and so while they are astonished they react by blaming the blind man. This is a typical response from those in power to those who are left out of the system; this is surely his fault.  The man who does not accept the authoritative version of the events is driven out of the synagogue.

The man returns to Jesus and begins a life of following - a life of discipleship.  His witness, worship, and proclamation becomes his work.  Just as God is revealed in the healing, we see at the end of the text that God is revealed through the man's discipleship.  His ability to see, proclaim, and live in the light of the Lord is an important part of the story. 

Healing and being remade by Jesus Christ is only the first part of one's pilgrim journey.  Our Lentent journey is a healing one. We are turning and remaking ourselves.  Through various disciplines we are opening our eyes to see God's hand at work in the world and in our lives personally.  This revelation brings us closer to God as we proclaim and bear witness to the light which is in the world.  This is only part of our pilgrim way of lent though.  The second half is to remake and reinvigorate our hands in the world. Like Jesus we are to get them muddy with the primordial clay of creation and be at work in the world around us.  We are to be healers: proclaiming release from the powers that bind us and giving sight to the blind.  In this way we participate in the kingdom of God that is becoming and is to come.  We live with our eyes wide open to the emerging new creation and light which is already breaking in the world.


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, March 25, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

"She is not a prostitute. She doesn't have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms "
Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well, David Lose, The Huffington Post

John 4:5-42

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text


General Resources for the Texts this week


Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from John


Some interesting articles on this passage:


William Loader's "First Thoughts"


Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today


Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer

O Lord and Master of my life,
give me not the spirit of laziness,
despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of sobriety,
humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own transgressions
and not to judge my brother,
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen
St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 305-373)This week Lenten text from John's Gospel follows Jesus from his discourse with the pharisees into Samaria as he makes his way back to Galilee.
Click here for more Lenten collects and prayers.


Some thoughts...


It is probably good to remind ourselves that the Samaritans are the Israelites who were not deported during the Assyrian occupation.  They did not go with Isaiah to Babylon.  They settled in Palestine with the Gentiles.  They had recently been a fight between the Jews and the Samaritans and the Romans had intervened. (Chris Haslaam points us to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.6.1-3 118-36; Jewish Wars 2:12.3-5 232-46). [NJBC]

Shechem was a real place, maybe called Askar. The geography is important as a revelationary vessel of who Jesus is.  Chris Haslaam does some great research and reminds us that "in Genesis 33:19, Jacob buys land at Shechem. In Genesis 48:22 he gives land to Joseph and his brothers, giving Joseph a double portion. In Hebrew, portion sounds like Shechem. See also John 1:51, where Jesus tells Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. Jacob, with his ladder to heaven, is the type (forerunner) of Jesus. [NOAB] [NJBC]"  So we cannot underestimate the power of the place in memory and prophecy within the tradition of the first followers of Jesus.

Jesus begins by breaking down the barrier between them by asking to her to give him a drink.  (Jews and Samaritans did not share things in common.)   This invitation though leads into the revelation of Jesus as not only the Son of God, who has come down and is with us, but also as the one through whom all things come.  Jesus is the gift.  Jesus is the living water for those who thirst. Jesus is the one who will give the Spirit of life.

We remember then also that the water rose to the top of the well for Jacob, that in Jeremiah 2:13 God is the fountain of living water. As Christians we see the revelation clearly and powerfully, but for her in the midst of this story she asks the questions that many must have been asking of Jesus. We might well remember that for those still seeking God or in the midst of a dark place on their pilgrimage the question she asks are important and worth hearing again - even if we have not asked them ourselves in a long time.  She says, "Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus then responds.  While the well obviously had been enough for the great herds of Jacob, and his family, one will always thirst again.  So Jesus is speaking of a different thirst the thirst and hunger for God.  He is the bread of life who has come down from heaven.  Like the words of God to Moses, "I am goiiong to rain bread from heaven for you." (Exodus 16:4) Here I am so very struck by the beginning of a switch. The place, the earth, the well, the water, and the bread...are earthly physical things.  Jesus is holding up a mirror to our human condition in some manner and saying that while you have the need and desire for these basic things your soul hungers for something different.  Believing that the world will give to you what is needed for spiritual things is misguided.  Jesus is offering to this woman and to us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."  We might remember furthermor that in 10:10, Jesus says: “‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’”.

