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 also can simply search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.

Enjoy.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2 B, January 4, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"For an alternative approach, rather than helping our hearers to see the light of Christ shining in the darkness, preachers might help them to hear Jesus as God’s love song, singing life into the world’s babble, chaos, and voices of death."

Commentary, John 1:1-14, Craig a. Satterlee, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The gospel message does not go forward without witnesses like John, and one of the tasks in this sermon is to help show what it looks like to point our fingers towards Jesus. In the age of talk of missional churches, how does that work out practically? How can we point towards Jesus in mission in such a way that others come to know him and come to know and love God?"

Commentary, John 1:(1-9), 10-18 (Christmas 2), Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.



"It would be truly horrendous to be in the hands of an all-intrusive God who never left us alone, and who, when it came time to send his messiah, sent one who ruled the earth like some heavenly Mussolini. In the very unobtrusiveness of the light of Christ, God honors our finite freedom."
"Penetrating the Darkness," Ronald Goetz, The Christian Century, 1988. AtReligion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

May we welcome this mystery of your love and thus delight in the joy that will be ours as children and heirs of your kingdom. 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 1:1-18

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I like how Raymond E. Brown approaches this text. There is first the Word with God (1-2). The opening verses of this Christ hymn used to frame an entrance into the Johannine Gospel is brief and it is completely, or I should say “seemingly”, uninterested in a metaphysical conversation about the nature of God. It is however very clear that Salvation history begins with the relationship between God, revealed through the living Word, and Man. Quite simply God reveals God-self to us in the work of creation – and by John’s usage here; creation also reveals something about the salvation of man as well. Creation is by its very nature a revealing act. (John, vol. 1, 23, 24)

Secondly there is the Word and Creation. “All creation bears the stamp of God’s Word,” Brown writes. (Brown, 25) Here we see the author reflecting and re-imagining the opening lines of Genesis. We can see that what is clearly of importance is that creation itself existed primarily for the glory of God and the revelation of who God is. The problem is that the creation is broken; it does not fulfill its purpose as God intended. It is not a sustainable creation. Instead it is one where there is a constant battle to supplant the power and revelation of God. We can return to the creation story in Genesis, certainly this seems on the author’s mind. However, it is not really that hard or difficult to see and imagine as we read the paper or watch television how humanity has created a non-sustainable kingdom for ourselves, and that we wrestle for power with God placing our needs above creations explicit purpose to glorify God.

The third portion of our Gospel selection is the portion where we are re-introduced to John the Baptist. I say reintroduced, because we spend several Sunday’s reading passages from Matthew that dealt with him and his ministry. Yet here we get a slightly different attempt to speak about how John responded to the living Word, the Light in the world. How he was clearly not the one everybody was looking for, but that he dutifully gave witness to the revelation of God. Moreover, that John the Baptist called everyone to a time of preparation and repentance for the light itself, the living Word was entering the world.

We come to the final and fourth portion of our reading and we return to the relationship between God and humanity; specifically in how the community of God (God’s people) responds to the living Word. God is dwelling with his people. He has made a “tent”, he is incarnated, and he is present within the community. (Brown, 35) The images here in this last section return not to Genesis but play on our remembrances of the Exodus and the idea that God came and dwelt among the people as they made their way in the wilderness. Here too is an expressed intimacy between God and people. God is not simply outside, having wound the clock tight and is now letting it run. On the contrary just as God was intimately involved with creation and the people of Israel, God also is involved in the new community post resurrection. God has come and is dwelling with the people in wisdom and in truth. God in the living Word is making community within God’s tent and is revealing himself and the purpose of creation to all those who would call him by name: Jesus.


Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:1-14




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"That vision of Christ is then a vision for the church and the whole world. It already shows itself where barriers and prejudice are broken down. The 'you, too' is part of the realisation of the vision."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The infusion of God's goodness and the calling in Christ do not serve the purpose of proclaiming human triumphalism. The infusion of God's good work serves the purpose of proclaiming God's goodness, which ultimately benefits humanity."

Commentary, Ephesians 1:3-14, Kyle Fever, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Ephesians is about the Glory of God and the glorification of God.  The reality is that God reaches out across the cosmos and enters our lives and becomes one of us and then even provides a path by which we may become sons and daughters of God.  This is an amazing reality and as such we recognize that the greatest form of response is the glorification of God. In Ephesians this is the first response to God's might act of deliverance. We are to glorify God and our speech and living word is to glorify God.

God has been about this work for a long time and before time.  God's love is working its purpose out and the coming and incarnation of Christ is part of the manifestation of that love in creation.  Christ's work is to be complete and that is the salvation and reconciliation of the world.  HOWEVER, this is not for humanity or for the sake of humanity. Ephesians seems very intent on insuring that we understand that God is about God's business and God's business flows from the relationship of Christ and Father and from before time.  God's love is at work for the purpose of helping us to do the first thing: glorifying God.

All of this reveals to us the reality of God's heart and longing for humanity.  It reveals God's pleasure in the work of Christ. So we labor together for this work and we celebrate the revelation of God.

God's work is not over though.  This began in the past and continues in the present and future.  God continues to reveal God's self and God's intentions.  God is even now pouring more grace into the world and is about the work of reconciling all people to God's self.  The Church, the community which follows Jesus, attempts to listen to that grace, be a witness to it, and work in tandem to bring all things into union with God.

This is truly a lovely passage and one of my favorites as I believe it reveals the holy trinity at its best!





Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 1 B, December 28th, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


(Simeon nimmt Christus in seine Arme, Quelle: www.heiligenlexikon.de)  
 "Notice, Simeon wasn?t looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"

"The Consolation of Israel," Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach. "Focus on scripture from a justice perspective." Exegesis, study, and teen study and activities.

"Jesus will be the cause of many rising and falling in Israel -- he will be both the stone upon which some stumble and the stone of salvation (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6-8). In any case, Luke's account certainly gives credence to Paul's claim. The dedication of Jesus to God at the temple sets Jesus on the way to his work of redemption."

