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.

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Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter 3C April 10, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Embrace the reality of the fishermen doing something that might seem absurd to others and one who denied the Lord to become the rock that leads a church."
Commentary, John 21:1-19, Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again."
"Peter," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


With a canticle of praise, O God enthroned in glory, we join every creature in worshiping the Lamb, Jesus who is alive among us and who invites us to this meal. Grant that we may stretch out our hands to fulfill in lives of service the love our lips profess.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 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 John 21:1-19
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue through our Easter season readings of John’s Gospel. The passage opens up a week later, or a little later than the previous resurrection accounts. Jesus reveals himself again. The image in Greek is one that moves from obscurity to reality, as in the other resurrection accounts. (R. Brown, John, vol II, 1067) Jesus is not only present but more certainly and powerfully so. The disciples have returned to the sea of Tiberias. They are there in the same location as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, a miracle of multiplication. We are given then a list of the shore party: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Sons of Zebedee and a couple of others.

Simon Peter goes fishing and the rest join in. Some scholars spend a lot of time wondering why Nathanael might go with them to fish as he was a man from the hill country. I did not grow up on water, but love to fish. Perhaps these scholars just aren’t fishermen. Besides, who knows…perhaps Nathanael was a fly fisherman and wanted to see what this was all about?

They fish at night and they catch nothing. Those who know about fishing the Sea of Galilee (I once had a Texas A&M professor come and speak about ancient fishing on the sea of Galilee) note that night fishing was practiced and even the best the time to fish.

As the sun is rising Jesus appears on the shore. His appearance, his revelation to them, is mysterious; so very much so that they do not recognize him. Scholars use this portion of the text to elevate the criticism that this is a redactor of John’s Gospel, because they would have recognized him after the several appearances. They link this to the grammar and Greek vocabulary that does not match John’s.

Jesus calls out to them, “Lads” or “Children.” You haven’t caught any fish have you? We have here a tender moment, a fatherly moment. Jesus is calling to friends and disciples, students and followers with whom he has traveled, lived, and shepherded. (Note in a similar account in Luke he simply asks for something to eat.) Here Jesus invites them to cast their net. Is this going to be another multiplication account? Jesus tells them to cast on the right side of the boat and they will find something. Raymond Brown reminds us that Cyril of Alexandria and others insert, “But they said, ‘Master, we worked all night and took nothing; but in your name word we shall cast.’” Borrowing from Luke I imagine, Cyril’s words capture the frustration these weary fishermen might have felt…remember they don’t know it is Jesus.

Some scholars have tried to dismiss the miracle by suggesting that from Jesus’ vantage point perhaps he could see a school of fish feeding or rising. I think this is tampering with the story.

Of course they haul in a tremendous number of fish. In the multiplication of fish Jesus is recognized and Peter jumps in the water. (Some scholars believe that the redactor using the words “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a modifier for Peter, reveals our writer to be one of Peter’s disciples.

Peter throws on some clothes and jumps in the water. Seems odd to get your clothes and jump in. However, fishing at night and the particular kind of diving need to fish in the manner in which they were working required the men to be unclothed – according to my Aggie Nautical Archeologist friend. So, as Peter is going ashore he gets his clothes and goes.

The word that stands out though is the action word for jumped in the sea. Peter throws himself in the sea and swims to the shore. This heightens the sense of excitement at the appearance and revelation of the Lord.

The rest arrive by boat, towing the nets and landing the boat themselves.

There is a charcoal fire and fish and bread. Jesus invites them to eat and breaks the bread and shares the fish. He feeds the disciples. They appear unsure, he is different, changed.

There are two powerful symbols to be played with here. The first is the apostolic mission and the multiplication miracle. It is clear that the risen Christ gives the mission and directs the work. Alone a disciple can do little, but with the risen Christ a disciple may discover not only fields in need of tending but plentiful waters for fishing. The second image present is that of the risen Christ as giver. The Lord is the giver of the Eucharistic feast which feeds the body and the spirit for the journey. The charcoal fire and the breaking of bread cement this image in today’s Gospel lesson. We recognize the risen Christ in the Eucharistic meal – one that takes place out in the world an not behind the locked doors of the upper room.