So just as last we and this week we see the reoccuring themes of the incarnation.  Jesus comes from above.  So too we see the imagery of spiritual life flowing from God, in Jesus, to the Holy Spirit and out into the world.

Jesus continues:
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
The theme continues then as Jesus offers a vision that worshiping God then is not located to geography.  Here in this Holy place, which offers us a revelation of who Jesus is, is not the only place where Jesus is found.  Those who follow him and those who are filled with the Spirit find and discover that God is worshipped and followed in all places and in all times.  A disciple does not have to make their pilgrimage to a place but that God is with the pilgrim everywhere.  Likewise the responsibility of the pilgrim is to make God known and to worship God in all places of their daily life.

These are revelutionary and revelationary words.  Humans from the very earliest of recorded history have desired to mark out sacred space in the world, to separate the sacred and the profane.  Our desire to continue to build altars in the world and churches and sanctuaries illustrates this fact.  The reality is though that as Christians we believe in a God in Jesus Christ who came and walked with us and left the holy places and went out.  It is this God that beckons us still.

Clearly gathering that Jesus is different and special she says, “‘I know that Messiah is coming’”  There is a lot of conjecture about who the Samaritans thought and how they thought about the messiah's coming.  Most agree it was something like a hope for a new prophet, a great prophet, like Moses. This is partly based upon the fact that they used the prophetic books, while most Jews only used the first five books of the scripture.

Chris Haslaam writes about the next verses:
“I am he”: Perhaps Jesus points to his divinity, in an echo of God’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’'”. This is the first of a series of self-revelatory sayings, all echoing an Old Testament formula This is particularly striking in those sayings (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) in which Jesus uses the words I am without any predicate. This verse is in striking contrast to the synoptic gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to disclose to anyone who he is. Perhaps he felt he could say openly in Samaria what would have seriously impeded his mission in Jewish territory. [BlkJn]
So what we have just witnessed, like the conversation with Nicodemus, is that Jesus is continually in conversation with those who do not yet believe.  As Lent is a time for new converts to be prepared for baptism and confirmation, and the whole of the church is to be renewed in its faith, the message of the woman at the well and her conversation helps us to remember the power of conversation with those who do not yet believe.  We are to listen and reveal who Jesus is. We are to be out in the world. We are to engage and make holy all the places we make our pilgrim way.  To make places holy through conversation with all people, perhaps even those who are the most separated from us by either wealth, or status, or ethnicity.

Look at what happens in the text:
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
When we dare to do this we will find and discover that the converts zest for new life, living water, and the holy spirit will renew the greater community and draw others to Jesus Christ. We too will be renewed and have the opportunity to leave our buildings and go with them out into the world.  All receive not from our testimony but from God's empowering Spirit that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

What happens is that the disciples show up and they are all upset for many reasons, most of which probably escape us today.  (I think we spend a lot of time on the woman's background and on why they are upset because Jesus talks to her. This seems less important than the conversation about conversion and evangelism)  Jesus responds to them with at proverb and a teaching. Jesus begins with this proverb: Four months more, then comes the harvest?  In everyday language the proverb may have simply meant, "what's the rush?"  You have to remember when you sowed seed,instead of drilled seed into the ground, you had to wait for the seed to take root.  So we have this beautiful image of Jesus saying just be patient.  It is a parrallel conversation with the actions of the towns people.  See the seeds are taking root in the people's ears and hearts.  Sowing and reaping are the work of the disicple.  And, sometimes the disciple does not get to see the fruit of their labors. 

We live in such an instant society we want to see the change now! We want to see new disciples made from our proclamation now! The reality is that if we are like the sower, and are focussed on the work of the sowing we will have a great harvest - though someone else may be the one to harvest for us.  In fact Jesus is saying that part of living in the kingdom now, part of living in the reign of God, is the proclamation of the word.  When we do this both the sower and the reaper rejoice together.  As we think of our own Christian story between John and Acts, we can see that while Jesus stays with them for a few days, it is Philip in Acts who returns sows some more and reaps. (see Acts 8:5-17)

This is a great passage to talk about evangelism, conversion, the work of the church in the world.  It has images of how we meet people where they are in the world where they live. I hope you enjoy exploring what is a very full passage, it is itself a deep well from which much living water can flow.

