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, December 19, 2012

Easy Links

Thanks for coming to the blog! Here are some easy links to find the next three posts in liturgical order.  I do hope you and your family have a blessed and joyous Christmastide!

Click the link to go directly to the post:

Advent 4.C

Christmas Eve/Day Year C

Christmas 1.C

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Proper 12B/Ordinary 17B/Pentecost 9

"Love that feeds hungry crowds cannot be explained. Love that turns no one away cannot be explained. Love that causes one to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another cannot be explained."
"Chasing Jesus," William H. Lamar, IV, "Chasing Jesus," The Christian Century, 2003.

Prayer

In the Sunday Pasch, Lord God, you call us to share with one another the living bread that has come down from heaven.  Fill us iwth the charity of Christ and stir us by his own example to break the bread of earth as well adn to share it generously with others, so that every hunger of body and spirit may be satisfied.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 6:1-21

Ok, so we now switch to John's Gospel.  Today's text is particularly interesting to many scholars because it is right in the middle of a hotly debated section which is arranged and rearranged and so much of the work here is concerned with order and sequence. I am going to leave that up to you if you are interested in going down that particular rabbit trail.

Or, perhaps you may wish to think a little about why these two stories (last weeks and this weeks) are chosen together.

But here is a significant change in the ancient tradition that I do think has more to do with this lesson than last week's lesson, and that is the connection of this feeding with the Eucharistic feast.  This is also highlighted as we pause to notice the mention of the passover. 

Here in this passage we see (very differently from the synoptic tradition) that Jesus gives out the bread as he does in the last supper narrative.  "Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.." (vs 11)

We might read the section on chapter 6 in Raymond Brown (John, vol 1, 348) to see the other places where there are textual parallels between this and the Didache - which was an early church teaching.

They respond to this revelation of who he is by wanting to make him King or by recognizing his prophetic nature. This of course accentuates the reality that he is the incarnate Lord, and that his work in feeding is transformative for the whole world. Jesus, like Isaiah prophesied, is the means by which God feeds the people with good things. 

Here then the walking on the sea is again part of the passover theme and offers a glimpse of the promise the meal itself will hold for those who follow Jesus.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the feeding of people bread.  Here is what is interesting to me, the reality is that we as Christians are called to truly give people good things to eat. We are called to feed the hungry.  It is an amazing thing that we spend so much time figuring out how to feed those who come into our church that we will miss completely the point of the meal here made in the wilderness.  And, that is, that is a meal made in the wilderness. We are called to go out and feed people. We are called to share and to multiply what God gives us. We are to be Jesus' hands in the world.

This passage is echoing the Eucharist because the Eucharist leads to the feeding of the multitudes for Christians.  We are literally to make table in the midst of the community and feed people.  This uniquely Christian understanding of mission is tied into the Gospel. We are to feed their minds and their bodies. And, we are to do it out in the world. 

The church can be so very narcissistic sometimes, thinking that it is all about us! The reality is this is all about the world and our call to be agents of feeding in it.  We are the new Eucharistic symbol that is to literally feed people.

To flip this around means that we are completely out of sync with the narrative story and in some ways let off the hook for doing the right thing in the midst of a very private gathering and failing our mission as Christians.

I hope that I will leave a Christian mission to the next generation that has walked across the stormy seas of change and the parting of our front doors out into the world where truly hungry and hurting people's needs are met by a eucharistically empowered people of God.  The multiplication of our efforts to change the world around us will be a miracle indeed.

A Little Bit for Everyone



John 6:1-21


6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

"In the promise of an 'abiding' presence God's Easter people find not some abstract speculation about a distant or imaginary Trinity, but an invitation to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a saving and liberating presence in the midst of our day-to-day world."

Commentary, John 15:1-8, James Boyce, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


Prayer

As a Vinegrower, O God, you have grafted us onto Christ, that we may abide as living branches joined to the true Vine.  Bestow on us the comforting presence of your Holy Spirit, so that, loving one another with a love that is sincere, we may become the first fruits of a humanity made new and bear a rich harvest whose fruits are holiness and peace.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 15:1-8

Last week the church experienced Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This week we are offered a theological reflection on God as vine grower.

