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.

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 3.C, December 13, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Caught between eschatological judgment and messianic consummation, the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play. It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice. Rather, participating in God's new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary."

Commentary, Luke 3:7-18, David Lose, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Do we need to be told that it is a good thing to be elated, to be glad and happy? Some, who see Christianity as something dour and serious, need to hear it."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Lord our God, already in our midst and yet to come, your presence delights us even now as we long for your peace.  Winnow from our lives the chaff of selfishness and sin.  Sow in us a harvest of gentleness and generosity, for we rejoice in you, even as you exult and sing for joy over us. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 3:7-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue this week the story of John the Baptist's proclamation of baptism; and we are aware that the Word of God comes in the wilderness. We remember the uniqueness of this baptism as a metanoia or turning that is essential bedrock within the catholic tradition and universal expression of our church. While there were many prophets in that time and scholars recognize that baptism was not unusual, we see in the Gospel a self differentiation for the follower of Jesus in the Lukan community that sees baptism as a primary way a Christian marks their choice to follow Jesus. We can easily imagine in this unique combination of accepting an ordered life in the manner of Jesus and the water of baptism as a cleansing ritual the growth of our understanding that our sins are forgiven and life is forever changed.

John the Baptizer is not offering us an opportunity to adopt his way of life where home is the desert, clothes are skins, foods are grasshoppers and wild honey, there are no alcoholic beverages, and prayer with fasting mark the hours of the day. John is offering us in his proclamation and act of baptism an opportunity to turn away from our previous life to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are being offered an opportunity to follow God in Christ Jesus.

It is very possible that some of these words, which make up the synoptic tradition, are deeply rooted in the earliest Christian documents of sayings and traditions. Sometimes this document is called Q.

We know in the Gospel of Luke that the religious leaders of the day will reject John's baptisms (7.30 and 20.5). Nevertheless, crowds of people looking for a savior come out to the Jordan to hear the message and receive the baptism. They come out to a wild place where a wild man resides in order to take a sacramental journey into the wild places of life.  They come to wash as a pilgrimage mile marker towards ever new and transformed life.

They are met there by the wild John the Baptist calling them vipers! Jesus also will call those who live questionable lives with alternative and destructive intentions vipers (23.33). The people who come to John are recognized by him as people who are in need of change. They are in fact creatures of the desert place and the washing may prepare them for the coming kingdom, and deliverance from the wildness of this world into the grace of the coming reign of Christ.

We might well remember Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians 1:10 where Paul says, "you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming”.  In baptism we are choosing to follow a particular God with a particular way of life.

In verse 8 we see the word “repentance," metanoia. The word in Greek literally means returning, or coming back to the way of life charted by the covenant between God and Israel. See also Exodus 19:3-6 (where God commands Moses to tell the Israelites “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”); 24:3-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34 (“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. ... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts ... they shall all know me ... I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”).  This baptism is a mark that the person is choosing to live a changed life.

John the baptizer is demanding right living based on a sincere search for God’s will (Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:22-23) and suited to the promise of repentance. We see this ancient covenant connection and the life of our faith ancestors throughout Luke's Gospel and Jesus teaching as we are reminded of “Abraham our ancestor”. See also Luke: 1:54-55, 72-73; 3:34; 13:16, 28-29; 19:9; 20:37; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:17, 32; 13:26; 26:6; 28:20; John 8:33, 39; Romans 2:28, 29. We are then named a desert people who have found our life and our faith in the bosom of God and deep within the well of his heart. For those who choose to live a life oriented on the Christ and his reign we see the promise and potential of a life lived not in scarcity but the bounty of grace which promised manna from heaven, that the lilies be clothed, that the poor would have good things and the hungry fed.