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, March 18, 2011

Second Sunday In Lent, Year A

"Two nativities of Christ are understood: one divine, the other human: one, that by which we were to be made; the other, that by which we were to be made anew: both marvellous; that without mother, this without father."

from Augustine's Tractate XII on John 3:6-21

John 3:1-17
3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text


Textweek General Resources


Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from John


Some interesting articles on this passage:


William Loader's "First Thoughts"


Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today


Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ's sake, Amen
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)

Click here for more Lenten collects and prayers.


Some thoughts...
So we begin our Gospel lesson today with Nicodemus. We know that he is only mentioned in the Johannine account and appears later in the story insisting on a trial and annointing Jesus' body for burial.  WE are told he is a leader of the Jews.

Much is made of him arriving at night. Perhaps he came in the darkness because he was fearful of people seeing him, or perhaps he came at night because he was a devoted teacher and studied always.  (Chris Haslam offers this latter connect based upon the Qumran Community Rule of life).  Heavy too is the symbology of light and dark in this particular Gospel and we may be given this reference to illustrate the teachings of Jesus over and against the pharisees.

Immediately, as in the other parts of the Gospel of John, Jesus is recognized, proclaimed as being from God.  Nicodemus a little less humble also recognizes Jesus as a teacher on par with himself.

Jesus then offers him the vision of God's reign/kingdom where in individuals are brought in not by moral achievenment but by the transformation of God.  There is a scholarly argument about the translation "born from above" and "born anew." I like both. They give that true sense that our ability of living in the kingdom of God comes from God, and is made possible through God's providence and grace.  Such an understanding about the potential of life being transformed is not something that comes from our ancient roots in Israel but is more in keeping with the emerging thought of hellenism.  Nevertheless, Jesus' revelation is clear.  People are transformed by God and God's spirit.  They are transformed and have the potential of living new life.  People have the opportunity to be different, act different, live in community in a different manner - if they are but opened to the inner workings of the Holy Spirit.

Chris Haslam puts these two pieces together for verses 5 and 6:

Verse 5: “born of water”: 1:33 says “... John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’”. See also Ephesians 5:26. [NOAB]

Verse 6: “Spirit”: In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh promises through the prophet: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”. See also Titus 3:5. In Jubilees 1:23, cleansing by the Spirit is associated with the coming of the Messianic Age. [NJBC]

Verse 6: See also 1:12-13: “... to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
Now what is also happening is that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in the plural.  So we get the sense that Jesus is speaking not only to the man before him but also to the whole of the the religious establisment of the day...perhaps even to our religious insititutions today.

Jesus says, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I am sure much of this historic meaning may be lost; it sounds very much like a common saying here used to describe the Holy.  It does that very well and I think challenges those who lead to be present to the spirit's work in the moment.  How often do we worry about where something is coming from and where it might lead. We try not to discern God's invitation in the moment but figure out how to control God's spirit for our own ends.  Is this not perhaps what Jesus perceives Nicodemus is doing?  Perhaps he is challenging the pharisees to stop their machinations about who Jesus is and what he is up to and to see that God is moving in that very moment and inviting even them into a transformational moment.

As a church (a denomination, diocese, and individual churches) we have spent the last two decades attempting to control political events in and around our communities.  In the midst of this we have completely lost our sense of mission.  We have some how become so discerning that we have lost the ability to present for one another and those who come to us in the dark night of their own spiritual journey. 

Following this Jesus and Nicodemus' relationship seems to change.  It is as if Nicodemus' eyes are opened and he is transformed.  We can read that the conversation continues with Jesus doing as he hopes we shall all do, meet one another on our journey and be transformed by the Spirits presence in our midst. Jesus meets and helps Nicodemus discover what he has been looking for... Some small part of that is Jesus' own recognition of the goodness that is in Nicodemus and a willingness to engage with him.

I am always struck by the conversation that is taking place.  On the one hand Jesus is treated as an equal by Nicodemus. But Jesus does not correct him.  On the other hand the more important lesson may be that Jesus treats Nicodemus as an equal and so the engaging converstation is able to lead to transformation.  What would it be like if we as church people were so very comfortable in our own faith and understanding of God that we could treat all those who come to us as Jesus treats Nicodemus?

