Finding the Lessons

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Proper 17.A and 22 in Ordinary Time

"Our hope for the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is not that Peter or the rest of us who are fishing for people will get better, clearer, louder, quieter, more trusting, or less cowardly but that God will keep revealing himself and his merciful and just rule through his Son to human beings quite apart from their goodness, clarity, trust and courage."

"The Tension of Discipleship," Mary Hinkle, Pilgrim Preaching.


Prayer
Transform us, O God, by the renewal of our minds, that we may not be conformed to this world or seduced by human standards of success.  But as true disciples may we discern how good and pleasing it is to you for us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow in the footsteps of 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts


As we read through the Gospel of Matthew we might remember that everything is read through the lens of the concluding passion tide.  This passage is the first of the passion predictions. It comes to us following the miracle of loaves and fishes, the stilling of the storm, and Peter's Gospel proclamation that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Son of the Living God.

It is not a surprise to us because we know the rest of the story, and it is not a surprise if we have been reading along in Matthew's Gospel for throughout the narrative we have received images, metaphors, road signs that we are heading towards Jerusalem. Jesus has set his face like a flint to Jerusalem and there we know his message of a continuing revelation of God and the new kingdom will be rejected by the religious establishment.  And, that he is to die and rise again.

So the first revelation of this Gospel is one that we as Christians have come to understand and that is that Jesus is willing to do this. Jesus is willing to go to Jerusalem and to die there on behalf of the vision of the kingdom and on behalf of the new restored creation he is proclaiming. 

Jesus does this work as a free man, choosing to be faithful to his very nature and faithful to his vocation as prophet.  He willingly chooses for himself this destiny as the divine rite of the King of Heaven.  It seems important for us to understand that Matthew's Gospel does not offer a God who requires Jesus' death, or a society that demands it, but rather that the death of Jesus is determined by Jesus himself as an offering for the cause of the kingdom of God.  Jesus believes, in my opinion, that if he will go to Jerusalem he will intentionally fan the flames of the religious authorities, they will kill him, and he will then usher in the reign of God in this world and the next.

For the author of Matthew, for the apostolic generation and every successive faith generation that has followed, Jesus' will and the divine will are one.  His intention therefore is God's intention.  A new order, the creation itself, is being re-made.

We cannot miss in this passage the very important and theologically pieces. I refer again to Allison and Davies who I very much depend upon for their scholarship to help us remember and think through the deep meanings intertwined in this passage regarding Peter's witness and Peter's relationship with the Christ:

To begin with , Peter's pre-eminence makes his misunderstanding in effect universal: if even the favoured Simon, rock of the church and recipient of divine revelation, did not grasp the truth, then, we may assume, that truth was hid from all. God's intentions for Jesus were so dark and mysterious that they simply could not, before the event, be comprehended.  This in large part explains why Jesus is such a lonely figure in Matthew and why he is trailed throughout the gospel by misapprehension and even opposition.  God's was are inscrutable.  At the same time, one no doubt demanding unprecedented responsibilities (cf. Chrysostom as quote on p 664).  Another lesson is to be found in this, that Peter's fall from the heights shows him to be anything but an idealized figure.  Like David and so many other biblical heroes, the apostle serves as warning that privileges and even divine election will not keep a body from evil mischief.  Finally, Peter must also, again like David and so many others, be intended to stand as a symbol of God's ever-ready willingness to bestow forgiveness on the imperfect.  For as soon as Peter has been quickly dismissed for words better left unsaid, Jesus selects him, along with two others, to be witnesses of the transfiguration.  Thus Peter, so far from being punished for his misguided though, is immediately granted a glimpse of the glorified Christ.  Is the reader not expected to see in this a triumph of grace?
Heavenly Father help our unbelief!  One of the beautiful things that has always intrigued me about the Gospel and about God's willingness to be in relationship with us is God's ability to commitment no matter how often we get it wrong.  Certainly we as individual followers and as a Church have not always gotten it right. We don't have to meditate long upon our personal and corporate sinfulness where in we have attempted to create a kingdom and a revelation that supports our power and authority over and against the divine wishes of the Godhead or the clear revelation of scripture to create a new order.

This passage challenges the preacher and church to look careful at itself and question where do we believe we have it so very correct and how are we possibly frustrating the will and mission of God and Jesus Christ? 

And, can we celebrate together as the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion the reality that God's will is done despite our best and our worst efforts!  The beauty of the passage is Peter's complete obstruction that is overcome by the grace and single minded vision and actions of Jesus Christ.  Can we trust that we are buouyed up by the grace of God and that somehow our efforts work into the greater work of the Godhead.

Are we able to accept grace for ourselves and more importantly can we claim enough grace to withstand the reality that those who disagree with us may also receive the vision of Christ glorified.  We must read the whole Gospel and claim its revelation of truth for the whole body of faithful people.  We must be the community of life and love where the fallen are invited into the greater celebration of the triumph of Grace. There is in the end the truth that grace allows you and I and all those who agree and disagree with us the opportunity to see the Christ lifted high upon the cross, delevered into the depths of Hades, and rise on the third day transfiguring not only his own body but the whole creation into the kingdom and reign of God!









A Little Bit for Everyone

Oremus Online NRSV Text



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel


Some interesting articles on this passage:

Chris Haslam's clippings blog


Holy Textures


William Loader's First Thoughts

The Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


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.

The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.

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..."

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