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Stephen Hultgren, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer


God of the covenant, looking graciously upon their faith, you brought Abraham joy and Sarah laughter int he birth of the their child and in the beginning s of a family countless as the stars of heaven. With Simeon and Anna, with Mary and Joseph, our eyes have seen your salvation, and we hold it in our hands.  Fill us with wisdom to trust your promises, and let your gracious favor rest on this family you have gathered.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 2:22-40

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This day brings our holiday season to an end. The most brave of all will come out on Sunday, January 1st, to celebrate the new year in church. Perhaps this will be a double low church whammy. It is both the Sunday after Christmas and it is also New Years Day.

In contrast to Mary in the Gospel written by Luke we have Simeon who is a faithful, righteous, and patient man. A pious man he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died.

Mary and Joseph bring their son to the Temple for circumcision as per their custom.

It is in the midst of this familial tradition that we see another revelation of who Jesus is and is to be.

In this moment Jesus is the Messiah for Simeon. He proclaims him so. Going on to reveal that he is the the one he has been waiting for, but that he is also the savior of Israel and of all the peoples of the earth.

In the back of our minds we must be aware of how Luke tells the story. At once we know he is to be rejected in this first volume; while accepted in Acts. Likewise within the Gospel narrative we see that some people will accept and welcome him others will reject him. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 57)

Simeon and Anna are people who welcome the savior.

One week has past. A season is over and a new one is beginning. As we make our way through the Christmas lessons and then the Epiphany lessons I believe that we have an opportunity to refocus ourselves on living out the Gospel.

On this day perhaps it would be good for us to consider how we are welcoming God into our midst. How are we welcoming God into the midst of our lives? Are we making room for him? How are we welcoming others into our communities? Are we making room to see the face of Christ in others? Are we doing this in the church and on the streets? I love Goebel's quote above; a very good internalization of this morning's Gospel:
"Notice, Simeon wasn't looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"
On a day when we begin our New Year's resolution it is a good time for us to rethink our work as individuals who make room for Jesus Christ in our lives and in our communities. What would happen if we as clergy made a resolution for our selves. What would happen if we encouraged others to do so? What if our church's made resolutions? What would they be? To be more like Simeon, Anna, the faithful family? To wirte a rule of life? To launch an intentional ministry of welcoming? To redouble our study and engagement with the bible?

In such rules of life, and resolutions, perhaps we will in the end find some liberation - some freedom. In living a life that proclaims and lives out the promise of Jesus as Messiah perhaps in fact the whole world might experience what it means to come within the reach of his saving embrace. Just maybe if we were to keep our resolutions, just maybe, people around us might have the same expeience as Simeon.

Some Thoughts on Galatians 4:4-7




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"So insidious is Sin that even the good gifts of God, like the Law (Galations 3:21) or even the gospel, can be easily misused."


Commentary, Galatians 4:4-7, Erik Heen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

"The Spirit that God pours into all our hearts is a Spirit of compassion. It is a Spirit that embraces us and makes us a part of a family defined by God's love. It is that compassion that gives us our meaning and purpose in this life."

"Love Came Down," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.


The theologian Robert Farrar Capon in his book on parables (Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, 2002) offers that God in Christ comes to us in the incarnation as both our savior and judge. But his action of redemption and reconciliation is one of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. He judges with love and so we are presented to God through the eyes of our beloved Jesus. It is the eyes of his heart which redeem us.  

Capon though also says that it is our renunciation and rejection of this coming which judges us guilty. It is our rejection of the spirit of God in our hearts, it is our rejection of our forgiveness, and the rejection of Jesus AND our focus upon the law which in the end finds us guilty. 

Paul in Galatians is offering a vision of God who comes and blesses and redeems us. Jesus undoes the power of the law over us. Jesus enables us to be God's children. We are no longer slaves to the law. This is our new reality.

However, the truth is the longer we live focusing upon the law and our own failure and the failure of others - the longer we struggle outside the family. Our message is clear God loves. God forgives. God invites us. In this season of incarnation may we offer a message that does the same and enables us to live in the grace which has come into the world. 

Our deliverance is real. May we live it.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Day B, December 25, 2014

"The fourth gospel is all about the community indwelling with each other and with God. It is not about the individual's appropriation of Jesus, but rather God's appropriation of humanity through Christ and how God lives in the greatest intimacy with his followers. All through the gospel the words are plural, not singular."
Lectionary Blogging, John 1:1-18, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2010.

Prayer

In this most gentle dawn, O good and most gracious God, we have hastened to behold the wonder that has taken place, for the goodness and loving kindness of our Savior has appeared.  Give us words inspired enough to make known the mercy that has touched our lives, deeds loving enough to bear witness to the treasure you have bestowed, and hearts simple enough to ponder the mystery of your gracious and abiding love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. 

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 1:1-18


Christmas morning this year falls on a Sunday. The brave and faithful will sneak out of their homes before gifts, some with children in hand, to hear the story of how God became man.


I like how Raymond E. Brown approaches this text offering a vision that if John is the most beautiful of New Testament texts then the prologue must assuredly be the pearl within the Gospel.  This is the reading for Christmas day.

Brown is clear...there is first the relationship between the Word that is with God (vs 1-2). The opening verses of this Christ hymn used to frame an entrance into the Johannine Gospel is brief and it is completely, or I should say “seemingly”, uninterested in a metaphysical conversation about the nature of God. It is however very clear that Salvation history begins with the relationship between God, revealed through the living Word, and Man. Quite simply God reveals God's-self to us in the work of creation – and by John’s usage here; creation also reveals something about the salvation of man as well. Creation is by its very nature a revealing act. (John, vol. 1, 23, 24)

Secondly we have in the prologue the relationship between the Word and Creation. “All creation bears the stamp of God’s Word,” Brown writes. (Brown, 25) Here we see the author of John reflecting and re-imagining the opening lines of Genesis. We can see that what is clearly of importance is that creation itself existed primarily for the glory of God and the revelation of who God is. The problem is that the creation is broken; it does not fulfill its purpose as God intended. It is not a sustainable creation. Instead it is one where there is a constant battle to supplant the power and revelation of God. We can return to the creation story in Genesis to see this played out as an eternal truth, certainly this seems on John's mind. However, it is not really that hard or difficult to see and imagine as we read the paper or watch television how humanity has created a non-sustainable kingdom for ourselves, and that we wrestle for power with God placing our needs above creations explicit purpose to glorify God.