The last part of our Gospel is an assumed continuation of the conversation, though Jesus is the only one speaking.  It is a vision of the future of God's work through Jesus. It is the Gospel in miniature as Martin Luther once said.  It is powerful foreshadowing of the cross and the Christian call to follow.
I think too there is an important distinction being made in the Gospel of John about the resounding impact of God's work through Jesus.  First is that "eternal life" and the "kingdom of God" synonomous.  I don't want to get into a debate about "realized eschatology."  I am merely pointing out that when a disciple of Jesus begins to make real the kingdom of God by participating in the life of the Holy Spirit that disciple is participating in eternal life.  Transformation in this world is very real and that health and vitality of community life is dependent upon the individual transformation that is taking place.  The kingdom is made real as people are transformed by it. 

Furthermore, there is a distinction we might often miss by reading the Gospel in the lectionary.  They synoptic Gospels speak of this transformaton more through a lens of eschatological theology; that is they think of this work of the kingdom as urgent work prior to the end times and fulfillment of God's creation.  John sees this as ontological or being work.  In other words it is the individual change which serves as the lens.  It is the Holy Spirit's moving in the live of the individual and thus the community of the faithful (always a communal view) that leads to the reign of God emerging in the creation. 

This means that today as we look at the work that God is doing in the world we cannot separate the transformation of the faithful community from the work in the world. 

I might say, if we are only concerned with social justice and are not transformed and changed and deeply rooted in the study of scripture we are only a social service agency.  We do the work in the world around us because we believe in our individual and corporate change; and we believe that we are called through proclamation of word and deed to be about our father's work to transform the structures and communities around us into the riegn of God through the partnership of the Holy Spirit. 

We are, as we follow Jesus, reorienting our understanding of the way things are to be and to whom we belong.  In our transformation (which comes from Jesus who himself claims us, and the Holy Spirit who baptizes us) we are no longer the head of the family but members of God's family.

The blogger Chris Haslaam has this great way of looking at it: "Whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Spirit descends from heaven onto Jesus; in John, it is Jesus himself, the Son of Man, who has descended from and ascends into heaven. (Verse 3:13)"

We are transformed as Nicodemus is transformed by being welcomed and accepted so that we may welcome and accept others into the very real and very present kingdom of God.  That we might experience life eternal here on heave and along our pilrimage and not only at the pilgrim's rest.

David Ewart, a blogger, captures this well when he writes:
...And so, salvation lies in being born anew; in being born from above - in re-defining one's "family of origin." John really means that we become God's off-spring, children of God, and in that way we receive from God the same honour and character that God has; and owe God the same loyalty that blood relations show one another (or ought to)."
David Ewart summarizes the overall text with these words:
1. The Son is sent.
2. Those who trust and bond with the son, become part of the Son's family (being born anew from above), and as equal status siblings,
3. Become heirs to the family estate: heaven, Spirit, light, truth, love, salvation and eternal life.
4. Those who don't trust and bond with the Son, don't become part of the family, and don't becomes heirs.

To be more clear. The logic of John is NOT: If you believe, then God will love you and save you. God's salvation is not a reward for belief. Nor does God withhold God's love, forgiveness and salvation until we believe.

On the other hand, since love is not coercive, we do have to accept the invitation in order to actually be part of the family.
I would conclude that being apart of the family means traveling in the light of day and not the dark of night as did Nicodemus.  And, that it is intentionally about glorifying God. John's Gospel is nothing if not clear that the work of the family of God is to glorify God.  God does not withold his love, forgiveness, and salvation.  Once the invitation to become members of the family is accepted one works with the family to receive others and to make the world (with Jesus) reflect the beauty and Holiness which is God's alone.

There is a lot of meat in this passage and I would think the most difficult part will be preaching one message and to not overwhelm the listener with too much material.

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, March 11, 2011

First Sunday in Lent, Year A, Matthew 4:1-11


"This text teaches us to celebrate the power of embodying the gift of being children of God, realizing a spiritual life that daily prepares us to recognize temptation and having the tools that will allow us to see and transcend them, before they morph into addictions."

Lectionary Commentary,
Matthew 4:1-11, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, The African-American Lectionary, 2009.