God in Christ Jesus is the source of living water, he is the bread of heaven that gives life, and he is also the vine and we are his branches.

This passage comes after Jesus has prophesied his suffering, death and resurrection and has promised to return and to not leave his followers alone.  Our passage, like the good shepherd passage, is a teaching about life in God and in Christ.

The image is of God the vine grower and the gardener. Jesus is the vine and we are branches bearing fruit.  The vine is trimmed and this certainly has eschatological (end time and judgment) implications but this is not the stress nor focus of the teaching.  This image offered to us is about abiding and remaining.  The image of vine grower, vineyard/vine and branches is one about the living Word existing as the life blood of those who belong to Jesus.

Raymond Brown in volume II of his work on John's Gospel, says that this passage is about the disciples remaining in Christ.  In our current culture we talk about following Jesus and that leading to a virtuous life. However, in the abiding language of John's Gospel and in Jesus words that notion of Jesus + me = virtuous life is simply not present.  The abiding leaves a notion of being; not the more modern idea of becoming.  God is, Christ is, we are.  Virtuous life is life lived in God in Christ.  Raymond Brown points out that this is not quite the notion that Matthew's Gospel offers.  Nevertheless, this Sunday we are preaching Jesus and the living Word; we are preaching about abiding.  I don't want to get off track. So I asked myself what is this abiding?

I am reminded of St. Augustine's sermon on the Ascension, wherein he writes: 

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us; and we, while on earth, are also with him.  He is with us in his godhead and his power and his love; and we, though we cannot be with him in godhead as he is with us, can be with him in our love, our love for him. 
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; and he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again.   His own words show that he was in heaven while he was here: 'No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.' 
He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body.  The words 'no one but he' are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. 
For this reason Saint Paul says: 'Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is also with Christ.
We abide in God in Christ Jesus.  Unless that is we are abiding in something else.  The life of virtue described by John's gospel gives us a sense of what life abiding in Christ is.  Abiding/remaining in Christ is love and it is life in tune with the commandments of God.

What do we see then if we are abiding in Christ we see a life that forms a world around itself where God is central.  Not the false god's created by our ego desires, but God.  As Episcopalians we might describe this abiding life this way.  We would say (as we do in our Book of Common Prayer) that an abiding life is one where:

We trust our lives in God, and others come to know him by our life.  Nothing is put in the place of God, least of all our ego and our projections of desire.  God is respected in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions.  Life is lived out in a an ever flowing experience of worship, prayer and study.  As we abide in God we abide in our true selves and in the thin space between heaven and our soul.

To the other we are faithful as well – treating neighbors with love as we experience God's love for us and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; those in authority are honored, and we meet their just demands.  We as Episcopalians believe that life that is abiding in Christ is one that shows forth respect for the life God gives us; work and prayers for peace are always present; malice, prejudice, or hatred is not born our hearts; and kindness is shared with all the creatures of God.

Life abiding in Christ is a life where bodily desires are not used to fulfill our ego needs but rather are lived out as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God.

We live lives that are honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for and with all people; and we use our talents and possessions as people in relationship with God.  We speak truth, and do not mislead others by our silence.

Life abiding in Christ resists temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; and rejoices in other people's gifts and graces.  We share in our fellowship together as we all abide in Christ and therefore, as St. Augustine points out, with others and with God and the saints who are in heaven.

Abiding in Christ is in some very real way accepting our true nature as sinful creatures and then living in, remaining in, Christ; being Christ's own forever - as our baptismal liturgy tells us.  Accepting our chosenness by Christ (despite our behaviors) and abiding in love which then abides with others.  And, giving up our ego's desire for control and rather we live life that is birthed in grace.


A Little Bit for Everyone





John 15:1-8
15”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

"This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ -- to remind each other of God's promises and speak Jesus' message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other."

 "Abundant Life," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.