We might even reflect on how quickly all of the Christmas season's preparations are quickly consumed! How many minutes did it take?

The third portion of our Gospel selection is the portion where we are re-introduced to John the Baptist. I say reintroduced, because we spend several Sunday’s reading passages from Mark and John recently that dealt with him and his ministry. Yet here we get a slightly different attempt to speak about how John responded to the living Word, the Light in the world. How he was clearly not the one everybody was looking for, but how he dutifully gave witness to the revelation of God. Moreover, that John the Baptist called everyone to a time of preparation and repentance for the light itself, the living Word was entering the world.

We come to the final and fourth portion of our reading and we return to the relationship between God and humanity; specifically in how the community of God (God’s people) respond to the living Word. God is dwelling with his people. He has made a “tent”, he is incarnated, and he is present within the community. (Brown, 35) The images here in this last section return not to Genesis but play on our remembrances of the Exodus and the idea that God came and dwelt among the people as they made their way in the wilderness.  I am reminded of Habakuk who mans his station in order to have a vision of God, or Naham who retells the story of how God dwelled with Abraham, and now dwells in the Temple.  God has returned over and over again to be with his people. Now in the story of Mary we discover that God has come not only to dwell with his people, but to dwell as a person.

 Here is an expressed intimacy between God and people. God is not simply outside, having wound the clock tight and is now letting it run. On the contrary just as God was intimately involved with creation and the people of Israel, God also is involved in the new community post resurrection. God has come and is dwelling with the people in wisdom and in truth. God in the living Word is making community within God’s tent and is revealing himself and the purpose of creation to all those who would call him by name: Jesus.

I have found over the years that the Christmas morning service is perhaps one of the most intimate of services in the christian year.  Holy, and present is the living Word. I hope you as you preach and offer a vision of Sunday worship post our evening celebrations of God incarnate remind people of the incredibly intimate God we worship and how the God news of God dwelling with us is truly Good News. News that all creation is groaning to comprehend and embrace.  As Christians and as Episcopalians gathered together in the early morning hours of Christmas day, it is a message of comfort and joy that draws us closer to God and closer to one another.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Eve B

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Ask any parent or grandparent about the birth of a new baby and they typically can describe the event in great detail."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"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, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"In moments of our own deeper truth we can also find ourselves facing our raw humanity, facing our own poverty, stripped of our shining garments and clad in just the basics. Then the angels are there for us."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages from the Lectionary," Christmas Day, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Shaped by your hand, O God of all the generations we are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem, a land you marry and a people in whom you delight.  With Sarah and Tamar, with Rahab and Ruth, with all of our ancestors, sinners and saints, from Abraham and David to Joseph and Mary, we praise your steadfast Love and sing your faithful covenant.  make us a people firm to trust in your promises and quick to do your will.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 2:1-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Across the world on Christmas Eve and Day we shall sit huddled shoulder to shoulder singing carols and Hymns to God. Our children will be eager for gift-giving and sweets; all the while learning the enduring quality of patience. Adults will be gathered, filled with memories and hope for what might be. In the midst of messy family lives and longing for salvation, we shall gather. What I know is that on Christmas when our voices are united in praise of a God who chooses us, regardless of our circumstance, our hearts will be warmed.

We shall gather and we shall retell our sacred Christmas story in which God chooses Mary and Joseph. They were two homeless and poor individuals, forced to wander far from home because of an authority whose rule controlled their lives. With children and parents gathered around we tell the story that Jesus was brought into the world in a manger; in the midst of shepherds. All of this we remind ourselves foreshadows his inheritance to live among the poor and have no place for his head.

Yet it is neither his surroundings nor his lot in life as the son of a poor carpenter that makes our Christmas story special. On the contrary, we speak an ancient and holy truth: Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel, Lord, and Messiah. It is the angel’s words proclaimed to the shepherds that we ourselves echo on this holy of holy days.

We celebrate a living Word birthed into a particularly difficult and hard world. We celebrate light birthed into darkness. We proclaim wisdom birthed into longing. We proclaim glory in the mundane.

It is true that we will all come together as a Christian family celebrating in our own ways the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. We will find him in the midst of our holy worship. However, the Christmas message is clear, the incarnation of God is more than likely best experienced in the world around us.

“Let us go and see” is the shepherd’s cry. So let us, like them, leave our hallowed service and go and see the Christ Child present in the lives of families and friends. May we be buoyed by our mutual joy and hope. Let us with confidence proclaim that God has chosen us, his lowly people, in which to be seen and discovered.

May this season move us to realize the opportunity we have to witness to the Christ Child in the world. Let us offer hope where there is despair, faith where there is doubt, pardon where there is injury, and joy where there is sadness. Let us give food to those who hunger and warmth to those who are cold. Let us love the world into a just society. And let us redefine our neighbor as our family.

My hope for you and your family is a blessed and Holy Christmas. I wish you the greatest measure of peace and joy in the company of friends. May we with one united voice proclaim God in Christ Jesus to a world that even still groans with a longing heart for a savior. Merry Christmas.

Some Thoughts on Titus 2:11-14




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Living zealously, wisely, righteously, godly, and expectantly may, in some situations, appear as gentleness and align with the general mores of the wider society. At other times, however, that way of life may manifest as boldness and challenge to the narrative of the good life the present culture embraces."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Our gift back to God is an expression of our distinctive character as individuals located in a particular time and place. Drawing upon the best we have to offer, we live a new world into being."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

The pastoral letters, of which Titus is one, are encouraging notes which help us to ponder the life lived as Christians. This is has been their use for many ages and is still true today. 

God comes into the world in order to enable us to live not to ourselves but to God. We are redirected by the incarnation to work and be at work on God's behalf in the world. As Jesus came to glorify God and to do so through the work of reconciliation - we too then are called to glorify God through the work of reconciliation brought about by living a life of grace. 

The letter to Titus calls us to look away from the values of culture and to find our direction and life in the work of God and God's hope. 

Just as God has given himself to us we are to, in-turn, give ourselves to God.

On this high holy Christmas day we should be mindful that the incarnation itself is this act of giving and the invitation is not only to receive the gift but to return the gift. 

