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.


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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Proper 16B/Ordinary 21B/Pentecost 14 August 26, 2018


God our Savior, in Christ, your eternal Word, you have revealed the full depths of your love for us.  Guide this holy assembly of your people by the light of your Holy Spirit, so that no word of mere human wisdom may ever cause us to turn away from your Holy One.  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.

John 6:56-69

"...the bread of life discourse represents a christological exposition of the Old Testament manna tradition. Eucharistic language is thus probably used not as an end in itself, but because it enables faith in Jesus to be expounded in a way that is relevant to the Johannine community's legitimation of its beliefs and practices in the context of its conflict with the synagogue."
"Food For Thought: The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:25-71) in Johannine Legitimation," by James F. McGrath, from Theological Gathering 2 (Winter 1997).

"Much more than bread. And as it turns out, much more life than we could have ever imagined -- or even that we want."
"Not Just Bread Anymore," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

"For Jewish ears there is a pun here which is disgusting. To drink human blood is to drink life. Blood is reserved only for the altar. To drink it is indeed to have life within oneself, but in the most sacrilegious fashion possible. It is to pretend to be like God."
"Gristle," Andrew Prior, One Man's Web, 2015. Podcast.

"This climatic passage, with its rich metaphor and intense interaction, aims to move us finally to a confession, a claiming, a proclaiming."
Commentary, John 6:56-69, Jamie Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

We have spent some time over the past few weeks reviewing and pondering the implications of the bread of life on our Episcopal theology, ecclesiology, and liturgy.  We continue in the first part of our reading as before. 

While in the previous verses we have focused our attention on real food, here John transitions to speaking about an "imperishable food that is the source of eternal life." (Raymond Brown, John, vol 29, 292)

If we compare vs 54 with 56 we see that eternal life itself is to be close and in communion with Jesus. (Ibid)  The very nature of claiming to be Christian and Episcopalian is rooted deeply in this notion that we remain in Jesus and that Jesus is in us.  We cannot stress enough that what we are speaking about is physical AND spiritual. That we believe that we, when we remain close and in communion with Jesus, participate physically and spiritually in the life of God, in the life to come, in everlasting or eternal life. This is the unbroken nature of communion which is provided between God through the incarnation to God's people. God proclaims that we are to be his people and he is to be our God.

So, when we arrive at the very last verses of today's reading (which are actually a portion of the following pericope in the scripture) we see that there is an acclamation of faith; a moment as important as Caesarea of Philippi.  It is an affirmation of the revelation of God by those around him which fill the gospel tradition.  We have an exclamation point if you will to the reality of remaining in Christ.

Here are the three key verses:
So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is true that many authorities believe this is added by a later author/editor. It is true that there are competing theories about this scholastically.  But here is the important piece: as Episcopalians we root and connect the first part of the text (bread of life) with the second part (a statement of faith).

We might be tempted as "want to be" scholars to preach and separate the two. I say we should not.  In fact to do so misses a very important part of who we are as Episcopalians; and Eucharistically centered Christians.

We believe that communion with Christ is mediated (regardless of your theology on presence) by the rite we use; which was instituted by Jesus.  A rite that includes the proclamation that "we believe" and the sharing of good news of God in Christ Jesus followed by the grace of forgiveness and a holy meal.  Moreover, we have believed and believe today that not only does Christ commune with his people in the Eucharist and his people with Christ; but also that a bond of communion is created between fellow Christians. 

Communion, participation in an Episcopal service of the Eucharist, is a very physical, spiritual, and personal engagement with God.  It includes an activity of God towards his people, a thanksgiving for that action, a surrendering and outpouring of love towards God, and the "individual union with Christ, both Go and [people], in whom the self-giving of God and the self-surrender of [men and women] meet." (Doctrine in the Church of England, 165)  As our own Book of Common prayer states it:
"The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.  The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life."
To say and believe any more or any less may certainly be Christian, but it is not Episcopalian.