Prayer

Creator God, you make the resplendent glory of the Risen One shine with new radiance on the world, whenever our human weakness is healed and restored.  Gather all your scattered children into one flock following Christ, our Good Shepherd, so that all may taste the joy you bestow on those who are the children of God. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 10:11-18
This week we have the Good Shepherd from John's gospel.

It comes as part of an overall scriptural unit.  Chapter 10: 1-21.  Most New Testament scholars break our reading up into two sections. The first section is made up of verses 11-16 where in the reader discovers the nature of the shepherd.  The second section is made up of verses 17-18 wherein we read about the specific work of this Good Shepherd.


Jesus is the model of the good shepherd because he is willing to die for his sheep - this is a unique Johannine theology.  This model is a shepherd who cares for all the sheep and for their very lives. This shepherd is willing to lay down his life for all; and all means all.

The hired hand and the wolf prey on the sheep. They care only for themselves.  They steal and consume the sheep.  What is interesting here is the parallel drawn by scholars to those religious leaders who betray their flock.  Certainly, in the early tradition there is a notion of being sent among wolves.  In Acts Paul reminds church leaders they are to feed their sheep.

I think that the next section is important as a defining boundary for the care and tending of sheep.  The shepherd here does not only know their work, but also knows their sheep intimately.  They know all their sheep intimately.  They recognize the shepherd's voice.  And, that there are sheep who are being added to the fold (the gentile mission).  Therefore the shepherd knows his sheep and knows sheep who are to be gathered in.

This tradition falls in the long line of prophetic witness wherein the leaders of Israel have been seen as shepherds of their flock.

As I read through a number of texts on this passage (including my own preaching) I am ever mindful that the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep; and that God takes up his life for him when his work is done.  Resurrection, new life, transformed life, comes to the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep - those in his fold and those without.

Today we live in an age where we protect ourselves at all cost. We do this by projecting out into the world our own desires. We disguise this protection by gathering around us like minded people.  So we get our cause (political, religious, social) and we gather with people who have the same interest in maintaining ego protection on any given topic.

Paul Zahl reminded me in a recent podcats (PZ's Podcast available on Itunes) that one reason why when people accomplish what they set out to do on any given agenda and they usually feel unfulfilled is because they set out based upon ego protection and not based upon their own true nature's need for salvation, grace and mercy.  They set out to change the world because they were sure everyone else was wrong not because their own heart needed transformation.

The shepherd is in need of resurrection when the life is laid down; this mimics the Good Shepherd's own death and resurrection.  The individual who truly lays down their life and loses it will in the end find it.  But it is real life that is lost, a costly ego death, that must be allowed to take place.

This means more frequently a non-heroes death and/or the failure of perfection. 

What does it really mean to be one of the good shepherds, serving the One Good Shepherd?  It will mean being shepherd to all.  A leader must lead and be a shepherd for all the sheep.  All the sheep include: those who agree and those who disagree; those who love you and those who hate you; those who are pleased with your action and those who are pounding down the doors of your fortified ego castle; and the unseen sheep not in our fold.

So as I prepare to preach this week I have a lot of questions running through my mind.  None of these questions have much to do with the loving shepherd finding me in the darkness and carrying  me off to the sheepfold.  Rather, the questions I am asking are based upon that redemption already being underway:  What part of myself must die in order for me to be shepherd (in the mold of the Good Shepherd) for all the sheep?  How shall I lay down my life for them?  Am I willing to die a hundred thousand deaths (not as vanquishing hero) but as a lonely herdsman in the midst of a valley of wolves and thieves? 

Ah yes, perhaps that is the real work after all.  You and I if we brave this sacred journey we should be prepared for the silence, the lack of followers, a shameful death, and...and...in the end God's hand snatching us from the grave.  It is the silent waiting of the dead in which God's love, grace and mercy resides.  That is the meaning of life as a good shepherd; would that we had a church full of such men and women!