I recently came across this poem/prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson for saying on Christmas Day. It is on my mind as I think of the encouragement and invitation to respond found in Titus. It is worth repeating here: 

"Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent 4B

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is no small thing to be regarded, to be favored, especially when you are exceedingly aware that you should not be."

Commentary, Luke 1:26-38, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"It's an incredible thing to be noticed, to be called favored, to be invited into meaning work. This is the gift we can give our people this week, Working Preacher."

"Favored Ones," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.


We may call the Annunciation a “joyful” mystery, but surely the experience was a mixed one for Mary herself. I believe that saying “yes” to God did indeed bring joy to Mary, but that “yes” was also the beginning of terrible responsibility and heartache for her, heartache that would extend all the way to Calvary. In the meantime, she had all of the usual anxieties of the unexpectedly pregnant (and then some). Through all the uncertainty, in the face of every overwhelming obstacle, she was able to trust that God loved and guided her, whether she sensed God’s presence or not.

Certainly this isn’t the only or the best way to interpret the Annunciation. Nevertheless, it was the version I needed that day.

Waiting For God by Elizabeth Desimone


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Great and merciful God, from among this world's lowly and humble you choose your servants and call them to work with you to fulfill your loving plan of salvation.  By the power of your Spirit, make your church fertile and fruitful, that, imitating the obedient faith of Mary, the church may welcome your word of life and so become the joyful mother of countless offspring, a great and holy posterity of children destined for undying life.  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.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 1:26-38

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Are we confused? So what is the meaning of Advent and Christmas? As we wait we might ponder and think about the meaning of our life and the life of those closest to us. If we stop for a moment we might look and around and ask what are we doing and for what are we making this great effort? If the bumper sticker wisdom is true and Jesus is the reason for the season we might pause on this Sunday and ask ourselves do our actions tell that story or a different story?

For many people life is simply moving along. We are getting by. We are making our way towards another Christmas. The anxieties about family and being together are growing. Perhaps financial stress and strain is pulling on our souls. We are ramping up and we are wondering is this or that really important?

We are going to Christmas parties and making the rounds and something in the midst of those conversations and relationships may actually seem more real, more worthwhile, than the rest of the business of the season. More people are in church and more people are thinking and wondering as well as wandering quietly about life.

We are confused. It is in fact a confusing time of year with competing messages. It is a confusing time economically. It is a confusing time as people look to the past and then forward into the future. We are a bit confused and we are hoping someone might offer some good news.

I think that is what we are waiting for...a little bit of good news. We are waiting for a little direction. On this Sunday as the fervor is building I believe people are hoping our preachers will some how give us some wisdom, some direction, perhaps interpret what we are experiencing and what it all means.

Mary was confused to be sure. Luke Timothy Johnson translates Mary's response to the angel's words as "utterly confused." (Luke, p 38) At the same time it is likely that all those who heard this story were not confused but rather expected it to be so; this is the way great births happen. This is true in other parts of scripture and it was true in the writings and story telling of Jesus' own day. We might look at the birth of Samson in Judges 13:2-7 as an example of such writings. (38)

Mary is a woman with no special position within the body of faithful people like most of us. Mary is not a particularly righteous person (according to Luke); she is not known and a pious woman but rather an ordinary citizen like most of us. "She is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence." (Luke Timothy Johnson; Luke, 39) She actually is of very little value at all. I think that is actually how most people feel about themselves.

In a society which has more, spends more, consumes more, and prides itself on liberty, freedom, and happiness, we are today a body of individuals who feel pretty miserable, imprisoned by our stuff, and of very little value. I think that is why there is so much unrest in our culture. We are confused about our place in the world; our place in relationship to one another. In this world there are those who are poor in spirit and poor in individual wealth. While most Americans may not be the latter we are more often than not poor in spirit. And, in that recognition we discover how much we need one another and how much we are bonded to those who in this holiday season will go without.

It is to Mary, and to humanity, that God comes and gives grace. God gives grace and favor to all people in this moment of annunciation. God conceives in the world grace and love incarnate.

Unlike Zechariah who demands proof of this coming Christ, Mary simply wants to be less confused. She just wants to know, in a simple way, how can this be? How is it that such a simple person with no seeming value can be a bearer of God's grace and favor in the world?

After all that may be the question for which we are all seeking the answer.

Such a simple question and we seem so adrift. I think this is the great travesty in our church, that we may have forgotten the answer to this question. We in our church have forgotten that everyone, ALL people, those like us, those unlike us, those we agree with, those we don't agree with, those who worship like us, those who do not worship like us, those with money and those without money...ALL people are created in such a way that through God's power (and God's power alone) we are vessels of grace in the world.

In a world where reputations, wealth, and personal identity are more often than not built upon tearing others down we desperately need to be reminded of this simple truth - god chooses Mary particularly and in so doing God chooses all of us.

We in the mainline denominations in this world have spent a lot of time making clear who the righteous and who the righteous are not. We have chosen to use our pulpits publicly to require proof of people's righteousness. And, we have chastised used our power to make others feel bad about themselves. I believe that preachers (both liberal and conservative) do this. And, in so doing what has happened is that the rest of the plebes sancti dei (the sacred people of God) have born witness and are left wondering if they too may not be good enough. Who is? We have echoed consumerism's maxim that we are not worthy enough alone we must need something else to make us special. We have translated right belief (whatever you define that as) to be the status criteria for all believers; and in the end we have preached the leaving out of one another from God's embrace.

When we make Mary out to be anything other than the poor, culturally worthless, outsider she is - we distill a message that is not good news at all.

This Sunday, across the globe, Episcopalian and Anglican preachers will stand in pulpits and in front of their congregations and look into the eyes of virtually every kind of person that God has created. And, we have a moment. Sure some will preach for 8 minutes others longer, but in that sermon there will be but one moment in which we have an opportunity to offer God's people an answer to the questions and concerns they bring with them and set before God and God's church. They are asking, they are wondering, is it possible...is it just possible... that God's grace and favor if meant for the likes of Mary is meant for me? Overwhelmingly the answer must be a loud cry of "YES."