Matthew 4:1-11
4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text


Textweek General Resources


Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew


Some interesting articles on this passage:


William Loader's "First Thoughts"


Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today


Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer
Because you formed us from the dust, Lord God, you know well how deeply sin has scarred our human nature.  Strengthen us, then, as we set ou t on the lenten journey.  Make us victorious with Christ over the deceptions of the tempter, so we may come at length in the joy of the HOly Spirit to the celebration of the Lord's glorious Passover.

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

Some thoughts...

"The concern of the passage is not so much whether the devil can lure Jesus into this or that sin as it is the portrayal of Jesus as God's Son.' who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.'" (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 68).

We cannot read this text without having in mind the questions in Deuteronomy 6.13, 6.16, and 8.3).
6.13The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.

6.16Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah

8.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

These questions come just as the people of Israel are about to enter into the promised land. They are asked in the desert to the people by Moses.  The questions from Moses are the final testing of the Israelite people's desert pilgrimage. 

In this light we see again the the Matthean revelation that Jesus is Son of God who fulfills all righteousness. Jesus also is the new Israel.  We then as his followers are also to be the body of Christ incarnate in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and in this way we too are to be faithful as Jesus and as the people Israel - choosing to serve God, not testing God, and humbling ourselves before the tasks that are before us.

The scholar Harrington writes:
Understanding this text against the background of Deuternomy 6-8 allows one to go beyond the narrow themes of fasting and temptation to the level of Christology.  As in the case of all the material in the opening chapters of Matthew, the focus of attention is the identity of Jesus.  Understanding it as the testing of God's son allows one to see the nature of Jesus' divine sonship and its relation to Israel as God's Son." (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 70)

Taking this even further we see that as individuals marking our own pilgrim way of Lent that we are to be the new Israel birthed out of the resurrection and Pentecost.  We are to faithful in our work and in our mission.  And, to do so we must recognize, name and overcome the temptations and liabilities of human existence.

If we step back we see an important order to the events occurring in the life of Jesus.  We see a movement from wilderness to Temple to mountain and out into the world - a new creation.  Our Exodus themes are powerfully present foreshadowing Jesus' own deliverance, and the deliverance of the world. 

Lent is a good time to hold our lives up before God and to ask for clarity about that work of honesty and intentionality.  It is a time for us to accept clearly as Christians what God's will is for us.  Some question this and will be tempted to say we don't know what God's will is for us.  That simply is not a fact.  Christians for centuries have understood God's will for us and it is rooted in scripture.  We cannot escape the scripture (the canon, rule, or measure of life). 

As Episcopalians we know we are tempted to test God, to not be humble and to seek our own wealth and ego satisfaction over others. As Episcopalians we often begin our Lenten liturgy with the ten commandments: God's will for us.  I encourage you to turn to the back of your prayer book and see in the catechism of the Episcopal Church how we interpret the ten commandments and how they are a good mirror to a holy and full life lived as God intends.

Here is how our Book of Common Prayer Catechism speaks about the Ten Commandments:


Q. What do we learn from these commandments?
A. We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.

Q. What is our duty to God?
A. Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
I. To love and obey God and to bring others to
know him;
II. To put nothing in the place of God;
III. To show God respect in thought, word, and
deed;
IV. And to set aside regular times for worship,
prayer, and the study of God’s ways.
Q. What is our duty to our neighbors?
A. Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
V. To love, honor, and help our parents and
family; to honor those in authority, and to meet
their just demands;
VI. To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;
VII. To use all our bodily desires as God intended;
VIII. To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;
IX. To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
X. To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people’s gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.
Q. What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.
We are not simply people after peace and justice but we are people who are deeply rooted in a tradition that seeks to tell our story through virtuous action.  We know God’s will for us and for creation. We know what we are to do. We are to be virtuous citizens not only on Sundays, not only within the walls of our homes; we are to be virtuous citizens at work in the political and social environs of our community. And, when we don’t follow these commandments we are to repent and return to the Lord, and begin the work again.

As we make our way through Lent let us be truthful enough with ourselves to honor the fact that we have put our needs above God's desires. We have tested God and we have failed to answer the questions put to Jesus as with the people of Israel as faithful sons and daughters of the most high God.  And, in our truthfulness let us be humbled to seek to change our lives and our ways to better reflect the people we were created and saved to be. 