A Little Bit for Everyone




John 10:11-18

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

"For Luke, to fulfil the hope of the resurrection is to tell the story of Jesus (testimony). That means telling what he did, how he was rejected and then vindicated; and it is at the same time to live it by the power of the same Spirit, by doing good and bringing liberation for all. This includes forgiveness of sins. It is radically simple."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
Prayer

God of Abraham and Sarah, God of Isaac and Rebekah, God of Jacob and Rachel and of all our ancestors in faith, you have glorified your servant Jesus and made him the atoning sacrifice for our sins, the source of peace and reconciliation for the whole world.  Open our hearts to true conversion, and as we have known the Lord in the breaking of the bread so  make us witnesses of a new humanity, renewed, reconciled and at peace in your love.  Send us as heralds of the repentance and forgiveness you offer to all.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 24:36b-48

This Sunday we shift from John's Easter message to Luke's resurrection narrative.  Commonly called, The Road to Emmaus, our passage this week comes in both our reading cycle for Year A and Year B.  So if you are having Easter flashbacks you are not alone; and, that may be on purpose!

Jesus appears to two disciples outside the walls; some seven miles from Jerusalem. They are talking about all the things which have happened. In this particular testimony we are watching the transition from the crucifixion and the Easter resurrection become the mission of a new community. In Luke's Gospel we must remember we are marching always towards Pentecost and Acts. We are given in today's lesson a memory of the events. We are reminded of what our story is; and in the author's own way he gives us permission to be somewhat concerned and curious about the past and what lays ahead.

If we remember that this Gospel is written that we may believe and in believing be transformed so as to offer and communicate the same Gospel for others then the purpose of the author is clear. Luke Timothy Johnson captures well the event of conversion in Lukes' testimony. Conversion has a particular meaning for Luke and his community:
The Word of God demands the acceptance of the prophetic critique and a "turning" of one's life. Conversion is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely joined to the pattern of the prophet and the people. Jesus' ministry is preceded by the Word of God spoken through the prophet John, which called people to repentance. Acts opens with the preaching of Peter which also calls for repentance. Those who enter the people that God forms around the prophet must "turn around. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 23)
This reception of grace and turning from the course you are walking to a pilgrimage with Jesus births faith in the follower of Jesus. After hearing one comes to believe and one seeks to mold one's life to the shape of the prophet's life - Jesus' life. Here is what Luke Timothy Johnson writes about faith:
In Luke-Acts, "faith" combines obedient hearing of the Word and patient endurance. It is not a momentary decision but a commitment of the heart that can grow and mature. Essential to the response of faith is the practice of prayer. Jesus prays throughout his ministry; and teaches his disciples to pray. Luke also provides splendid samples of prayer, showing a people for whom life is defined first of all by its relationship with God. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 24)
In the Gospel story we are seeing these two disciples, who have converted, who are faithful, move through the enduring walk post Easter.  They are not unlike all of us wondering and maturing as we make our way with Jesus.  Just as we seem to loose ourselves from the Gospel, Jesus meets us again and calls us back.

So...they are walking and talking about all the events. They are wondering and one might even say wandering. As they do this (reminding me always of the prayer of Chrysostom, "when two or three are gathered in his name you will be in the midst of them...") Jesus is present, physically with them. He engages with them.

The disciples do not recognize him, the text implies they aren't able...perhaps not allowed to know him. We do not know why, it may be that their sadness and sorrow prevents them from seeing who is with them. They are sad because they had hoped in Jesus. The words seem here to play out two meanings. The first meaning certainly is the idea that Jesus was the new Moses to lead his people out of bondage. The second meaning is found deeper in the text and is rooted in the idea the the words used are of a more spiritual nature. Israel, the Abrahamic family of God, was hoping to be delivered. This reluctance to believe, this inability to see the triumph of prophetic revelation in the resurrection of Jesus is a failure of heart - Jesus says.

And, he opens up for them the story. He retells the story. One can imagine if we sat and read Luke all the way through in one sitting that we would hear and rehear the teaching that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all the scriptures and in and through his death onto the other side of resurrection had delivered the people of Israel from bondage.