May we have the courage to look our people in the eye and see their hearts and speak to them and to say: "Yes, you are chosen like Mary, and God's Holy Spirit is upon you, and you are of value to God, for in you and through you God has chosen to make his Grace, favor, and love known in this world. Yes, you are the one. You have been chosen."


Some Thoughts on Romans 16:25-27




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"The image of God has been restored and believers now live in that image, witnessing and inviting all into this covenantal relationship."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"This passage places the incarnation, which we will shortly celebrate, in the broad arena of God's never ending, always existent desire for humanity to live in peace. The reconciliation that is offered in the gospel is the reconciliation to what humanity was created to be."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"... 'obedience of faith' ... suggests rather an ongoing relationship which includes involvement in God's life and compassion reaching out into the world."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Advent 4," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

The passage for today is the doxology for the letter to the Romans and is a routine way Paul brings his correspondence to an end - in accordance with the custom of the day.

It is a blessing and a kind of proclamation from which we have insight into Paul's understanding of his work - and perhaps our own. Paul believes that God is the one strengthening him to proclaim Jesus. Paul himself is dependent upon the Gospel itself. The living word empowers him as it has empowered the work of God on earth since the very beginning.  He is making it clear that the letter is not simply Paul writing - but God speaking through Paul to the church. God is in Paul's own ministry and writing expanding the kingdom of God on God's behalf and through the power of God.

Paul is clear that his mission is God's mission. God's mission is the inclusion of the gentile into the kingdom and it is this inclusion and expansion which is obedience.

Moreover, the God who is involved in this expansive vision of the kingdom of God is the God of the Hebrew bible - the creator God who is wise and has set all things into motion.

As we think and ponder it is wise to remind ourselves that for the Christian the incarnation is not some add on to an ancient tradition. The incarnation is itself the reconciliation moment of God's historical movement to embrace and fulfill his covenant with creation.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent 3B December 14, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"If last week we met the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn and meet a whole different John."

Commentary, John 1:6-8, 19-28, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Much of the pain and suffering around us comes from people imagining that they are the light themselves. In psychological terms, my mind turns to Carl Jung when thinking about light and darkness within us. Jung warned of the dangers of trying to live only in our light. The shadow within is dangerous when ignored."

John 1:6-8, 19-28, Rev. Todd Weir, bloomingcactus.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

God of peace, whose word is good news to the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted and freedom for all who are held bound, gladden our hearts and fashion the earth into a garden of righteousness and praise! Sanctify us entirely, in spirit, soul and body, for the coming of the One who even now is among us, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was, who is and who is to come, your Son, who lives and riens with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 1:6-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,As I walked out in Laredo one day, I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay. I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy; I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too; We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too. (listen to it here)
I grew up listening to the Smothers Brothers and this was their version of The Streets of Laredo.  I have always loved it.

Who are you?  I can tell you who I am by telling you my life story. Ultimately, you will guess it by my clothes and by my car and by my house...the rings on my fingers and bells on my toes.  Today's Gospel lesson asks, who are you?

To get to the bottom of this we must take a good look at what is going on this week in the Gospel Text; especially since we have taken a dog leg into John's Gospel from Mark!

This week's Gospel reading is really in two parts. Those of you preparing a sermon (if doing so on this text) will find that it is really two different parts of John's introduction.  The text for Sunday is 1:6-8 and 19-28.

The first piece falls well within what many scholars believe to be the greatest part of the New Testament.  Raymond Brown in his first volume writes this about the prologue which stretches from 1:1-18.
"If John has been described as the pearl of great price among the NT writings, then one may say that the Prologue is the pearl within this Gospel.  In her ccomparisonof Augustine's and Chrysostom's exegesis of the Prologue, M. A. Aucoin points out that both held that it is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in the Prologue." (18)
I think it is important to think of these first verses well within this first piece of writing which has both a form and a purpose. Brown breaks it up this way...  The first section is 1:1-2, This is the Word of God section which offers a poetic vision of God very being.  The second section vss 3-5, reveals the Word's work in creation.  It is the light shining in darkness, shining through man's sinfulness, shining in the birth that flows from the fallen woman Eve in Jesus.  Then, and only then, do we arrive at our piece which is nestled quite nicely here.  The third portion is vss 6-9 and is John the Baptist's witness.  As Brown points out the second part is about the Word's work throughout creation, here that comes to fruition in the proclamation of God's incarnate Word Jesus. (Brown, John, vol 1, 18-17)  Many bloggers this week noted the difference between the John of Mark and the John of this Gospel.  I think the reason for the striking difference is primarily this Gospels tightly focused presentation of God in Christ Jesus. The only reason to even have John in this section is to make clear he is preparing the hearts of humankind for the incarnation, and proclamation of the Word made man.  Brown tells us that following this proclamation we return to the fourth section (continuing the ancient hymn outlined in the text) which is about the Christ of God working his mission in the world.  This is followed by the community's response.   The last of the five sections is another few words by John the Baptist but here in 14, 17-18, is John's proclamation that the Word spoken before time is this Jesus.  He is the pre-existant one.  A radical, revolutionary, and prophetic revelation is being offered in this last section for in this time the common person would have understood that God is invisible; so it makes sense that the Word spoken, the Son, is the only one who has seen this God.  The unique relation between Son and God not only helps with the contemporary thought of the day but it gives rise to our common uunderstandingof who Jesus is: God's only Son.  (For my theological followers, there is a great discussion in Brown's vol 1 on page 35 and 36 about this last section; and it is well worth reading.)

To summarize then, we have in the first two verses of our reading a very clear focus on God in Christ. Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Word made manifest, and the word at work in the world.  As if marching to a drum we hear for the first time in these very first words what we have faithfully memorized as Christians and Episcopalians who have a Common Prayer Book and that is that the only Son of God has come into the world to save the world.  Such comfortable and hopeful words. Everything in this first section of our reading verbally illustrates that John the baptist is someone they knew but now is so transparent to the Gospel that all they see now is the coming of Christ.

On the first day of John's ministry in the Gospel he disappears as the living Word and Jesus take center stage. On the second day he offers a vision of who Jesus us; he is the transparent vessel of a living Christ - of light in the world.