We have come to believe that God in Christ Jesus is the very Holy One of God.  And, therefore, we seek communion with him, through the means he gave us: the Eucharistic feast. For Episcopalians the unity of our affirmation of the revelation of God is experienced in the meal we share together around the table of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 6:10-20

"As the letter to assemblies of believers in Ephesus and throughout the great cities of Asia Minor draws to a close, the author offers a final extended metaphor for how a person of faith in Jesus as God's own anointed one, Lord over all, might shape the life of believers."
Commentary, Ephesians 6:10-20, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"It is not to fight against other people. It is not a triumphal war to form a Christian government (a theocracy like that endorsed today by various religious traditions). It is not a struggle opposing non-Christians or back-sliders or even one's own petty and enormous inabilities."
Commentary, Ephesians 6:10-20, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"While modern Christians are likely to have a view of heaven as a paradise in which no evil dwells, the writer of Ephesians is drawing on a different set of cultural assumptions, one in which a struggle between cosmic forces occurs within the heavenly realm. Christians, who already reign with Christ in some sense, are obligated to participate in this struggle."
Commentary, Ephesians 6:10-20, Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Oremus NRSV Text

There are some of the key ingredients that we should not miss as we parse the ending of Ephesians.

The first is the powers and principalities. John Stott writes in his exegesis of Ephesians:
In Paul’s characterization of them, then, the powers of darkness are powerful, wicked and cunning. How can we expect to stand against the assaults of such enemies? It is impossible. We are far too weak and too ingenuous. Yet many—if not most—of our failures and defeats are due to our foolish self-confidence when we either disbelieve or forget how formidable our spiritual enemies are. (You can read the whole text here.)
The author hits the right balance between God's mighty power and our own human "cooperation". We must be strong in our faith and we must depend upon God.

The principalities and powers are in deed intent on our destruction. As we say in our baptismal rite, they seek to destroy the creatures of God. It is our work to resist them. Yoder did a masterful job translating the work of Dutch theologian Hedrik Berkhof's monograph. This would influence Stott, but also Yoder and Walter Wink's work.

Stott captures the essence here:
Professor Berkhof’s thesis is that, although Paul borrowed the vocabulary of the powers from Jewish apocalyptic, his understanding of them was different: ‘In comparison to the apocalypticists a certain “demythologizing” has taken place in Paul’s thought. In short, the apocalypses think primarily of the principalities and powers as heavenly angels; Paul sees them as structures of earthly existence.’ He concedes that Paul may have ‘conceived of the Powers as personal beings’, yet ‘this aspect is so secondary that it makes little difference whether he did or not’. So he expresses his conclusion that ‘we must set aside the thought that Paul’s “Powers” are angels’. He identifies them with the stoicheia tou kosmou (‘elemental spirits of the universe’) of Galatians 4:3, 9, and Colossians 2:8 and 20, translates the expression ‘world powers’ and suggests that these are seen in human traditions and religious and ethical rules.
‘The state, politics, class, social struggle, national interest, public opinion, accepted morality, the ideas of decency, humanity, democracy’—all these unify men, while separating them from the true God.8 Yet Christ has overcome them, for by his cross and resurrection they have been ‘unmasked as false gods’, and ‘the power of illusion’ has been struck from their hands.9 In consequence, Christians ‘see through the deception of the Powers’ and question their legitimacy,1 while others emboldened by the church refuse to let themselves be enslaved or intimidated. Thus the Powers are ‘christianized’
John Stott will remove to a place of accepting that Paul is talking about spiritual forces here. I agree, though like Stott, I am aware that these forces are used through human endeavor to enrich the power of the institution. I always keep in mind the subtlety and the hidden forms of these powers. My friend Stanley Hauerwas says beware and be wary of them. Americans believe they are free from the consequences of their actions if they did not know what those consequences would be. In this way we as humans, Americans and Westerners alike, remove ourselves form the responsibility of participating in the powers and their machinations in and through institutions. We build up walls of deniability and protection. All the while the powers are indeed spiritual and otherwise at work in the world around us.

Sometimes, I think in relative peace we as a nation and as a community of individuals do in fact forget that evil very much has a foot hold in the world. We all to often relegate such passages to the world of the spirit and in so doing absent it from the world of humans. This is how the religious allow monstrosities such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or South American dictators or drug cartels. We forget that America's drug habit pays for the powers in other countries to run rampant and kill and torment citizens. We participate by doing and not doing, by leaving undone, and we do evil even though we do not count consequences.

