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.


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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Proper 18C / Ordinary 23C / Pentecost +16 September 4, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This passage offends against the values which most people hold dear."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary" Pentecost 16, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"On one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. It will cost us everything and we need to know the cost before 'jumping' in. On the other hand, Jesus may be making it impossible to be his disciple on our own abilities? When we confess, 'I can't,' then we are open for God's 'I can.'"

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have."

"Sharing Your Faith," "Onesimus," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

You have given us, O God, your only Son, our dearest treasure, and he has challenged us to give our all if we would be disciples. Let the extravagance of your gift call forth from us a love beyond cost or measure; let your Son’s self-sacrificing death urge us to carry our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. 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 Luke 14:25-33

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We find Jesus in the midst of a large crowd. Crowds now seem to be following him in every lesson. Jesus is pressing forward towards Jerusalem and preaching a prophetic message of what it means to follow him.  Along the way he is doing deeds of power.

We have just finished the wedding banquet parable. Again, as in last Sunday’s lesson we are challenged not to seek our own place at the table, but rather after having been welcomed and invited to the higher seat, Jesus is challenging us to be host in the reign of God.

The crowds mentioned in this gospel are the poor and a mixed company of people following Jesus' band and merchants selling their wares, all accompanied by the poor and those who are begging for alms.

Jesus speaks clearly about the nature of discipleship. When one embarks on discipleship and chooses to participate in building up the reign of God, restoring the world, changing lives, ministering to the outcasts, one is becoming a dividing presence. When we choose to undertake the outlandish and over the top mission of helping Jesus transform the world through evangelism, mission, and outreach we will automatically begin to feel the pressure of being different.

Surely, we know this to be true as the first disciples and followers of Jesus found themselves in divided households. Jesus’ mission is unity! But there is a cross to be carried for striving for the such a unified kingdom.

When Jesus says we need to consider the cost to one’s own life, literally he means one’s own soul. We are to bear our own cross. We must personally accept our role as followers, personally count the cost (as in the tower builder) and set off on the journey.

As we near Jerusalem Jesus is challenging us to follow, but be clear and honest with your self about the cost of this journey.

Luke Timothy Johnson ends his review of this passage with a very clear picture of this Gospel passage:

The parable of the banquet and the demands of discipleship together make the same point: the call of God issued by the prophet must relativize all other claims on life. The parable shows how entanglement with persons and things can in effect be a refusal of the invitation. The demands make clear that the choice for discipleship demands precisely the choice against a complete involvement in possessions or people. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this. But as the final saying on salt suggests, any mode of discipleship that tries to do both things, tries to be defined both by possessions and by the prophet’s call, will be like salt without savor, fit for nothing much. “It is tossed out.” (Luke, 233)

I cannot reflect on this passage without wondering: what are the financial and spiritual issues that we as a church spend our time on that keep us from the work of mission and evangelism? Have we gotten so tied to our own stuff that we are seeing our participation in the kingdom work slip away? Are we really ready to put down the saber aimed at one another for the sake of the Gospel? We have become so accustomed to transferring and projecting our individual angst and political agendas at one another we are missing Christ passing through our community offering us the opportunity to follow?

I think there is an even more personal question we must ask? Are we as individuals who minister on behalf of Christ spending our time on kingdom work?

This will be a challenging week for preachers. Yet it is a time to raise our heads and our voices, to pick up our personal cross (instead of showing others what cross they should be bearing) and follow Jesus.

Some Thoughts on Philemon 1-21

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

So let me simply begin by saying that given our American history of slavery that things would have been made a whole lot easier for Christians if Paul had not send brother Philemon back.  But he does.  And, the church leaders of the first to the third centuries did not wrestle with slavery like we did and they gave not thought to the inclusion of this text in our bible.  That all being said, I wonder is there anything redeeming here in this text?  Is it even possible for Americans to read the text and find a bit of good news?  I believe so.  However, to do so we must clearly state that there is a "shadow" side to the text; one in which humanity in its sinfulness has used to defend its right to exploit and dehumanize others.

George D. Armstrong defended slavery and wrote in 1857: Paul sent back a fugitive slave, after the slave’s hopeful conversion, to his Christian master again, and assigns as his reason for so doing that master’s right to the services of his slave. A Presbyterian minister and graduate of Princeton he wrote a document entitled: The Christian Doctrine of Slavery.

