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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Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter 4C April 17, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"You are preaching this text to people who have known hard times, who have been afflicted by disease and lost loved ones, who have been addicted and known loss, who have not felt protected from loved ones who abuse or belittle them. This is the context into which we are called to bring the Gospel message of peace and grace."
Commentary, John 10:22-30 (Easter 4C), Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"The challenge for most mainline Christians is not following Jesus. We've been taught pretty well about that. The challenge for us is recognizing Jesus' voice."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 10:22-30, David Ewart, 2010.

"I want to suggest that the connection in this text on Good Shepherd Sunday, particularly for the clergy, is not that we are the shepherds, good, bad, or indifferent, but that we are among the sheep."
"Good Shepherd, Good Sheep," Peter J. Gomes, Currents in Theology and Mission, 2003.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Part of the great multitude no one can count, we gather O God, and attend to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Keep us safe in those arms from which no one can snatch us, that we may proclaim your word in peace until at last we stand before the Lamb, whith songs of praise on our lips. 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 10:22-30

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We arrive this Sunday at Good Shepherd Sunday, and are given a great theological and ecclesiological metaphor for our relationship with Jesus Christ.

At first glance, I am struck by a few things to help me discern how to preach and teach on Jesus’ words to the people in the Temple portico. Is the festival of the Dedication important in the story? How does this ritual tie into the teaching of Jesus at this moment? The children of Abraham-the Jews-want a straight answer about Jesus’ messiah-ship, what are they seeking to know? Why does Jesus say they are not his sheep? What does it mean to be a sheep of Jesus’? Are we one with God in our connection to the shepherd? Are there ecclesiological challenges posed by this that live themselves out in our liturgy and common life together?

So, let’s turn to the text. Is the festival of the Dedication important in the story? How does this ritual tie into the teaching of Jesus at this moment? This feast in the Jewish calendar is the feast of Hanukkah, which remembers the night in the midst of the Maccabean victories when Judas Maccabeus drove out the Syrians who had desecrated the altar. He then built a new altar and the feast remembers the consecration of that altar. It had come to symbolize a renewal of the people and their dedication. In some way the answer to my proposition may be that we recognize that as the Temple is being renewed, and the worshippers gathered being renewed, Jesus stands before them offering renewal of a different kind. Will they see that this is passing away as the “bride groom” stands in their midst--no need for an intermediary any longer?

I am reminded of Abram who journeys out from the land of Ur of the Chaldeans and along his way erects altars to God renewing his commitment to the God who had called him forth. In some way I wonder how Jesus, as the high priest who stands at his table Sunday after Sunday, offers an image and the very real opportunity for rededication to God, which an altar far away in a foreign land does not. The unique nature of Christian communities at worship is the presence, not of a priest, but of Christ. I will come back to this in a minute.

The children of Abraham, the Jews, want a straight answer about Jesus’ messiah-ship, what are they seeking to know? When they say they are in suspense, they literally mean “taking away our life” (R. Brown, John, vol. 1, 403). Raymond Brown suggests in his text that John is himself implying that in laying down Jesus’ life, he is taking something away from these people (403). There is a definite conflict building at this point in the Gospel narrative between Jesus and those who choose not to follow. I can imagine the anxiety building and the desire to be certain before choosing which path to follow that is before these good people who are trying to decide just what they are supposed to do as good religious people.

Why does Jesus say they are not his sheep? What does it mean to be a sheep of Jesus?

It is clear throughout the Gospel of John that those who do not bear witness to Christ are not followers of Christ; perhaps Jesus is saying no more or less than this? In the midst of this celebration of rededication one can imagine the juxtaposition of Jesus and his ministry as the Way and the renewal of a former way of worshiping and practicing one’s faith through life falling away.

Are we one with God in our connection to the shepherd? Jesus is clear that he is one with the Father, his ministry is given to him by the Father, and the sheep are his only through the Father.

Raymond Brown summarizes this passage well with these words:

To hear the voice of Jesus one must be “of God”, and “of the truth.” While this dualistic separation of Jesus’ audience into two groups is clearer in John than in the Synoptics, we should not that in Matthew 16:16-17 what enables Peter to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Son of God is the revelation Peter has from the Father. In Johannine terminology Peter and the other members of the Twelve are sheep given to Jesus by the Father, and so they hear his voice and know who he is. Those in John wo do not hear are like those in the Synoptics who hear the parables but do not understand…Jeremias [Joachim Jeremias, German Lutheran New Testament scholar and theologian] seems to do more justice to the whole – the community of his followers which after his death developed into the primitive Christian community (Acts 20:28-29; I Peter 5:3; I Clement 44:3, 56:2).

Are there ecclesiological challenges posed by this that live themselves out in our liturgy and common life together? We often get so focused on who is “in” and who is “out” in this passage we miss an important part of Jesus’ teaching, and an important part of theological history and ecclesiological life. It’s clear that those who follow Jesus follow him because-to use a modern term-his voice calling them by name resonates in their hearts. Out of the recognition that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, followers proclaim he is such, and shape their lives in keeping with Jesus’ ministry.