In this retelling of the whole story from creation until Emmaeus, in the breaking of the bread, and in his very presence with them their eyes are open to recognize him. He then vanishes, he is no longer visible. In an instant realization, and in another moment gone.  Or is he? Are they really left alone?

They then quickly tell others.  Jesus is present in a living Word though as the Gospel itself becomes sacramentally carried by the human vessel - the mouth, the action, the embrace, the love.  In Luke's Gospel the Holy Spirit is coming to help with this work.

So the work of conversion and faith begins its cyclical manifestation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luke Timothy Johnson remarks on Luke's writing, "As people tell the story to each other, they also interpret the story." They make, in their telling, Jesus present.  And, they have the opportunity for their own lives to be held up against the Gospel message. So then both those who receive the message and the messenger are transformed.  He writes:
Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their conviction. The resurrection shed new light on Jesus' death, on hi words, and on the Scriptures. The "opening of the eyes" to see the texts truly and the "opening of the eyes" to see Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning....Luke shows us how the risen Lord taught the Church to read Torah as "prophecy about him." (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 399)
I have leaned on Luke Timothy Johnson a great deal in this passage as I think he does the very best with it. The preacher has many opportunities for topics. I encourage you to think deeply about speaking with your people about how we have come to understand and to know the witness of Jesus both through others, and through our texts. For Episcopalians we read the text in community. It is in our prayer book, it is in our scripture readings, and in our hymns.  We read the texts of scripture on the road to Emmaus, struggling together and inviting Jesus to be in our midst revealing the truth, the way and the life that lies before us as people of the resurrected Christ.

People in church on Sunday, or reading this (like myself) know the business of life.  How many of us, like the disciples, will leave church not to think about the meaning of the good news for our life until next week.  I wonder what would happen if this week we challenged our people to walk in life this week, with their eyes wide open, looking for the risen Lord.  How many times a day will they see him this week?  How many times an hour?  Can our sermons, our preaching, praying, singing open our eyes to the risen Lord in our midst? 

A Little Bit for Everyone





Luke 24:36b-48

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”42They gave him a piece of broiled fish,43and he took it and ate in their presence.44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.48You are witnesses of these things.49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

"In the end, this is not a story of absence and doubt. It is the amazing message that the good news of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is able to break through locked rooms, through the limits of time and space."

Commentary, Lucy Lind Hogan, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012


Prayer

One in mind and heart, O God of glory, your people gather to proclaim your steadfast love, to proclaim the risen Christ in whom we are baptized.  Let the peace that Christ bestowed on the first disciples reign now over this assembly.  Let the Spirit breathed on them fill our hearts anew.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31

Of Course this text appears regularly after Easter in our lectionary cycle. Furthermore, it also appears as the pre-story to the Pentecost lesson from John.  There is a lot in this weeks text for consideration. I do think the preacher's challenge is to fix on one of the narrative pieces and preach fearlessly the resurrection.  So what I am offering today is a little about everything; ending with a few thoughts about where I think I am going with my sermon.

Every time we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of our gatherings and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertake on his behalf.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week” suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

A challenging word comes from the blogosphere via Brian Stoffregen [Exegetical Notes (Easter 2 ABC) by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources]
The purpose of this resurrection appearance is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send the disciples as Jesus had been sent. Easter is not just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, it is being sent back into the (hostile) world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus.
So there is a sense of a coming, a filling or receiving, and a being sent or going. Not unlike Leonel Mitchel's thoughts that liturgy is always about making and drawing people deeper into Christ and the community of Christ at work in the world. Certainly echoing this liturgical theology and missional challenge are Raymond Brown's (New Testament and Johanine scholar) thoughts on this passage. His notes follow below from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshippers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).
So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday. This is a Gospel which clearly provides some marks along the pilgrim road. John gives us a sense that there is a reality to our being part of a community which gathers, receiving the witness of Jesus Christ resurrected, and then being sent to bear that witness out in the world.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday begins with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cueing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. Just as God sent me I am sending you. We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes:

Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission. (John, vol 2, 1040-1044)
This is the recreation in action. The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic revelationary moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That seems the deeper point of the story. One scholar even remarked that John seems himself somewhat skeptical; perhaps not unlike our Thomas. Yet...Thomas comes to believe.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (John, vol 2, 1046)
Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life. 