What is important and interesting though is that Albert Barnes, a noted theologian and supporter of the abolitionist movement used Philemon in this way:  The principles laid down in the epistle to Philemon…would lead to the universal abolition of slavery. If all those who are now slaves were to become Christians, and their masters were to treat them ‘not as slaves, but as brethren,’ the period would not be far distant when slavery would cease. In his famous 1852 oratory, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", Frederick Douglass quoted Barnes as saying: "There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it." (Corinthian Hall, Rochester. July 5, 1852)  Albert Barnes was also a Presbyterian and he taught theology at Princeton.  

Barnes like many others found redeeming qualities in this text and I believe they are worth a measure of our consideration.

If we are to understand the text we must be clear about Paul's overarching understanding of the Gospel.  Paul believes that Jesus has come to liberate us so that we may practice a Christian liberty.  Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans makes this clear.  Paul believes we are bound by sin and that Christ has freed us that we may free others in his name.  It is Christ's faithfulness and Christ's death that are the liberating action which free us from a law which cannot possibly be sustained.  Instead we are in bondage under the law and sin will lead to death. But because of the faithfulness of Christ and his sacrifice we are given grace and are redeemed from the burden of the law and we are set free and liberated to act in a new way as sons and daughters of God.  In turn we are bound to love one another.  We are to be slaves to one another in love. (Gal 5:13ff)  Christ's law is one of love in which we are bound to him and to one another.  

So it is that Paul writes and tells Philemon he has heard that he too is one who loves from obedience to Christ's law.  

Paul writes,  "I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love..." (Phil 1.5ff)

Paul then says that he is bold enough to call Philemon to do his duty which would be to let his brother Onesimus come and serve Paul.  But Paul chooses to appeal to him as a brother who is also bound to this love.  Onesimus is not to be a slave any longer, even though Paul is sending him back to Philemon, instead he is to be Philemon's brother.  Philemon is to release Onesimus from bondage because Philemon is a Christian and is a follower of the Christ who frees all those who are enslaved.  Paul asks Philemon to do this, to give Onesimus and Paul this benefit.  He asks him to do it out of Philemon's obedience to Christ.  Paul concludes by reminding Philemon that all followers of Christ are slaves to Christ, are bound to Christ, not in a spirit of legal servitude but in a spirit of liberating love.

Reading the text with eyes to see Paul's gospel message changes everything.  Jesus has freed us all and in following him we are at liberty to free others.  

Perhaps this Sunday we might do a little freeing of Philemon from its poor reputation.  Maybe we might redeem it by remembering how the abolitionist used the text.  Maybe someone might hear a little grace and be set free from those things that bind them.  That may, in the end, be most of what people are looking for...a little bit of freedom.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 18:1-11

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text

Resources for Sunday's Old Testament

Here this Sunday we have the great image of God as potter and the people of Israel as God's special clay. Jeremiah speaks out:

2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Jeremiah is clear that the people's deliverance from the onslaught that is before them is completely in their hands. God will either allow or not allow the calamity but it is specifically based upon their own actions. If they continue to ignore the poor among them, if they continue to heap up religious taxes and regulations upon the people, then the nation of Israel itself shall have to fall in order to be remade.

Again, Jeremiah writes:
7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
Jeremiah is thus sent to the people to tell them that like a potter who may have to begin again God is pondering not standing in the way of the invading Assyrian armies that even now stand at their gates. Reminiscent of Abraham who leads the the people be given a second chance, God himself says repent and turn from your evil ways and there may yet be hope for this pot. 

For Jeremiah, God is a God of grace who deeply wishes to spare the hand of defeat and to see a people who remember their God and his deliverance, and who do the just and righteous work of caring for the least and lost. But if they do not then calamity awaits, and a second version of the pot will have to be remade. 

In some ways the message is clear for us today too. Until we accept our fallenness and our brokenness God cannot remake us. As long as we continue to pretend our cisterns and pots and plates will be cracked, chipped, and broken. The truth is they already are and are deeply in need of remolding. The problem is our hard headed and stiff necked determination to believe that we are just fine and can do all of this without any help from God - thank you very much. Even now our defeat is clear, our death is immanent, we just refuse to see it. Yet God waits, god stays his hands, the temple of our self perpetuating religion and house of self-worship will come tumbling down, and then there shall be Jeremiah's God ready to rebuild, remake and remold us. 

The falling is always our own. The suffering is always brought on by our sin sick ways. But our resurrection, rebirth, and remaking is God's. It has always been so it will always be so. God is the one who raised Jesus after first raising Israel out of Egypt and will in the end be the one who raises us.

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