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, March 4, 2011

Last Sunday of Epiphany - Transfiguration Sunday

"The indwelling Deity darted out its rays through the veil of the flesh; and that with such transcendent splendour, that he no longer bore the form of a servant. His face shone with Divine majesty, like the sun in its strength; and all his body was so irradiated by it, that his clothes could not conceal its glory, but became white and glittering as the very light, with which he covered himself as with a garment."


Matthew 17:1-9
17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text

Textweek General Resources

Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew

Some interesting articles on this passage:

William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today

Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer
God of all that is worthy of trust and destined to endure, you have made the words of your Son a solid rock on which the children of your kingdom can build their lives.  Shelter us from the storms of mere worldly wisdom; anchor our judgments and choices in your timeless truth; that, with our lives set securely on this firm foundation, we may not collapse int he face of adversity or assault, but stand steadfast and true in the faith that endures. 

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

Some thoughts...The Transfiguration
Matthew is ever the story teller.  His art shines through in this narrative of the Transfiguration.  Certainly we see (as we have already seen in other parts of the Matthean Gospel) traces of the Sinai experience of Moses and God, and Moses with his followers.  The telling of the Jesus story has mimicked the landscape and has given us a sense of space and place not unlike the Exodus itself.  Scholars in most texts say that is not all.  Matthew weaves images from Daniel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 255)

The transfiguration though is central in the revelation of who Jesus is.  We have talked some in the past few weeks about Jesus as a new Moses and new Elijah.  We have talked about how Jesus' ministry begins a new age of prophetic action and an age of the Holy Spirit.  We have talked about the emerging importance of the disciples in this new ministry; and how each follower of Jesus becomes a bearer of the Good News of Salvation in the world through action and word. 

Here in this text we see clearly these themes amplified. Jesus is not Moses or Elijah - that time is over.  Jesus is leading his disciples not to create a revolution in religious thought which still manifests itself in one or two given locations.  No.  Jesus is recreating the world holistically.  Jesus' mission is not in a temple on a mountaintop, or even in in one country. His ministry is not a ministry where the followers come to him, but a ministry where the followers primary worship act is following him into the world. 

In his Lambeth address to the Bishop, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that we needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. He remarked at the reality of sin in such a belief that God must be protected by us.  He instead offered an image, which remained with me after reading it on Tuesday morning this week, that we are to go out of our churches and places of worship to find Jesus already out in the world. We are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world. 

We might remember as we reflect on the Transfiguration Jesus' own words earlier in Matthew: Follow Me.  Not please come with me, but a command -- follow him.  Here again Jesus leads his followers out into the world, off the mountain top, out into the place where the proclamation of Jesus Christ is made. 


A Sermon on the Transfiguration
Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 spoke these last public words:
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I‘ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know [tonight] that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy [tonight], I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Ghandi, St. Francis -- they joined Jesus on the mountain top. They stood upon the mountain and looked down and saw the promised land, the kingdom of God revealed.

And each and everyone of them left the mountain and returned to the world becoming the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low and there to dwell with God. They understood that our God is the God of the lowly who descends from the highest heavens and highest peeks into the valleys of our lives and the lives of the poor and those in need of a helping hand.


Today we read the Gospel story from Matthew of the mountain top experience of Peter, James, and John. The climb mount Tabor to discover the pouring out of grace from the heavens into the human vessel Jesus of Nazareth. They discover the truth about their teacher and become students of what God’s true mission is in the world. They discover that the goal is not the mountain top, but the promised land.

A promised land of deliverance for the poor, the oppressed, those in need of healing and those lost along the way. Their mountain top experience with Jesus reveals to them that Jesus fully understands God’s intention to empty grace into the world.

At first they see the unmasking of this glory for themselves. Perhaps they say: “this is good for us”; or “I am glad that I am here.” Then they look down the mountain with their enculturated eyes and see hopelessness and poverty and a great darkness which cloaked the world and their minds eye at that moment in history.

Jesus however, understands perfectly as he comes to be transfigured by the grace of God, transformed by the grace of God. Jesus knows his mission is universal servanthood to the world below. The darkness of the world around is enlightened by the grace of God and becomes the promised land where salvation and deliverance is given out through the ministry of preaching, healing, restoration, and resistance.