Verses 10 - 14 are unique to Luke's Gospel. Here we see the Gospel's proclamation that right living has to do with sharing what we are given, and that it is characterized by a special concern, sensitivity and action on behalf of the poor. Jesus in Luke's Gospel will speak clearly about stewardship of possessions and so central was this to Jesus' teachings that we see it mirrored throughout the Acts, see Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35.  It is a funny thing in my mind that righteous living today has taken on new meaning.  Here it is clear that such a life lived post baptism is a life lived in service to neighbor and the least of these - God's friends.

We get a sense of the rich and the poor being unified in this proclamation of change and baptism, and in their ministry one to another. We cannot read verse 12ff without remembering here we are to hear of the story in Luke's Gospel of Zacchaeus the tax collector who gives half of his possessions to the poor.

So powerful was John's message and such a figure of hope and transformation was he that others believe he may be the messiah. John the baptist was far more a messenger of hope than one of judgement to be sure.   So it is the last verses of this passage that we see him continue to refocus our attention, beginning in verse 15, on the coming of Christ who ultimately will provide the Holy Spirit to the baptism of water.

How often do we move into positions of power or authority or ministry and the glory which rightly belongs to Christ comes to us? In this advent season we are challenged to remember the humility of the Christ family as described in the Gospels and be challenged to do as John the baptizer does and point forward to the Christ who is truly working in us and our life together greater things than we can ask for imagine.

As I think about these verses and the opportunity to preach this weekend, I am wondering how the season of Advent can serve to reorient our lives to our baptismal promises? How can our time, in the midst of preparations for Christmas celebrations, help us to see that we are to change, take a step back into the life of Christ? That we are called and challenged to live a particular life of continuous returning to the desert and waters of baptism for refreshment in a life's long journey. When we come to this place of Advent, we are to realize our place within the faith family of Abraham and seek not only to be reconciled with our Jesus but also to be reconciled with the notion of right living which is plainly: to give to the poor, and to aid those who go without.

Americans spent over 8 billion dollars on Halloween.  Americans will spend some $504 billion (2009 retail amount) to celebrate Christmas according to Gallup (see chart here).  The in breaking of God in the person of Christ might just cause us to pause and realize that only $10 billion would ensure clean water for every human being in the world, and $13 billion to keep folks from going hungry. Yet today I heard that safety net agencies that do just this work have seen a 10% decrease in funding.  Certainly these are numbers to make one pause in the face of Zaccheaus who gives away half of what he possesses to the poor. What if we lived out the charge and hope of living for our neighbor.  John the Baptist offers us not only a vision of a Christmastide incarnation but a transformed world of a new community - the kingdom of God.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 4:4-7

This week we continue with Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Paul's message is one of clarity: the second coming of the Lord is near, so be at peace rather than be divided.  Not unlike our own congregations or our own church, the church community at Philippi was concerned that perhaps the coming of Christ was not so near.  Perhaps they would die before its coming.  Paul himself finds himself in the midst of being mediator with other congregations who are in conflict.  Here in Philippi he finds a peaceful community and I believe he intends to capitalize on their faith and care for one another in order to persuade them to fear not and stay united as they work and wait for the Lord.
The idea that the "lord is near" is not a new one is scripture.  Paul here writes:
"5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."
Yet as we think about the whole of scripture we might remember that Adam and Eve knew the Lord was near and they hid.  Abraham was told that the Lord was near, so he prepared himself.  Moses found out that the Lord was near, and was told to free God's people.  Ruth heard that the Lord was near, so she was faithful.  Kind David found that the Lord was near, so he built a temple.  Mary was told the Lord was near, and she named him Jesus. Andrew was called and found that the Lord was near so he became a fisher of men and brought others to Jesus.  Peter was near to the Lord, and became the Lord's rock.  Mary Magdalene and Joanna were told that the Lord is nearby in Jerusalem, and they rejoiced.  Paul himself came upon the Lord in a flashing light and became the Lord's messenger.  Indeed the whole of scripture is a narrative which describes for us the response of human beings to the nearness of God, the nearness of the Lord. 