The question I am left with today is: can the church honestly be a witness to its own woundedness? Can we as human beings be transparent about our brokenness and shame in order to do the gospel work? Can we hold the faith of the church and hold our questions in tension? Or does the church have to change its theology to fit our doubts?  Can we allow the ancient truths to speak to us and our lives with out deconstructing it to fit our lives.  The work of proclamation is done honestly by being attentive to our own wounds and shame, and we do this by reaching out into the world and offering this good news and peace that we have found.  It seems we must do this as Jesus does in his resurrected life.  We must do this as the apostles do in their fear. We must do this as Thomas does in his doubts.  Only in proclaiming the truth in the midst of our unraveling narrative (not unlike the disciples in their upper room) does our proclamation have integrity.  It seems to me only then, with honest walking, do we do the work of transformation and resurrection in partnership with God.


A Little Bit for Everyone





John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



Friday, March 30, 2012

Palm Sunday, Year B

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

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

Prayer

O God, for whom all things are possible, you have highly exalted your suffering Servant, who did not hide from insult but humbled himself even to death on a cross.  As we begin the journey of Holy Week, take our sin away by Christ's glorious passion and confirm our worship and witness, so that when we proclaim the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and  every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 11:1-11
"Let us remember, by turning our hearts and minds to the actions of God’s dearest Son, who went not up to joy but first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified. May God bless us in these days, that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Little Bit for Everyone




Mark 11:1-11

11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Friday, March 23, 2012

5th Sunday of Lent, Year B

"God always comes closely attached to the worst violence and greatest depravation, stuck to it as its obverse in compassion. When we see that, every such event becomes a revelation of sin and a window in which we perceive divine pain."
"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Prayer
Hear, O God, the eternal echo of the prayers ands upplications your Son offered when, to establish the enw and everlasting covenant, he became obedient even unto death on the cross.  Through all the trials of this life, bring us to a deeper, more intimate share in Christ's redeeming passion, that we may produce the abundant fruit of that seed that falls to the earth and dies, and so be gathered as your harvest for the kingdom of heaven.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on John 12:20-36
Jesus has finished his public ministry.  The arrival of the Greeks reminds us of 3:14ff: that the world is being saved through the lifting up of the Son.  Even sheep not of his own fold are being drawn near as the time arrives.  We ourselves, reading through John's Gospel arrive at the essential truth that the mission of the cross is not to be stopped.  God, in Christ Jesus, is recreating the world.  The grain is replanted, and new fruit is to grow and thrive; a gospel fruit of salvation.  The cross is itself forever changed such that it shines a light on the disciple's life and upon the world revealing truth and making known that which has been hidden: God will not stop the drawing to himself of his creation or his creatures.

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

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

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

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

We are to be the one's - through the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation and the witness of the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus - bear fruit from the deep nature of our own vulnerability that is worthy of our salvation. 
All of this begins with us, our own vulnerability and our own willingness to be vulnerable to others, and to the Gospel and cross.  Only then does our old life end and our new life begin.  Perhaps only then will others  be drawn to our witness.

For it is the world of false courage, a lack of vulnerability, and a willingness to reject transformation and rebirth that allows and leads to abuse, the crucification of others, and ultimately the shaming of the week and poor.


A Little Bit for Everyone





John 12:20-36
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

4th Sunday in Lent, Year B

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

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

Prayer
God of mercy, who sent your Son into the world not to condemn it but to save it, open our eyes to behold Jesus lifted up on the cross and to see in those outstretched arms your abundant compassion.  Let the world's weary and wounded come to know that by your gracious gift we are saved and delivered, so immeasurable is the love with which you love the world.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 3:14-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





A Little Bit for Everyone




John 3:14-21

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.18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

3rd Sunday in Lent, Year B

"I read the cleansing of the temple as a stark warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed in the name of God are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours."