Paul then offers a list of armor to protect ourselves. I remember that there is a priestly prayer that recites this as one vested many years ago. As you placed the amice upon your head you prayed, "Place, O Lord, upon my head the helmet of salvation, that I may repel the assaults of the enemy." Back to the passage. John Stott writes,
Here, then, are the six pieces which together make up the whole armour of God: the girdle of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel boots and the faith shield, salvation’s helmet and the Spirit’s sword. They constitute God’s armour, as we have seen, for he supplies it. Yet it is our responsibility to take it up, to put it on and to use it confidently against the powers of evil. Moreover, we must be sure to avail ourselves of every item of equipment provided and not omit any. ‘Our enemies are on every side, and so must our armour be, on the right hand and on the left.
As the passage concludes we are reminded that Paul is the least of servants, the least apostle, the least Christian. Paul is imprisoned and while not all are to be so, he reminds them all are invited to bear the burden of the Gospel to others. We are all missioners and to bring the good news to others - especially the non religious and unbelieving. And, in our mission we are to do battle with the powers that be.

1 Kings 8:1-43

"Preachers might consider human kingship and divine kingship, the relationship between chosenness and openness, evangelism, or even the functions of worship spaces in their reflections on verses 41-43 of Solomon's prayer."
Commentary, 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43, Cameron Howard, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

and...from the same selection:

"Despite the fact that Solomon's prayer is clearly separated from his speeches to the assembly, the text of the prayer itself is not without an agenda."
Commentary, 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43, Cameron Howard, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"God is present with God's people. God hears prayer and will respond with mercy. Such is the Gospel in this text. The Temple is a sign and a means of that communion with God, and thus deserves to be remembered with honor in both synagogue and church."
Commentary, 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Oremus NRSV Text

Where are we...The Temple is finished. The Ark is in place. Solomon talks to the people and explains how God has promised to make this God's dwelling place. He blesses the people gathered. Then Solomon prays. He asks that God for the following:
  • Please continue to honor the covenant that you made.
  • Keep a king on the throne of Israel.
  • Dwell in this temple.
  • Look upon us with favor.
  • But, condemn those who are guilty, reward the righteous.
  • Let the enemy when when we have strayed, but hold your hand against them when we are faithful.
  • Teach us a good way to walk in your sight.
  • Hear the prayers when we come to you because of "famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar; if their enemy besieges them in any of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is." 
  • Have compassion on us. 
  • And, when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, hear their cry, so that they will know you are here.
While we may well say, this is all foreshadowing for the fall of the empire, what we see in this long prayer are truly the expectations of those who reign in Israel. They are to be faithful in prayer and in the care of the land, the temple, and the people. They will sin, but they are to return to the lord.

Now, if you are going to preach on this text, and it is a good one to preach upon. I would, like many others, encourage you to continue reading! There are several sets of prayers - seven in all. When you read them what you will find is that there is a measure of seeking forgiveness present in each. In other words, the Temple is the place where one comes to present oneself before the Lord and to ask for forgiveness. The prayer reminds the king and people to be contrite before the Lord and to seek righteousness and return when you fail. If you stay in this section only, you may err on the side of selection vs. invitation to get right with God.

Like so many others, this Temple is a sign of God's mercy and place of redemption.

It is also a site that is completely drawing people's attention from the other holy sites. It is a centralization of the faith and it is the beginning of a turn from the Mosaic covenant at Sinai to a centralized faith of Zion.

Joshua 24:1-25

"Bondage to a lie, or freedom's integrity."
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The verb 'serve' is evocative in these verses. 'Serve' can mean 'worship' or it can mean 'show loyalty toward,' or, as v. 24 notes, it can also mean 'obey.'"
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

God, the Holy and undivided Trinity, is at work throughout the sacred history of the old and the New Testaments. This is something that I have learned. The hermeneutical principle of mission combined with the belief that the same God is working through the people of Israel and their story as is working in the life of the disciples and fellowship of Jesus - is the only footing for the Christian preacher.

