Finding the Lessons

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent 2A December 4, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

The Kingdom was coming all right, he said, but if you thought it was going to be a pink tea, you'd
better think again. I f you didn't shape up, God would give you the ax like an elm with the blight or toss you into the incinerator like chaff. He said being a Jew wouldn't get you any more points than being a Hottentot, and one of his favorite ways of addressing his congregation was as a snake pit. Your only hope, he said, was to clean up your life as if your life depended on it, which it did, and get baptized in a hurry as a sign that you had.

"John the Baptist," Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures.

"Repentance, or metanoia, to use the Greek word, refers to far more than a simply being or saying one is sorry for past sins, far more than mere regret or remorse for such sins. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and the inauguration of a new one, in this case initialized by an act of baptism."


Commentary, Matthew 3:1-12, Ben Witherington, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"Repentance is a correlate of freedom. The tearing away that takes place in detachment is only possible because a deeper, more powerful and superior attachment has come: the attachment of faith, the grip of the kingdom."

The Matthean Advent Gospels, James Arne Nestingen, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1992.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

With righteousness you judge the poor, O steadfast and faithful God, and with justice you decide aright for the meek and lowly of the earth. Shatter the silence of Advent’s wilderness with the voice of the one who cries out to prepare your way and to make straight your paths that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance, lie in harmony with one another, and be gathered at last into the peaceable kingdom of your Christ who was, who is and who is to come.  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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 3:1-12
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

It is clear that in this passage set for today we have two pieces of important and foundational messages which add to our Advent work of preparation and are also signals of what the Gospel of Matthew is all about. On the one hand we have the expected “Brood of vipers” speech of John the Baptist to begin our season and call us into repentance. However, and I believe more importantly as we begin a reading cycle of Matthew we have an inauguration underway.

We begin with words that tell us that times are changing. The simple statement of “now in those days” is deeply rooted in the ancient psyche of storytelling within our scripture as an indicator that we are moving into a new time.

We are in a new play, we are in the desert, in the wilderness - an apt setting for an Advent message. More importantly we imagine the parallels with the ancient Abrahamic ancestors and their dessert/wilderness wanderings.

The message from this man is clear: repent.

Here we begin to see something important and uncomfortable emerge in the Gospel. Repentance is tied to the eschatological, our actions of changed mind (which is the literal Greek translation in this case) is very much a partnership with the coming reign of God. The kingdom of heaven is near and this act of repentance is a component of preparation.

We then receive the quotation from Isaiah. The voice and the wilderness here would have been powerful images in the minds of the listeners to John, and to the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel. This is a new time, we are in a new place with ancient meaning, we must act in accordance with the drawing near of the reign of God, AND it is a particular kind of reign. Our deliverance which is coming is the fulfillment of God’s prophetic words to the captives in Babylon. God’s promise is coming true in a new and revelatory manner which shows a link to God’s Word of the past with the incarnation which is at hand. The listeners could not but help hear the powerful words of the prophet Isaiah that are linked with John the Baptist’s quote:

Isaiah 40:2-5
2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
 These are words of great comfort and wisdom from a new Elijah. The clothes that he is wearing are clearly the clothes mentioned in the text from Malachi 3:1. This is not only a prophet with powerful words calling people to repentance, but he is also and must be promising great deliverance and hope for all those who feel trapped and consumed by their sin and brokenness.

Then our author, our narrator tells us that ALL were going out to him. This was powerful and a new time was coming a new emerging message and revelation. It was a time of renewal for the people and they wanted to be a part of this ritual. These first images of baptism are rooted in this hope for something new and for change. And it is clear in the text that this model of baptism is clear: the word is proclaimed, the individual is moved to change their way of being, they are baptized to mark this repentance and confession.

This was a powerful movement and the Gospel’s witness to the fact that John was a powerful actor and player in the politics and religious life surrounding Jesus’ own emergence.

We then add a second scene to our already meaty story of proclamation and repentance. It is here that we begin to see the architecture of Matthew’s story telling for we see that the narrator moves us quickly from the idea and the Word to action and then into community and community action.