In this third week of Advent a number of things are going on in our context here in the U.S.  One is what I would call the holiday breather.  We began the holiday with a thanksgiving mad dash to fill our bellies and our shopping carts.  We redoubled our efforts to get to church. And, we are now in the slump; it is the week long wWednesdaybetween Holiday and Christmas day.  Unfortunately, preachers are in the same predicament.

Into this slump we re-read a passage about John the baptist. Now, you and I both know that is not precisely true. This Sunday's passage is very different from the last.  Brown and practically all modern scholarship recognizes that John the Baptist in John's Gospel is completely different than the one portrayed in the synoptics.  He looks different that the previous version we preached on last week.  This week he is the transparent vessel of God's grace - Jesus Christ. He points only to God and to Jesus.

Just as John the Baptist in John's Gospel, you and I are as Christians intimately tied to who we say God is.

You might remember Stephen Colbert's radical statement that caused so much attention recently:

"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
I will tell you that not being who we say we are is a crippling missionary stumbling block in a world that is seeking some kind of authentic view of God and Grace and hoping someone will be a true voice of transformation and life in a world of gifts and purchases whose shimmer and shine will fade a few weeks after their delivery.

The truth is that as Christians we proclaim and reaffirm that the pre-existant Word of God is Jesus Christ who is God's only son.  And that we are as a people and as individuals (as is proclaimed in the Isaiah passage for this Sunday) inheritors of a divine relationship with the unseen God through the waters of baptism.  And, that we DO believe we are related as brothers of sisters of God's family.  And, therefore we are to treat people in a certain way with special attention to God's most intimate friends - the poor.

We say and affirm as a defining part of who we are that we as Christians believe we meet God in the text of scripture and in the faces of our neighbor.

We meet God in John's proclamation. We meet this unseen God in the very speaking and retelling of the story of the incarnation of God offered here on the other side of the Jordan just as it is offered from the ambo's and pulpits of our churches.

Moreover, like John we meet God by venturing out across the doorway of our church onto the other side of the side walk where we have the opportunity to meet the living Word in the storied lives of the people we find out in the world.  We encounter God and his Son in the words of scripture which helps us to hear the same living incarnate God spoken in the story of our neighbor.

This week we did a bible study with this passage at our meeting of the governing board of the diocese.  A friend and fellow clergyman said he had been praying and thinking about this passage. He realized and offered to the group that quite frankly we were simply to be at work being witnesses to Christ (like John the Baptist and John the Gospeller); and if we were not then we were being witnesses for something or someone else.  In the latter he had in mind those folks who traveled all that way to meet John the Baptist in the desert and to shut him down for not bearing witness to what they stood for.

This religious stuff is a dangerous thing.  The world right now is taking a breather from its holiday consumption. It is quiet before the holiday storm.  We have an opportunity to tell the truth.  The truth is that how we live out our holiday will reveal if we are bearing witness to God in Christ Jesus, or if we are representing something else.  Yes, what we say and what we do are incarnational symbols of the living God or something else entirely.

Religion on a Sunday like this is dangerous because when we don't tell the truth about the world we live in (the addictions we have, the way we attempt to purchase our belonging, and how we are stewards of God's things) we sell a little piece of our corporate soul to the secular world; creating a consumer faith.

How will the church, how will you the preacher, how will the people answer the essential question asked on the shore of the Jordan river so many years ago, and which is still relevant today: "Who are you; because you look like someone I once knew?"


Some Thoughts on I Thessalonians 5:12-28




"Once again, on this Third Sunday of Advent, we have an appeal, now from Paul, to a community of faith about the way it is to live in the world."

Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Advent 3), Dirk G Lange, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Closely associated with the ability to rejoice always is a constant prayerfulness. As mentioned, these imperatives are each in the present tense."

The Conduct of the Assembly and The Concluding Remarks from An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, by J. Hampton Keathley III at the Biblical Studies Foundation.


In this part of the Thessalonians passage he is focused most of all upon the relationships of the community members. We are to work for one another's best behalf and we are to comfort those who are suffering. He offers himself as a model and gives some basic advice:

1. Respect one another.
2. Esteem one another.
3. Admonish the fainthearted by encouraging them.
4. Help the weak.
5. When evil is done to you do not repay it with evil.
6. Always seek the good and to do good in one another and to all.
7. Rejoice and pray.
8. Be grateful.
9. Be patient.
10. Do not quench the spirit.
11. Hold fast to what is good.
12. Abstain from evil.

This is a good list. The other night a woman came up to me and was complaining and upset about the church and other people and our culture and our loss of what is important. It was sad. I truly felt for her.

It was hard to do these 12 things for her. It was difficult to invite her to do these 12 things. Yet, this is the Gospel in action. Isn't it?








Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2B December 7, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This is the kind of change that stops us in our tracks and makes it impossible for us to live the same way anymore."

"The Change Within and the Change Without," John van de Laar, Sacredise, 2011.

"To be at a beginning is to find that we are not prisoners of the past. John the Baptist announced as much. We and our blessed and foolish land need not be bound to our idolatries or regrets, our greeds or fears. We can begin again."

"On Your Mark," John Stendahl, The Christian Century, 2002.

"So…is it actually possible amidst our abject familiarity with the Christmas story to again hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ Son of God as Good and as News and as that which only just Began with the birth of Jesus and is yet to end?"

"Go Ahead, Judge a Book By Its Title," Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Hardest Question, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer
O God of all consolation, to us who journey as pilgrims through time you have promised new heavens and a new earth. Speak today to the inmost heart of your people, that leading lives of holiness and godliness, and with a faith free from spot or blemish, we may hasten toward that day on which you will manifest in the fullness of its splendor the glory of your holy name.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 1:1-8

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

A tale of Thanksgiving: Good news, as it had been forecasted by news media who sent out word well in advance, people made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones. It was a wilderness out there! Commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the developed world over came out and bought and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked so the story goes until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodness.

