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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Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Eve/Day

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This holiday familiarity is a particular problem for preachers. We must keep in mind that for some, the Christmas story has been regularly heard since childhood. And yet, these annual rehearsals have failed to reveal to contemporary audiences the jarring display of ancient culture the episode describes."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20] / Luke 2[1-7] 8-20, Joy Moore, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Nonetheless, it is to these unlikely and unworthy shepherds that the first news of the birth of Jesus is given, and not to the Kings, Caesars, and Governors mentioned at the beginning of this passage."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 2:1-20, David Ewart, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Abiding with you forever in glory, O God, your only-begotten child is born among us in time..  May we ever welcome your Son to the warmth of an earthly home and so open for all earth's children a path that leads us home. 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  2:1-20

The mystic Abu Hamid al-Ghazah once wrote, “Human perfection resides in this, that the love of God should conquer the human heart and possess it wholly, and even if it does not possess it wholly, it should predominate in the heart over the love of all things.”[1]  And so, the incarnation comes in Christ Jesus to conquer the human heart and to possess it wholly.  In an eternal  return to the garden God comes in Jesus to find us, once hidden in the eve of the day amongst the flora of our garden world.  The goal, as in last weeks epistle to the Hebrews, is that we might be about the work and will of God.
Today, we pause, and we think and we ponder.  What is the world around us like? What are our lives like.  We live in a time when we want to know God is present. We desire to be rid of our fear and our anxiety.  We hope and we wish for a sign.  We don't know who to believe anymore because everything is relativized.  There seems no assurance that we won't hurdle off the fiscal and mental cliff of our time.  We feel shame and unworthiness which we hide behind consumption and business.  We still long fro some kind of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding.  And, we offer our sacrifices to the God of our day hoping perhaps this year will be different. 

I am most certain that this is not the same time and nor are these the same issues that faced the shepherds.  They were probably cold, hungry, and without shelter in the desert night.  They were most likely a lot like most of the rest of the developing world that exists far beyond our concerns and thoughts this Christmas.
Yet into this ancient world and our world today comes the message that the prophesy is fulfilled. God is in our midst. Do not be afraid. In fact rejoice and be glad.  Look for God in the least of these, in the form of a child.  Here you will find him.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And so all over the world we gather on this most holy of nights to celebrate the mystical union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, Savior, Messiah, Blessed One, Son of Man, Jesus the Christ Child born of woman called Mary – Miryam of Nazareth.

I have for a long time been touched by this mystical poem from Ann Johnson’s collection of sacred poetry Magnificat of the Stable:
My soul rests confidently in the animal warmth
     And the lantern light of the simple place, Yahweh,
     And my spirit rejoices in the privacy of this time of birthing
     We share with you, O God of Creation,
     For you come alive again tonight
     In the blood and water of your people.
Yes, this is the time we have waited for.
     This is the moment of blessing.
Holy is birth,
     And you shall show yourself from age to age
     In those who enter into creation with you.
You have shown the power of a dream enfleshed
     And we are humbled.
You have pulled down all our strivings
     And lifted up this simple, common moment.
This stable is filled with good things,
     New life and happy people.
     Are those in the inn rooms as satisfied?
You have come to Israel,
Mindful of our shared nature,
     . . . according to the promise of Eden. . .
     mindful of our nature to seek the wisdom of new life together
     as long as we walk the earth.[2]
Rehearsing our sacred story reminds us of God presence in our lives.  We are invited in this holy feast to remember that this God we believe in enters the world in human form and comes to the margins of life; to Mary and Joseph who are essentially homeless and wandering.
We are invited on this day to retell the story of the nativity that we may rehearse the beginning of the reign of God where people without a coat are given clothing; where people with no roof over their head find shelter; where people with nothing to eat are given good things.  We retell the story to remind ourselves that the work of Christians is kindness, gentleness, and hospitality like the inn keeper.
We are invited to retell the story on this day so we remember what it means to discover a living God and how we, like the shepherds will search for him where ever he will be; so tenacious is our hearts hunger for God.
We are invited to retell the story that we might be reminded of our work to be heralds of good news and glad tidings for our family, our friends, and our neighbors.
And, we are invited to retell the story because in it we are reminded that the child wrapped in linen and laid in a manger shall be our savior wrapped in cloth and lain in a rock tomb. 
This is our God, this is our Messiah.  In this Christmastide may we be aware that God has come and that we are his followers.  
For those who intentionally choose to remember we recognize that the birth of Jesus was a prophetic challenge to the world order; and that those who find their being in his sacred story and follow his way are to challenge the world order with ethical and moral sensitivity.  We are to speak truth and act in a world hungering for deliverance from greed, poverty, oppression, malnutrition, abuse, illness, war, and all the other dark and evil powers we have created and come to know.  It is not to Caesar Augustus or Quirinius that this God comes to, but the God we believe in comes to the lowly.  So it is that we are to open our hearts to this God that our own lowliness and shame may be transformed. So it is that we are to open our hand and lives to those around us.  We are like the angels, the shepherds, the inn keeper, and the holy family to make room for this God in our lives, and in so doing to make room in the world for the kingdom of God.

[1] Quoted by Kabir Helminski in Knowing Heart, p. 4.
[2] Johnson, Miryam of Nazareth, p 81.

Some Thoughts on Titus 2:11-14

In the Epistle lesson from Titus Paul is writing about the household code; a moral code by which the church is to live. They are to be a community. This community is to be acceptable to the society around it and most scholars see parallels between Paul's code for community and the code for community espoused by the philosophical leaders of his day. In other words much of what Paul offers is a reflection of basic ethics for individuals and morality for a community which is at work within a wider social construct.
That being said, there is an underpinning theology that is important and separates how Christian community is to live from other communities.  Paul's prevailing theology looks back at God's acts and sees that our God is defined by his one saving act - the Exodus and the Sinai revelation. God is holy and we are to be God's people and God's people will be holy.  Moreover that the way of this community is defined at its foundation by God's commandments which marks the group as special and of a higher household standard that the prevailing notion of such codes in Paul's day.  Paul adopts this saving action and nature of God's people to the emerging Christian community.
In our passage appointed for Christmas day we see this clearly.God in Christ Jesus has appeared in the incarnation.  Christ Jesus in his own actions has modeled a higher way of being in the world.  We like the ancient ancestors of Israel are to be formed by his example.  We are to "renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.   God in Christ Jesus is himself redeeming us even in our failure to live this life.  We are given Christ, for he gave himself fully.  Christ is redeeming us and we are being purified by his grace.
I would add then that we are to do the same.  We are to give ourselves over to the other, we are to give ourselves over to God and to our neighbor.  The very basic and most essential work is to be "zealous for good deeds."
Paul's list (which comes above and below this passage)is filled with directions for the household code.  It is true that some we would agree with and some we would not.  Yet they offer us a challenging view of a life lived in the shadow of God's saving embrace.  Most of all we are to live no longer for ourselves but for God and for God's people.  We are the gift to this world.  As followers of Christ we are the gift to a world in need and we are to be about our father's work: good deeds. 
A Christmastide bereft of giving to others and most of all to the poor, of eating while others go hungry, of warmth and merry cheer while even more are cold, lonely and remorse is no Christmastide at all. 

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