John sees that some of the people (Pharisees and Sadducees) are coming for baptism are arriving and that perhaps they are seeking something other than true amendment of thinking and being that will lead to transformative action.

John and the Gospel are clear: your heritage does not save you, your fruit will reveal who you are. The scholar Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. writes: “The Pharisees and Sadducees are warned not to imagine that the mere ritual of baptism will preserve them from God’s wrath. Rather they must do the good deeds that are appropriate to genuine repentance in view of the coming kingdom…Belonging to the children of Abraham will not protect those who refuse to repent and do good works. There may be an allusion here to the rabbinic idea of the “merits of the fathers” according to which the righteousness of the patriarchs is charged to the account of Israel.” (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 56)

Now I want to be very careful here by identifying too much the Pharisees and Sadducees and to name and recognize the all too easy way Christian preachers scapegoat them and the anti-Semitism that is all too prevalent in our culture. When we make too much of them we miss the powerful message of the Gospel.

You and I are the ones to hear John the Baptist charge. We are the ones who must hear that perhaps we are about our religious life in a manner that must change. We are the ones who must look at the fruit of our faith and what it is or is not bringing about in our community. The question is not for someone else, but for us: Have we for too long stood on the shoulders of our ancient traditions and ancestry as Anglicans and Episcopalians? Are we bearing the fruit of the kingdom of God?

Are we as we sit in our pews on Sunday morning able to bring to the altar labors this week which were not simply prayers and offerings of our hearts but the glorious work of changing people’s lives?

You and I as we sit and ponder the words of John the Baptist can see that this Gospel of Matthew holds for us a clear message that we are to be at work in the world around us bearing fruit fitting our loving God’s reign. The proclamation of the word leads to transformation and repentance, which leads to real works of faith. Bearing fruit for the reign of God is not a ancillary to the life of faith but an essential component to healthy spirituality in the family of God. “Repentance and return to the Lord,” those words from our Baptismal Covenant are essential keystones in a life well lived with a God who reveals himself incarnationally. We must make real in our world – outside of ourselves - our hearts transformation.

Some Thoughts on Romans 15:4-13


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Paul begins this passage in verse one.  I think that is important because without it the words he writes are without context.  Paul is writing to the strong in faith and he is clear that not everyone is faithful, not everyone is in the same place. He says some people are in fact weak in their faith.  Regardless of what New Testament scholar you read you will quickly become aware that whole households (servants and family) were baptized when the leader of the household became baptized. This means that the early church was used to churches existing with many different kinds of people. They were all on a journey and many were at different places on that journey.  What Paul makes clear is that those who are strong in faith are to be hospitable and kind. The individual is to work for the greater cause in their neighbor and work for their success.  They are to be patient with those around them.  Even Christ, Paul reminds us, was accepting of others and well...put up with a lot.  These are the important words that come before our passage.

Just as we are to be strong for others and leaders, we are to remember that we too were given instruction.  We are upheld by the writings of the Old Testament and we are given in them a vision of hope. Just as God was faithful for our Abrahamic faith ancestors - God will be faithful to us.

The God we believe in is the same God.  God is faithful and steadfast, God encourages us, and gives us life. The life we are given by God is one meant to embrace neighbors and live in harmony with them.  We are to share the hope that is in us and share God's promises with them so that together we may become an ever new community.

We the faithful are to welcome others as Christ welcomed us.  Not by expecting perfection first but by truly opening ourselves up to be helpful to them in journey.  God in Christ Jesus did not do this but instead welcomed us and served us and even died on the cross for us.  Christ was faithful and loving to us to prove not only the truth of God's love but also in order to convince us of his grace.  We too are to do the same for others.  We confess, sing, and tell of god. We are to walk with our neighbors and help them as they grow to know this God. We like the first disciples who reached out to the Gentiles are to also find the other God fearers and and spiritual pilgrims of our day and walk with them.  

Paul concludes this part of the passage with a prayer that we will be filled with hope and joy in this work; for surely any other sentiments fail to glorify God and fail to attract others to his cause.  We shall surely fail if we do not have hope about our future and the future of our faith.  For who wishes to be attracted to hopelessness.











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