The Gospel evangelists themselves believe this and in so doing tie the very words of Joshua 24:1-25 into our understanding of the vocation of God and the call of Jesus.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of this passage as the great transition between Moses and Joshua. Moses has set his eye on the furthest horizon and concludes the Torah with both prophecy and the last commandments. Sacks writes:

It would not be easy. With his prophetic eye turned to the furthermost horizon of the future, Moses had been warning the people throughout Devarim that the real dangers would be the ones they least suspected. They would not be war or famine or poverty or natural disaster. They would be ease and affluence and freedom and prosperity.

That is when a nation is in danger of forgetting its past and its mission. It becomes complacent; it may become corrupt. The rich neglect the poor. Those in power afflict the powerless. The people begin to think that what they have achieved, they achieved for and by themselves. They forget their dependence on G-d. At the very height of its powers, Israelite society would develop fault-lines that would eventually lead to disaster. (Deut. 31: 10-13) (Sacks, Jonathan. “Nitzavim-Vayelich (5770) - Covenantal Politics.” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 4 Apr. 2016,

Joshua in this moment, in chapter 24, is doing exactly what Moses did and is calling the people to remember both their purpose, their mission, and their commitment. He is reminding them that the God to whom they are yoked in love is a God who freed them. A God who freed them to be a blessing to the whole of creation. They are to be a different kind of people. A people who serve God by being and enacting a different kind of society.

In effect, Joshua is offering them freedom to walk away from God and their covenant with God.

It is the same with the evangelists of the New Testament. They, like Joshua, narrate God's mighty acts in the person of Jesus. They enumerate God's grace. And, like all the history of Israel, the Evangelists remind us who chose to follow this Christ that we are called to remember that we too are to be a blessing of peace - a blessing of shalom to the world. We are called into a particular community that is to remember the poor, to raise up the powerless, to share what they have achieved, and to never forget the God who loves and offers freedom so that all may be united in one living body. It is not so much that the Gospel reflects or copies the speech of Joshua in this chapter, or the speech of Moses before him. No. It is that the speeches of Moses and Joshua are given by the power of the Holy Spirit and they are a living word to be incarnated in the people who have a relationship with God.

Walter Brueggemann writes:
What this God requires is a life-commitment that will impinge upon every dimension of public life — social, political and economic. This God, so says Joshua, is uncompromising. With YHWH it is “all or nothing,” no casual allowance for accommodation. What is at issue is a jealous God who is committed to neighborly justice and the organization of the economy for the sake of the weak and vulnerable (thus the testimony of the book of Deuteronomy that stands behind this narrative chapter). But the other gods, the totems of agricultural self-sufficiency, do not require such neighborly passion. The either/or that Joshua presents has immediate practical social consequences. A decision for YHWH entails socio-economic justice. A decision for the “other gods” leads inevitably to socio-economic exploitation, the accumulation of wealth at the expense of neighbors. Such a “religion” without commitment to social justice will eventuate in communities of economic failure, such as we now witness in Reading. (You can read the article here.)

For further reading:

An excerpt on communion from my new book Vocãtiõ: Imaging a Visible Church

The earliest followers of Jesus did what he taught them to do: they gathered, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave to each other, and then did the same with the wine—more often they shared regular meals. The theological gloss that the shared meal is a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for atonement was not established until the third century. In the book of Acts we see the disciples living out their remembrance of what Jesus did. I draw here on scholarship around the repetitive action of the chabûrah, or the feast of friends. It is very popular to combine the ancient “giving thanks” we find in Acts with the Seder meal, connecting both to the Passover. This connection is not quite accurate. Jesus’s custom was to eat with all kinds of people—the righteous and the unrighteous alike. His custom was to celebrate the feast of friends. Such transgressive meals most likely hastened his death. Jesus’s breaking of bread also broke open social, religious, and political customs. Dom Gregory Dix points out that the chabûrah is what teachers and disciples ate together. The Eucharist originated with this feast of friends, rather than with the Passover Seder! It was not until the time of ninth century that Alcuin introduces the Passover elements into the Eucharistic feast.[i]

It is important to note that neither the Passover symbolism, nor the connection of baptism to the Eucharist originated with the earliest Church. Both of these “givens” of Eucharistic practice were not part of Jesus’s nor the early church’s traditions. They arrive into our customary later, in the midst of a drastic change in the role of the clergy. This change eroded Jesus’s tradition of gathering people together for a feast of friends that bound one another into the community of shalom. Before the feast of friends became the Mass, a diverse community of peace gathered at table, just as Jesus had, and gave thanks for what they had been given and what they were yet to receive. They remembered that the meal was provided by God and for the journey, and they shared it with others. The community of peace, as we said in the last chapter, was a community that fed people. Luke writes, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).