As I reflect on the week that is past I have several topical thoughts rumbling around in my head.
Global desires and hopes for spending to help our economy.
Football games galore.
A ton of food.
The poor and the hungry on a wet and cold weekend.
Advent wreath making.
Time with family.
People dealing with the complexities of family.
Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thanksgiving Day parade.
Political election anxiety and hope.
The readings of Advent 1 regarding the coming of the Messiah.
It was a great holiday in so many respects. Yet it was a holiday of extremes as well; was it not? I wondered first: what is it that we are looking for? As a culture and as individuals what is it that we are hoping to have in all these things? With all these gifts?

I have decided that the truth in such spending, chaotic action and wild divergent events is actually not best described by analyzing what we sought through our actions but in what drives us in the search.

I think the real thing we must deal with is "human desire." Humanity is made to desire and long for that which is outside of itself. Certainly we are seeking to purchase and make real our own some kind of imagined normal life. We are trying to attach ourselves by virtue of our needs to something meaningful. We are hoping that somehow we will fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.

It is as if the desire for our constitutional right of "happiness" has become confused. One might even say that for a people who have the right of happiness, consume most of the world's resources, we are some of the most unhappy people.

I offer all of this because the Christian understands that human desire is created within so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.

What we do though is that we fill that longing with all kinds of other things. This is an age old axiom and is explored in the first autobiography by Augustine of Hippo: Confessions.

Today we fill that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media. We fill that longing by consuming food. We fill that longing by hoarding. We fill that longing by not dealing with family dynamics or by not facing up to our own shortcomings. We fill that longing by scapegoating others in our lives, in our workplaces, in our governments for problems we ourselves are intimately involved in.

I say all of this not to be some Christmas (or Advent) scrooge. Quite the contrary. I say this because the message of Mark's Gospel this Sunday it turns out is really good news (and quite inexpensive). The message is that God is the one we are longing for and his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world so as to fill that missing piece of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God himself desires.

As Ireneaus once described, the reality of God's creative act is the ultimate outpouring into creation of God's own longing to walk with his creation in the garden at the eve of the day. The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole. He has paid the ultimate price and we may find our longing transformed into fulfillment in the community of friends called the church.

It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, aging parents, and complex lives, poverty, and longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out and proclaiming, "Stop! Listen! Here is some good news!" This voice is important and one to be listened to.

The wilderness is a refuge it turns out in Mark's gospel. It is a place tied to the fleeing slaves from Egypt. It is the place of good things, and good happenings.

Tied intimately to Isaiah's proclamation of freedom to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40.3) this passage refers to the same promise of freedom to those who now choose to live a different life in the wilderness of our time and culture.
Unlike many apocalyptic communities in Israel at the time of John's proclamation, his was not a proclamation of sectarian private life or private faith; that certainly was present but it is not a Gospel notion. In point of fact it was quite the opposite of what most people will experience as church this coming Sunday. The proclamation was public, it was in the wilderness of the world, the confession was public, the washing was public, and it was all focussed on living life in the world.

As we lean into the Gospel of Mark we must be aware of the central motif of "The Way." This is a Gospel of The Way. And, the way leads to the cross and to resurrection. John proclaims, Jesus shall lead us, and as disciples Mark intends us to follow.

As we read John's charge to us today the message is much the same. We are leading a particular life, in a particular world, making our communal way with Jesus.
We are to make room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions. Notice the passage does not say that God makes the paths straight and the valleys low. It i is we who are to do the work of making room in our lives for God. We are the ones, not unlike the inn keeper, who in Advent remind ourselves and so create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God.

John the Baptist like a new Elisha or Elijah is offering us a moment of change. A moment to see the world differently and to be differently in the world. Most scholars believe there is a scriptural link. At the same time for those gathered at the waters edge and those hearing Mark's Gospel for the first time would have actually recognized John as a vision of the great prophet because of the word pictures used to describe his clothing and eating habits.

John himself, in his words, and in his actions, is making way in the wilderness. He is both prophetically offering a word of transformation and the vision of his ministry also offers an understanding that now is the time!
The understanding was that the waters themselves remade the body right and that this was an event of urgency. They prepared it for the mission ahead. Furthermore, important is the proclamation that a public confession and a singular baptism given by another, as opposed to daily ritual cleansing administered by yourself privately, was enough.

John's unique baptism for sins, for repentance is a message of incredible grace. It is one where in we understand that the waters of baptism are themselves the powerful waters of grace and freedom to live in relationship to this God. We are freed to live without the great consumptive game being played out all around us. We are freed to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ alone, and for our neighbor. We are given in the words of Isaiah and in the proclamation of John the Baptist an opportunity to turn and repent from lives lived for ourselves alone and not for God or others. We are invited to walk a path, a road, with Jesus allowing our desire for other things other than God to be crucified and our false selves as well.
And what we discover is that in the end, though we are not worthy to embrace our savior Jesus or to stoop to untie the thong of his sandal as if a servant, this God calls us friends most of all.


Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 3:8-15




"The believers to whom Peter writes have, in his view, two interrelated problems: they doubt the coming of Christ and they are drawn to immoral living."

Commentary, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


We begin this portion of the letter from Peter with a reminder that just because God in Christ Jesus has not yet returned he will return. Using images that remind us of Jesus' own teachings, Peter reminds us that we do not know when the thief or the master comes. The author then goes on to say that this time of waiting should be used to work on walking The Way of Jesus. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to live lives of holiness and godliness.  We are seeking after, hungry for righteousness, and should long for and wait patiently for the coming of God. 

The description of the end time is cataclysmic and is unique in its vision within the rest of the New Testament. Anne Jarvis writes:
This is the only place in the New Testament where the day of the Lord is described in this manner. The New Testament writings agree, by and large, that a cataclysmic event is in the offing when God, with the agency of Christ, will set everything right. They disagree on whether there will be intelligible signs of the impending day (for instance, 1 Thessalonians [5:4], like 2 Peter, claims the day will come like a thief in the night, whereas 2 Thessalonians [2:1-4] argues that there will be a visible signal that the end is near). They also disagree on whether what is will be destroyed (2 Peter) or will 'pass away' (Revelation 21:1) or whether it will be renewed (e.g., Romans 8:18-23), perhaps in light of the revelation of the true and eternal heaven (Hebrews 9:24).
Jarvis continues:
Peter's proof for this is that it will not be the first time the world will have been destroyed (3:5); and that both his scriptures, our Old Testament and the inspired word of the apostles (3:2), have said it would be so. There is no doubt in Peter's mind; and he takes it as essential to faith to believe this. Moreover, he warns his readers that doubt about the day of the Lord leads directly to what he calls "licentiousness" (2:2).