Both of these revelatory pieces of the same resurrection account say to us something of the ecclesial nature of the first community of followers that was forming post Easter and it says something about he ecclesiological nature of our own communion today. Peter’s throwing himself in to the baptismal waters and the communion meal are central to the life of the missionary disciple. Furthermore, they remain central in our life today. We are brought through the waters of baptism to the heavenly shore to partake in a heavenly banquet.

Tertullian gives us a wonderful quote, “But we little fish, who are so named in the image of our ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in water and only by staying in the water are we saved.”

This unique addition to John’s Gospel is filled with imagery about sin and death, baptism, Eucharistic theology, and discipleship.

As last week we have the beautiful image of power and authority. The throne and those around it provide a window into the mind of the evangelist and prophet. God's heavenly reign is surrounded by the thousands and thousands who worship and give voice in heaven to what we sing on earth: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Here in this strange place are what William Loader in his "First Thoughts Series" says is a, " pageantry of power and before us parade mysterious beings, elders, living creatures, thousands upon thousands of angels. It is awesome. The poetry of the images evokes wonder or, at least, that is its design. It is so overwhelming (and strange) that we can easily forget that it is imagery. It is imagination's movie crafted to express and reflect the wonderful being of God. Awe before another human being is not at its best an issue of subservience but of love and respect. It is acknowledging the holiness of the other in wonder. With God it is no less. It is letting ourselves have space to meet and engage God's being."

The evangelist hears, "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing." The image and sounds offered as our own imagination catches up are such that we are moved to understand the praise and worship of God. John's vision on Patmos gives images and words to our own inner desire to find and worship the God who has made the heavens and earth and set the planets in their courses.

The response of those in God's midst mirror for us what our response is to be before this God above all gods who is sovereign of all. For they say and sing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” Their actions mirror our worship action of bowing before our God, "the elders fell down and worshiped."

I am mindful a power image that comes to my own mind of those good people who kneel in humility and poverty and who are invited to stand by God and to understand the power of this world which subverts their dignity has no authority over them any longer. I am also struck by the power of those with great wealth and power who are humbled by God and instead of standing which is their social right kneel before their maker.

Here is the topsy turvy world of the Gospel. Both actions and invitations are images of this God. Loader in his First Thoughts has a sense of this mixed imagery:

"The image of Jesus has a way of subverting such systems. Our passage is heavily influenced by the scene in Daniel 7:9-14) where a human figure, "one like a son of man", who represents and leads the people of Israel comes to the holy throne of God which is surrounded by countless hosts of angels, to receive a kingdom. Much of Revelation is a recycling of biblical motifs which come to us through the dreamlike images of the writer. In this case the one to receive a scroll from the God is announced first as the lion of Judah and the root of David (5:4-5), but enters the scene as a slain lamb. It is an extraordinary violation of the norms of power and dignity. The one most highly honoured is a lamb looking as if it had been been slaughtered - because it had been (5:6)! Something quite bizarre! The lamb receives the scroll whose seals control all that matters (5:7)."
Yes indeed, worthy is this lamb who humbles some and dignifies others, who invites some to stand and others to kneel.  Our God is both lion and lamb.  Our God is the beginning and the end.  Our God is our own beginning and our own end.  How will you approach the throne of grace this Sunday? On your knees or standing?

Some Thoughts on Acts 9:1-20

Resources for Sunday's First Lesson

We know from Paul's writing that he had a great experience at the hands of God. He had a conversion experience. We know that Paul has a huge influence on Luke/Acts. And, we also know that Luke is keen to show the continuation of the tradition of Israel in the new Christian community. Who better as an illustration than brother Paul.

Here is the problem with this passage and what we do with it. We either make it about persecution of the flock, and thereby a persecution of Christ. This allows us to be on the Christ side of things. It automatically places us on the inside and those who are on the outside not one of us. It further lets us off the hook for any bad behavior on our part. After all we are on the side of Jesus.