[i] Dom Gregory Dix in The Shape of Liturgy (London, UK: Westminister Dacre Press, 1954), C. Kucharek in The Byzantine-Slav Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Allendale, NJ: Alleluia Press, 1971) and Lionel Mitchell in The Meaning of Ritual (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow 1988)[AU: Please provide full publication information for these three works for the reader.] all connect the chabûrah customs with the early Christian liturgy described in both the documents of the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and the Didachê. I learned this first from Rick Fabian and a longer explanation may be found in Worship at St. Gregory. Fabian,[AU: Are you citing Richard Fabian, Worship at St. Gregory’s here? Referencing - yes] 39.

 An excerpt on the Sinai faith from my book The Jesus Heist

For the vast majority of seminary-educated clergy, survey courses of the Old and New Testament have not produced a mature reading of Scripture, enriched by scholarship . A cursory review of preaching (my own included) will show how the needs of the institutional church are unconsciously woven into our readings of Scripture. The history of Christianity and even the history of our sacred texts are taught so that we accept as simple providence the progression from Moses, Mount Sinai, and the covenant at Shekem to the first and second great temples on Mount Zion to their destruction and the natural emergence of the institutional church from fledgling synagogue system.

This unquestioned certainty of revelational progress is a secret recapitulation of modernity, which saw everything naturally leading to the industrial and now technological revolutions. According to this narrative, humanity has naturally arrived at this moment of culture—a human fulfillment meant to be. A careful reading of the Scripture will help us ponder exactly how the narrative of modernity has shaped us.

The problem is that every Sunday across the vast Western expanse of Christianity we perpetuate a church-oriented gospel. What is worse, we have passed this along around the globe through mission. What was once the colonizing lens of Jerusalem—Mount Zion, and its intertwining of politics and religious practice—has metastasized across the West and has been exported as a church-oriented focus today. There is an overemphasis of Mount Zion and Jerusalem in our exegesis. Scholars are even discovering an overemphasis on Zion and the temple within biblical archeology, revealing that institutional concerns have driven scriptural interpretation for some time.[i] The Old Testament Sinai tradition has been redacted by the servants of Mount Zion, and the servants of the institutional church have perpetrated the same redaction in the scriptural deposit left behind by the apostles.[ii]

To say this in another way, the Sinai vs. Zion dichotomy, as we shall see, directly maps onto the idea of ecclesia vs. institutional church.

The temple imprisons and subdues religious impulses that are messy and organic in order to provide structure and routine. Prophetic traditions rise up to correct this perpetual tendency to substitute a structured, routine status quo for a dynamic relationship with God. The ancient battle for supremacy between the prophets and the temple is often settled in favor of the temple, because more people invest in power, authority, and longevity than in an authentic relationship with God. This ancient battle is particularly evident in the Zionist strand of Old Testament Judaism. The Scriptures themselves reveal that the church’s current crisis has very ancient roots. To understand these roots, a short excursus on the Sinai prophetic tradition and the temple religion of the Old Testament is necessary.

[i] Brooke Sherrard, “American Biblical Archaeologists and Zionism: How Differing Worldviews on the Interaction of Cultures Affected Scholarly Constructions of the Ancient Past,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 1(2016): 235.

[ii] While the idea of a church lens redaction is of my own making, I am here referring tangentially to the book by Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left behind (New York: Paulist Press, 1984). I will refer back to his work later in this chapter.

Read more and Purchase the books here.

Sermons Preached on These Texts

Building the Kingdom of God Together, Aug 27, 2009, Sermon on Building the Kingdom of God, our mission and vision of God's work for us in the Diocese of Texas, given at the consecration of St. Cuthbert's, Houston, Tx 9.23.09

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