As we step into our worshiping communities on Sunday with Jesus’ words in our minds, we are conscience of the fact that we are all sheep under the one Shepherd. This is true. It is also true that, as Christians, we emulate and attempt to practice the faith of Christ and so we engage in the work of shepherding too.

If we take a liturgical example from the writings of the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, we see that Christ is the great high priest and is the celebrant of the Eucharistic feast in all places. The bishop is the primary symbol for the church of Christ’s presence at the altar. The priest is the regular symbol of the bishop and then of Christ at the altar. (I admit this is a far simpler and less aesthetically pleasing rehearsal of Zizioulas’ thoughts.)

I believe a similar symbology might be applied to the work of shepherding. Christ is the great Shepherd of the sheep. Christ models shepherding for us. The bishop is the chief symbol of Christ’s work as the head of the local community and shepherd of the sheep of a diocese. The priests in turn are the on the ground shepherds in the congregations. But I would add that the people are also shepherds, the baptized community who proclaims Jesus Christ is the symbol of the shepherd in the world.

We do a similar thing with the Body of Christ theology when we say we are the body of Christ in the world. What I am struggling to get to is the idea that all of us often get so caught up in being sheep we don’t realize that we are the everyday, hour by hour, shepherds sent into the world to gather in the others. We are the ones seeking the 1 in 99. We are to be the ones who share in the work of holding the sheep tight and safely when danger comes. We are the shepherds who cannot flee when the going gets rough. We are the gates most people find when they enter community.

Moreover, there are many sheep not yet gathered in. There are sheep not in this sheepfold. And, while they may not even know the shepherd's voice, he is none the less, shepherd of them.

Everyone who goes to church has the opportunity the rest of the week to take what is learned from the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, and to engage in the practice of shepherding Christ’s flock in the world - all of the flock. Caring alike for the found and the lost, those in deep valleys and those seeking green pastures.

Who are the shepherds and who are the sheep in this video of mission, ministry, and stewardship? Sheep and shepherds all?

As in the first century people are at times concerned about what will happen in the time of judgment.

The author of Revelation describes the scene of the end time using symbols filled with meaning for the first century Christian: God's throne, the lamb, patriarchs and prophets, and the lamb.

There will be catastrophes and calamities.

On the one hand the passage tells people if they are God fearers they will be ok, they are the elect - this will include both the Christians and the Jews. So, don't worry.

The world that is next is a world where there will be one great liturgy and people will worship God.

As you well know the book of Revelation was contested and had difficulty becoming part of the canon. This is because the author is using both images of the present day and is having a prophetic dream about what may come to pass.

The problems in my opinion far outweigh the gifts of the text for everyday life. It helps to continue to focus our attention on those who belong to the church vs the mission of the church. It creates an us vs them perspective. It can be used to justify violence and our own ideas about judgement.

It is a text of hope at the same time. It reminds us that evil and death will not triumph, God will in the end be victorious.

I think this is really the message of Revelation: the powers of this world, regardless if we are talking about ancient Rome or the powers of the world today - will not have the last word. God who spoke in the beginning will speak in the end. All will be drawn to him.

And, all the petty sins and all the great sins will be washed away in his presence.

I believe that if you can imagine the "next life" (as Barbara Cawthorne Crafton would say) where all of the petty and great sins of the world can stand in the presence of God, all the resentments carried into the presence of God...well then, you have created a God of your own imagining. I believe, nothing will have any power in the presence of God. Sins will be washed away. Powers of this world will be washed away. Death will be washed away. Evil will be washed away. Our own desire for self will be washed away. All shall be drawn into God. That is very hopeful indeed.

Some Thoughts on Acts 9:36-43

Resources for Sunday's Lesson

In our book of Acts we are following the apostle Peter. Jesus has sent the disciples out into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. They are going - this is the literal meaning of apostle. They are not locked in an upper room. They are on the road and out in the world. 

He is meeting people and healing people. He ends up visiting Joppa. Not unlike the ancient prophets, Jesus was seen in the story of the gospel of Luke in the great line of prophets healing the sick and raising the dead. So too the disciples carry on this ministry.  
Peter goes to Tabitha and raises her from the dead. This action leads many people to understand the power of faith in Christ Jesus. 

What is important here is that Peter is going into the world. He is engaging people who are considered unclean (a person who deals with animal skins for instance). He is touching the dead (which is forbidden). He is doing works of great power just as Jesus had invited them to do when he sent out the 12 and the 70 to do the work of God in and amongst the people.

We have claimed that we are to go out into the world, the great commission, sometimes though I wonder if we haven't simply gone out and then built buildings and turned inward facing. The passages from Acts during this season remind me that the society of the friends of Jesus were truly out and about with people. This was where the energy of the Christian movement was found in those days following the resurrection.

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