Second, we make this about conversion into something, that is the flock of Christ, a holy people of God. This further complicates things because it makes us special and those outside of our clan not special. It creates a situation where those who are converted are our true neighbor and those who are not converted are removed from neighborly status.

We may even make this passage about Ananias' witness and his acts of kindness towards Paul as an implied action for Christians. In other words we should be like Ananias. The problem with that is multi-dimensional. It is a problem because it reinforces that we are to be kind to those who are converted. It makes the Gospel about good behavior. And, finally, it reduces the acts of Ananias to kindnesses. 

Father Farrar Capon has a passage which relates to this very model I have described. In his book The Mystery of Christ, he writes, "...In building this theological model you’re also done something else. You have opened yourself to the idea that the church is the Fellowship of those who have the gift and that the rest of the world is just a crowd of outcasts who don’t have it. Even though you may go on saying in church that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, you are actually holding that he has taken away only the sins of the church. And from there, you are in danger of waltzing yourself into the position that the world at large is damned unless it joins the church, and that even the children of Christians will go to hell if they are not baptized – and so on and on, right into the theological house of horrors that all too many people actually thing is the household of faith." (p 25)
I think that in order to reclaim this passage from a churchly perspective or a perspective of morality, about good behavior, we must understand that Luke has told the story within the frame work of Jesus' teaching on the Samaritan. (Luke 10.25ff)  And, we must read as Jesus' intended with the passion at its center. So it is that Paul has been undertaking a war of passion on the followers of Jesu and upon Christ, he then undergoes his own passion - and resurrection (the being stricken and blinded), and so we see that Paul himself becomes not only an image of the man who fell among bandits but of Jesus himself. Here then we see that Ananias is not simply doing something nice as a neighbor. NO! Ananias enters into the passion of Paul. He crucifies his desire to hate and not to dismiss this enemy as outside the family of God but to embrace him. He crucifies his desire to do and be somewhere else but with this enemy of faith and instead inconveniences himself to go and be with Paul. Ananias must crucify all his understanding that God only choses good clean people as "instruments of his mission. Ananias must crucify his idea that following Jesus was only meant for the Jews and not for the gentiles - those who do not belong to the family of God and that the very enemy of the Christians was going to be the one to open wide the family of God to all people. He must crucify the idea that touching him and healing Paul will look bad in the eyes of his fellow community members. He must crucify the part inside of him that will not wish to care for Paul. And, yet Ananias cares for him until he regains his strength - further crucifying his convenience for the passion bearer. And, we are told that they eat together, a most intimate act. Ananias must crucify the idea of who can sit at table with him and who cannot. 

The story of the Paul and Ananias reveals that to be in relationship with the mystery of Christ is not to create some kind of churchly morality but instead to be with people in the midst of their passion and to experience with them the passion - in so doing we experience the passion of Jesus. We are living into the death of self, to the death of the world, and in living into the passion we discover Easter and resurrection. For in experiencing one another's passion new life is experienced by both Paul and Ananias.

A Sermon on the Conversion of Paul, Preached 2016 at Duke

We have an addiction, clergy and laity alike, an addiction to church, and consequently the persecution and disempowering of anything that does not resemble church
And, this addiction to Church means that we read (we cannot help but read) the scriptures through the lens of CHURCH

That structure, model, of Church that we have received

So it is we read everything through the eyes of a church, with a building, parking lot, deferred maintenance, regular attendance, budget, annual stewardship campaign, programs, and outreach – you know – church

Church has been stealing Jesus’ gospel for quite some time now, and making God’s invitation to conversion very difficult to hear

So it is that when we come to passages like we do today we place our selves (church) in the seat of those being persecuted

In this way we can be thankful we are not like Paul or his friends and that we are not frustrating the mission of God in Christ Jesus

When we do this, and we do it all the time, we miss the very difficult prophetic words of God to the religious leaders of the first century: Why are you persecuting my mission? It hurts me when you kick against the goads!