"Subtle as a Sledge Hammer: Jesus 'Cleanses' the Temple," The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation.


Prayer

O God, the living fountain of new life, to the human race, parched with thirst, you offer the living water of grace that springs up from the rock, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Grant your people the gift of the Spirit, that we may learn to profess our faith with courage and conviction and announce with joy the wonders of your saving love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you int he 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 2:13-25
 

Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, Cathedrale d'Amiens.
 I guess I want to begin my reflection with, "Wow."  This passage never seems to get easier to read. It also challenges my thinking about who Jesus is for me...most days.  So, I think it deserves some very important reflection. 

First, the cleansing of the Temple is a sign. It is a sign that the messianic age is upon us, and a call for purification in the presence of the Messiah.

Second, in the face of the authorities desire for a sign, Jesus gives them one by cleansing the Temple.

There are many mixes of imagery and theology. We cannot ignore the imagery that comes to mind about our own faith and religious traditions. We can imagine too the sacrifice of Christ's body in comparison the prophesy regarding the destruction.

But as I sit here on this particular Friday I ask myself what needs to be cleansed. It is Lent and I am wondering in a particularly reflective mood, what is it in me that I need to have cleansed by the Grace of Jesus, his mercy, and his forgiveness.

You see more often than not (I think - only you preachers can tell me) we spend time talking about how everything else needs to be cleaned out...our culture, our church, our politics, our...whatever.  On this day I am reminded of that habit I have of cleaning my desk before I do the work.  A necessary thing - sure - more often than not a diversionary tactic.

It is always easier to see the easy work of cleaning out someone else's temple than it is to clean out our own.

Perhaps this is our way of dealing with the feelings and words of Jesus which are difficult to hear.

The tables that need turning over in my life are: my belief that there is no power greater than myself; that I can control people's reactions; that other people are responsible for my happiness; that cynicism is an appropriate response to believe there is no good in the world; that if I am allied with the right people I will be safe; that faithfulness means attendance; that my excuses are really pretty good; that what I most often do is my "best;" that I am right; and that politics will save us.

I guess I want Jesus to turn my tables. I pray for grace and wisdom so that my need for self-esteem is replaced with God's forgiveness and love.  I hope the tables are turned so that my sarcasm will be transformed into spiritual joy.  I hope God will help me replace my selfishness with self-giving and my dishonesty with honesty.  May I seek others instead of myself; seeing them as God sees them.  That my fear may be overwhelmed by God given courage.  That I won't blame but be accountable.  And that in all these things I will have a humble and contrite heart.

Yep, I need the tables turned.

A Little Bit for Everyone




John 2:13-25

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

"For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment."
"Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human," Caspar Green, Scarlet Letter Bible, 2012.
Prayer

God of all goodness, you did not spare your only-begotten son but gave him up for the sake of us sinners.  Strengthen within us the gift of obedient faith, that, in all things, we may follow faithfully in Christ's footsteps, and, with him, be transfigured in the light of your glory.

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


Some Thoughts on Mark 8:27-38
There are several things going on in this passage: Jesus is recognized as Messiah and then prophesies his death and resurrection; and his instructions to the disciples about what is gained and lost in their decision to follow him.

A road leading to Ceasarea of Philippi
Here on the road to Philippi his followers take stabs at who he might be. These are certainly echoes of 6:14-15, a kind of popular notion of his ministry.  While they all contain within them some element of truth they are not the Truth.  Even if we were not theologically following this discourse we would see that a claim that they are lacking is evident in Jesus' follow up question: But who do you say that I am?

Some exegetes, trying to make sense of this, have disputed Peter's confession. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 612)  In fact his statement could be a Markan insertion of an ancient baptismal formula.  And, certainly the revelation of the exact nature of his messianic kingship is yet to be revealed. (Ibid, 613)  Nevertheless, what happens here is more than foreshadowing a future reality as you and I read the living word. It provides for us insight into the nature of the God we believe in, and the nature of the Son we seek to follow.