When we look out into the world from the mountain top what do we see?

I believe the church’s ministry has become a private and not a public one. We live in the illusion of the mountain top when we are in the valleys of life. We live in the illusion of separateness in the midst of a great sea of humanity longing for deliverance.

We have become individual utilitarians. Seeking only what is good for us as individuals. This is a good place to be. It is like the man who says to the priest upon the burial of his wife; “Thank you for all you have done the church has meant a lot to my wife and to my son by giving him a solid ethical Sunday school education, but now that he is a teenager we probably don’t need you any more and won’t be seeing you as much.” We come to the gospel believing it is good for us to be here.

Others of us have become individual expressionists. Seeking only a place that will listen to us but does not call us to change or be transformed. We enter church because want a place that will listen to us and others can join if they are like minded but ultimately uninterested. And so perhaps we say, “It is good that I am here.”

In the church we hear the gospel and we keep it locked up inside so that it is here when we need it.

When we hoard God’s grace we see life in relationship with God through the eyes of Peter, James and John on the mountain top. We see the world as a hopeless, dark place, filled with evil and the lost. We keep the grace to ourselves and hope to refuse God’s ability to redeem and restore the world.

But the truth is too great at times and our ears and hearts might be pricked by the wisdom of our holy scripture which reminds us that God created the garden and those within that he might walk with them in the cool of the day and share with them all the hope of his heart.

Jesus gives us new glasses to wear. If we are followers and students of Jesus, if we are truly Christian we see the world for what it is: the promise land. The world, the culture, the people are ultimately (like Jesus himself) transfigured by the overflowing grace of God.

Jesus, the world, all humanity and all creation are transfigured: it is a public transformation.

And the student who goes to the mountain top and sees the miracle that takes place there and chooses to follow Jesus reinterprets their mission as one of discipleship servanthood.

I have been to the mountain top; truth is it has probably happened a number of times, perhaps not as gloriously as Martin Luther King, Jr., but from time to time as the dark night gives way to an Easter Day.  The vision I have seen is beyond the words of this world - yet always the same. The message is a clear one though: hope. Hope. Hope. Universal and all encompassing hope.

Together, we move, and live, and have our being in a great sea of hope awash with the grace of God.

I know that our following of Jesus will lead us to that holy place where every partial loyalty is abandoned in the wake of the mercy and grace of our God.

We are assured that all of humanity will be freed from its bondage and is gong to be reconciled with the source of all life. And that no matter what the world looks like to you God’s love in Jesus overwhelms our powerlessness and reinterprets the world as it is ultimately reconciled to itself human to human.

Each Sunday we pray “thy kingdom come” but do we see it?

I have begun to see it. I am beginning to understand that the power of my life and my prayers and the lives and prayers of all those around me can move all humanity through God’s grace toward the transformation and reconciliation of all things.

We are to be audaciously engaged in proclaiming the vision that God has given and to be bold enough to counteract the world around us.

The vision that God gives us is so fantastic that believing it requires almost a supernatural faith.

At times I have been tempted to participate and believe in a life that proclaims that the nature of our brokenness, our own personal alienation, our sin if you will is so deep that the transformation can’t be taken seriously and must be dismissed and demythologised in some kind of apologetic for God.

But God reveals for us today in the gospel, once again, his sacred story. “Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life in ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

It doesn’t get much clearer. God has willed to show his love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty. The more conscious we become of our relationship with Jesus and the God of all grace and mercy, the more deeply we become convinced that we are to be like God out in the world making room in our lives for the other and ministering on behalf of the other.  Like Jesus to become a lowly servant.

God is the descending God. The movement is down, down, down, until it finds the sickest, the most afflicted, the most helpless, the most alienated, the most cut off. The movement of God is the flooding of our lives with grace beyond all grace.

Praise be to this God of the lowly!

Are not our sacred images of God the lamb led silently to the slaughter, the image of servant washing his friends feet the night before his death, the image of a man living among the lepers of the world.

We discover on the mountain top that to reach bottom is to exert an infinite pull on the heartstrings of humanity hastening the moment when justice and peace will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

We discover that our lives and ministry are a public servanthood to the world and people around us.

We discover on the mountain top that we live in the promised land.


The Lambeth Bible Study Method

This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican

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..."