We the church, in our time, in our context, are not Paul post conversion but Paul pre conversion.

Here then there is much for us.

We hunger for the priestly power and authority.

We disempower any and all who would have us see a different way of being Christian community.

We smile and nod politely at the idea of new and different mission, in homes, in Laundromats, in bars, in restaurants and public space

We protect our pharisaical understanding of authorized spaces and liturgies

We are quick to explain how that isn’t really church

We disregard those who offer new paradigms for mission – for service and evangelism.

We are focused on our temples alone and their self-supporting economies.

We do not hang out with widows, orphans, sinners and the lost sheep but judge them.

We create spiritual yokes and heavy burdens suggesting everyone should become a new kind of monk or pilgrim.

We like our robes and parades, to be called father and teacher, and we are zealous for the teachings and traditions of our denominational ancestors.

And, God, like the woman and the lost coin, looks inside our churches and hunts with a bright light for the gospel, intended for God’s people, but now beneath some outdated furniture.

Oh how God will rejoice when the church – the body of Christ – once again remembers its vocation and leaves its buildings and goes out into the world.
When the church sees the bright light on its midday road

And, understands it is being sent to those unlike itself.

Sent by the spirit to bring good news to the poor

Sent to visit and help free the bound and imprisoned,

Sent to feed the hungry and lift off the burdens of this world and our old faith

To heal the blind and sick and care for the widow and orphan

To invite the brokenhearted to find hope

And the sinful to find forgiveness

To live and work hand in hand with the gentiles of our day.

To partner with them, learn from them, and perhaps even be converted by God through them
To see that it is no church of Jesus when it hides away behind doors seemingly locked to the world around it…

Oh, when the people who call themselves church, see the light and are found and remember their gospel work…oh how the old woman God will laugh and dance and call all the world to rejoice. And, say, look what was lost has been found.

Only here then do we then contemplate the post conversion mission of Paul.

Only after a time of healing and coming to see again, in a new way, does he go here and there and uphold a vision of Christ like community – completely unidentifiable from the old religion he once defended.

Here then we see the faithful follower turned apostle, the one who was a temple disciple re-oriented, turned apostle of faith, uncomfortably sent to those unlike himself.

Here then is a mission reinterpreted. Our scales drop from our eyes.

We are able to hear Jesus’ words from Matthew…there is something more here, greater here, than the temple.

We understand better our being sent by the holy spirit, our traveling light and dependence upon God and the grace and hospitality of others.

We are able to see that our call like Paul is to go and nurture the seeds of Christ already sown by God in a world hungry for the experience of transcendence.

We realize we are to use our relationships and the situations in which we find ourselves bound - to offer a vision of God’s love and the benefit of prayer, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

We are to interpret the gospel through the cultural symbols and metaphors we find in our very context. Like Paul and the unnamed God of the Athenians.

After all Paul didn’t go to Athens saying I have developed a theology about God, and have a great idea of how I can convert people, all I have to do is find a place with an unnamed God in which to practice what I have learned.

No, he looks around him and sees an idol and, rather than denounce it, uses it to proclaim the gospel.

He empowers others and sends them out.

He encourages house churches, and synagogue communities, and travels to plant, and sow, and tend, and weed, and feed the growing numbers of followers who claim God in Christ Jesus.

He battles against any who seek to worship idols, he withstands imprisonments, snake bites, and stormy seas. Paul’s tenacious mission is nothing less than undaunted courage.

Paul’s is indeed a conversion from temple protector to missionary tent maker.

As the religious leaders of our day God invites us to see and understand that we are being called to just such a conversion, called to stop frustrating the mission of Christ to the world.

God doesn’t need us to protect God’s mission or god’s self. God shines a light on our own sinful desire to ensure the long life of tearing temple curtains and beckons us come and go, be converted, remember your calling, stop kicking and start walking.

For upon seeing clearly, in the midday light, with the scales falling form our eyes, I believe the church can and will, like Paul, set aside disobedience and once again catch God’s heavenly vision.

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