In these words of Jesus we receive several revelations. The first is that while these events that are to unfold are unexpected (perhaps in Paul's words "foolish") they are exactly God's will and desire.  God in Jesus has come to enfold humanity.  The cross, the great inevitability, will not stop either the proclamation of Good News nor will it keep salvation history from breaking into the cosmos.

The second revelation is that the scriptures of Israel, the Old Testament, reveal this march towards incarnation, crucifixion, and redemption.

Peter's reaction to this is normal, and in point of fact echoes our modern response to this notion. It doesn't make sense.  Typically, in the face of criticism the Christian either shuts down or retreats to a different understanding of God and Jesus.

Jesus then gathers the people towards him and tells them that there is a cost to following.The images here and the words used by our author are similar to a commander rallying his troops. They are summoned following the rebuke, gathered so they can be refocused on the work at hand.  The self sacrifice, the work, the difficult hardships to be endured as a follower of Jesus are manifest; some are as physical as martyrdom, some social, still others will be psychological.  Jesus encourages them to have the will, fortitude, and endurance to run this race.

This Sunday is an opportunity to preach the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus, the cross, and salvation.  While I think many will like the disciples offer some turned phrase that will lesson the meaning of who Jesus is to one of the disciple's responses.  We are encouraged to pick up our cross and be apologists for our theology.

I recently read an article that appeared in The Christian Century, April 19, 1995, pp. 423-428, Robert Bellah, (emeritus professor of sociology and comparative studies at the University of California, Berkeley) described the tension between Christianity and pluralism. He wrote these words regarding our current challenge of proclaiming a gospel in our Western culture:

…[W]e are getting our wires crossed if we think we can jettison defining beliefs, loyalties and commitments because they are problematic in another context. Reform and re-appropriation are always on the agenda, but to believe that there is some neutral ground from which we can rearrange the defining symbols and commitments of a living community is simply a mistake-a common mistake of modern liberalism. Thus I do not see how Christians can fail to confess, with all the qualifications I have stated, but sincerely and wholeheartedly, that there is salvation in no other name but Jesus.
Bella, then offers a challenge to those who would teach Christianity today.  It is a challenge well worth our effort!

…Thus it would seem that a nonsuperficial Christianity must be based on something more than an individual decision for Christ, must be based on induction into the Christian cultural-linguistic system. Without such induction the individual decision may be not for the biblical Christ but for a henotheistic guardian spirit. And that is true not only for so-called new Christians, but for many of us in our own allegedly Christian society who do not understand what Paul would have required us as Christians to understand.
Therefore it seems to me of the utmost importance on this Sunday, with the witness of Peter given to us as the gospel, to make our cultural-linguistic case for the Gospel we Episcopalians believe.

We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the very true nature of God.

Jesus reveals to us what I have said, and moreover that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God.

We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God's own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother.

We believe, what is foolish to man, that God became in Jesus human that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.

We believe we did what humans do to prophets and we killed Jesus. God knew this and yet freely walked to the cross in the person of Jesus, that through his death, resurrection and ascension we would be given freedom from the power of sin and be reconciled to God.

While the ability to glorify God and live in a covenant community with God was given to us so too was the gift of eternal life.

We believe God in the form of the Son descended among the dead and that they receive the benefit of the faithful which is redemption and eternal life.

We say and claim that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us and that we share in this new relationship by means of baptism into this covenant community – wherein we become living members in Christ.

In our covenant community we have a language of faith which directs our conversations and gives meaning to our words; through which we understand we are invited to believe, trust, and keep God’s desire to be in relationship by keeping his commandments.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We are to love one another as Christ loved us.

As preachers I encourage you to preach the Gospel that is in us.  Teach your people what the Episcopal Church believes of this foolish messiah, claim the cross as the symbol of our faith and Jesus as Messiah.

This is the good news of salvation we know in Jesus name.  So, take up your cross and preach. 


A Little Bit for Everyone




Mark 8:27-38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”