Peter is clear that this is a time of repentance and a time to take seriously not only God's judgement but an opportunity for us to take seriously God's invitation to change.

Scholar William Loader writes
The purity and godliness espoused in this letter may have a strongly moral quality and focus on piety. For us such purity and godliness has to be transposed into singleness of endeavour and solidarity with God's action and promise that there can be peace and there can be justice in this world - within people and among them. Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future.
The question for us is what are we to do with this time?  We are to work for God and God's kingdom. We must set about the co-creating of God's reign. If we are to take seriously the urgency and the work then we must not delay in addressing those issues that plague our reality and context today.

We must not delay in feeding the hungry; and, setting about to build a community where people do not go hungry. We must not delay in providing clothes and shelter for the naked; and, setting about to insure that all people have a safe place in which to dwell. We must not delay in caring for the sick; and, we must set about the work of transforming a culture where all those who are ill may find health care. We must visit those in prison; and, we must set about to create a just system of government.  Moreover, we must examine carefully what the social determinants of these failures to be a goodly and Godly society may be and we must act today to stem their power tomorrow.

Every act of goodness and righteousness that we undertake in this life will be taken into the kingdom to come and will in fact be the living stones upon which Jesus will build his reign.

So do not wait. Do not joke and jest as if the coming of the Lord is just an old idea. Do not pretend as if the end will not come. But in everything and in every way let us transform the society in which we live and move. This is the invitation of Peter and Jesus alike.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advent 1B November 30, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent is certainly not anticipated and most likely not welcome."

Commentary, Mark 13:24-37, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"

"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail. Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace; that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man. In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement. It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers.

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site. The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true? Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.?

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it. There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class - a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope. My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest) I don't want a judgement. Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete. (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.) Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, having said that I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that, some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be. Sure we all want this great salvation to be true. And, being the humans that we are, we then let ourselves off the hook. Yep! That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter?

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot. Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament. Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming. Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do. Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster. Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.

Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.
Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over. I think it matters to God. Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned.

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well.

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people." Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel. I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement. Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: well how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions. And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe." I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end. Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need. Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock. And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 1:1-9

"It is perhaps not surprising that Paul, as he addresses the church in Corinth, speaks of the gift given, God's grace shared, as "speech and knowledge of every kind" and wealth (i.e., being enriched in Christ Jesus)."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 2,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.



In this passage we have a typical Greek greeting and form for a letter. Paul emphasizes his call to ministry and his apostleship and addresses the letter to the community at Corinth. 

He reminds them that they are to be at work in the world, as saints, on behalf of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them that they are unified beyond Corinth with other followers of Christ Jesus. 

He blesses them with grace and peace. And he gives thanks for their ministry on God's behalf. He reminds them, finally, that God has given them the gifts needed for this ministry. They are lacking in nothing spiritually to undertake the work of God in Corinth and within their community. 

So what is this all for? Certainly we know that Paul is writing because their is conflict. Here though is something more than just a letter about bringing peace out of division. Paul tells them that they have these gifts and that the purpose of the gifts is this "fellowship of his Son." Fellowship here could also mean companionship of Christ according to scholar Joseph Fitzmayer (First Corinthians, Anchor Yale Bible, 2008, 134). Paul is referring to the community quality of unity around the Lord's table - koinonia. (Ibid) Paul is in some way reminding them that they are, the people of Corinth, united by Christ for the purpose of salvation and the kingdom. (Ibid) 

Fitzmayer points out this is particularly Pauline - the idea that Christ is the unifying agent and Christianity is the living companionship with Christ. It is also, as we will see as we read his letter, a companionship of peace and unity at the table to be brought about by his followers one to another. 

In other words, those who follow Jesus are to be united. This is a very real icon of their unity in Christ. If they are not one in companionship with one another - then this reveals that they are not one in Christ. For Paul, our inability to be together, work collaboratively, work peacefully, and be united is not a revelation about us but a revelation about our individual dependence upon the koinonia created by Jesus Christ on his cross. 

I would go a step forward to say that the way we frame the relationship between God and the world attempts to sever the unity of this koinonia - meaning:

  • that companionship and fellowship with God yes 
  • companionship and fellowship with one another maybe if you agree with me 
  • and companionship and fellowship with the world - no
We so separate the world so that we are not accountable to these values and way of being. We separate our own life within Christian community so as not to be accountable with the companionship and fellowship of Christ. This particular predicament would have been completely foreign to Paul and his theology.

Paul sees the world as one cosmos - united by God as creator and Christ as the bringer of salvation and reconciliation of the world with God. So there is no disunity - but only unity. God is unified with his creatures and his creation. The whole world is re-united - united - with God. We are to be a goodly and Godly community. Paul imagines a seamless unity between God and the individual, the individual follower of Christ and the other followers of Christ, and the followers of Christ and the people of the world - our neighbors. So it is that we offer a witness of a church community unified by God's reconciling love and at work in the world building a unified peaceable kingdom for all people. 

As William Loader reminds us - 
"Even 1:8 which focuses on the day of the Lord most likely contains some hint of another problem to be faced: some Corinthians were denying a future resurrection. Their understanding of the future was so much bound up with the notions of eternal souls, it seems, that they saw no need for anything beyond the salvation of individual souls. Who needs embodiedness? Who needs a community? Who needs a day of the Lord, which would establish a kingdom of justice and peace? Isn't it enough to know that my soul will go to heaven? Here in 1:8 and in 1:9 Paul celebrates the future with Christ and the future in community (koinonia).
Some Corinthians had difficulties with such images of the future and any literal interpretation is likely to meet similar hesitations today, not without ground, but Paul's logic is driven by an understanding that salvation has to mean something bigger than the individual. Many Christians still have difficulty making it to this level of understanding. It opens up too many questions about the social and political implications of the gospel. Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

God's companionship, fellowship, and koinonia is about a unity of purpose and calling where all our gifts, given by God, are put use in transforming the world and lives of those around us.