Paul says, if you believe the Lord is near, then act with gentleness to everyone.  When we believe that our God is present we should not worry or be anxious for anything.  Instead when we believe God is present we are to pray, be thankful, and speak to God.  Only then, I believe, do the lions of life seem not of so great a concern.

God's presence in the Lord Christ brings the follower peace, a peace that at times does not make sense given our surroundings and context.  It will not be the most obvious response given our culture or our economy.  But when the Christian believes and acts out of their belief that the Lord is indeed near then the world is changed. We are changed.  We are part of the change in the lives of other people.  Out of habit the Christian is to believe and wait upon the Lord and his presence. 
For the Christian Church, now living in the several centuries from the community at Philippi, we are to be ready to greet our lord in the pew at church and in our lives and workplaces. We are to be ready to greet the presence of the Lord in our neighbor and in our enemy.  We are to seek out the presence of the Lord in every human we encounter.  In so doing we are at peace and we bring a peace which makes no sense into the world. 

How will we respond to the presence of the Lord? This seems to be the question our text offers us this week.  How will we respond (not to a God of a far off place or a God who is not yet here) to a God who is present now. 

In this passage I am challenged not so much to focus upon the waiting of Advent for a Christmas return of Christ, but rather to be challenged to see that what I am waiting for, the one I seek, the peace I crave, the reality of very-God is already present in my life.  The waiting isn't over so much as a Christian I don't have to wait any longer to respond to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus that is present in the here and in the now. Moreover, I have the opportunity to shift my life lens from seeing not enough to being thankful for all I am and have.  Surely, these are the thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

Some Thoughts on Zephaniah 3:14-20

Resources for Sunday's Old Testament Lesson

"This reading from Zephaniah is marked by hope, rejoicing, and reprieve, but it comes from the end of a three-chapter book in which the first two chapters consist of horrific warnings."

Commentary, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"This Sunday, we speak of joy, the joy of a people redeemed and restored, but also the joy of a God who is deeply invested in the life of the world."

Commentary, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Our selections for Advent for the Old Testament readings are taken, as you have now discovered, from passages that remind Israel of God's hope for them. A number of reflections on line focus on the idea that "joy" is a particular part of the present circumstances for Zephaniah and his people. 
14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 
However, I think that the first several chapters indicate the difficult challenges and fears of the people. We only get to the joy in the midst of the warnings and through redemption.

As a culture we are continually attempting to find and purchase joy somehow. Even now our culture is in the midst of a great buying frenzy. Yet these purchases and actions will bring little fulfillment in the end. So we, like those who receive Zephania's message are in need of a little redemption. The church is in need of redemption.

Melinda Quivik, liturgics and homiletics scholar writes:
Zephaniah's announcement of the Lord's resolve to save the people carries line-by-line descriptions of why this renewal is necessary. The promise rests on the need for rescue. The flip side of the joy that is to happen on the Day of the Lord is present as each phrase of promise is coupled with the negative it implies, reminding the hearer that disaster has come as reproach for failings, oppression exists, the lame and the outcast suffer alone, shame needs to be changed into praise, an in-gathering is required because the people are scattered and fortunes have been taken away. This is an accounting of the inevitable inability of human life to follow the commands of the Lord. This is an accurate depiction of our need for God. Law is not just command but reality.
What is difficult is to believe, I think, as the church or as individuals that our salvation truly lies outside of ourselves. I believe it is so hard to think that God might really have a hand in it all. So it is that this passage reminds us. On that day when all that you purchased fails you... On that day when all your plans come to nothing...On that day when your machinations for self preservation and self reward are found lacking... On that day when you, if you can get to the bottom, on that day then you can hear for the first time:

"Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Part of the power of the readings and their combination together is that we are not only receiving the hope of God in the incarnation and salvation birthed into the world, but we are understanding that none of our efforts have brought us to any sense of betterment, none of our work has had the end results planned. No, in fact only in having a good look at our present circumstances do we see that God is with us and there to save. 

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