Finding the Lessons

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany 4A January 29, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Jesus calls us to join a radical kingdom. He gives us a radical vision to match, that the kingdom of heaven infiltrates our present."

Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers."

"Imagine That!" David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Rescue your church from the seductive promises of this world's powers and form us as the community of the beatitudes, that we may become your faithful remnant in the world, and that Christ alone may be our wisdom and our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.  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 5:1-12
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

"Each 'Beatitude' states that the possessor of this characteristic will be 'blessed' by God. A formal 'blessing' is a divine action, sometimes brought about through an intermediary (priest, king, parent, etc). Beatitudes are common in OT wisdom books (Prov 3:13; 28:14). The NT Beatitudes refer to a future (or eschatological) reward, whereas the wisdom beatitudes assume that the reward is already present." (Daniel Harrington, SJ, Sacra Pagina, Matthew, p 79)

Not unlike the forebearers found in Wisdom the Beatitudes were most likely sayings of Jesus, blessings by Jesus, which circulated among the first followers. The reality is that sayings such as this made their way throughout the community of first followers and eyewitnesses and make up an important part of the oral tradition of Jesus and his ministry. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p 263) 

These blessings are different too. The blessings in Wisdom are blessings found in the present. Jesus is speaking of blessings to be received in the future.This important connection to the past Wisdom tradition is equally as important with the statements which follow the beatitudes and their connection with the Torah. I make these two points because I believe it is essential to understand that for Matthew and his community, they saw themselves as continuing the tradition of the family of Abraham. So, while we see that the blessings in Matthew point forward we also must think and look into the past and wonder about all the other blessed ones who came before. 

It is in the midst of these two blessed communities (our ancient faith ancestors and the hosts of saints in light) that we find our own blessed pilgrim journey. We walk our way of Christ always continuing the ancient faith of the past and leaning towards the reign of God which lies in our future.This Sunday preachers will spend time preaching the beatitudes as Christian character, "Ethics of Christian discipleship, "values in opposition to the world," or philosophies. (Harrington, 84) 
 "The Beatitides are thoroughly Jewish in form and content. They challenged those who made up 'Israel' in Matthew's time by delineating the kinds of persons and actions that will receive their full reward when God's kingdom comes. They remind Christians today of the Jewish roots of their piety and challenge each generation to reflecton on what persons and actions they consider to be important or 'blessed.'"  (Harrington, 84)
So, we understand then at our first glance that the text places us firmly rooted in our ancient faith, and that we are challenged to see others as God sees them. But is that all?

As is typical we spend more time on us and we might very well miss the opportunity to realize the importance of reading the beatitudes together with Isaiah 61:1-3.61  "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory."  

Remember our text in context. Jesus has come out of the desert time, he has led a great crowd, he is gone up to the mountain. Who is this person that looks and acts so very much in line with the great prophet Moses? Is he Moses? He is in the historic and prophetic line, but see he is the one Isaiah speaks about. Jesus is the Messiah the one who had come to bring good news, good blessings. The parallels are beautifully woven in Jesus' speech to the people. This is a revelation moment. 

The Beatitudes, and their proclamation reveal the very nature of who Jesus is and who he is to become.  Note that Jesus himself is meek, he mourns, he is righteous, he shows mercy, he is persecuted and reproached. Jesus himself is enacting a new creation by reenacting an exodus... he is linking his ministry as the continuation of the prophets and revealing his true nature... but he is himself embodying the incarnation of God's blessings in his own life and ministry.This person - Jesus - is God with us. It is in God's incarnation that we receive the blessings that are to come. 

 Like the Matthean community we are pilgrims along the way, our eyes opened to the revelation of God in Jesus, blessed by a God who knows our suffering and life in this world. This week as we step into the pulpit will we talk about the person of Jesus as revealed in the beatitudes or will we spend time trying to link our lives in the first world with the blessing message of Jesus in a third world? 

It may be that this Sunday we need more to see the revelation of Jesus Christ than to receive more blessings in this life.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31


Resources for Sunday's Epistle
"The message that a convicted felon was the bearer of God's forgiving and transforming love was hard enough for anybody to swallow and for some especially so. For hellenized sophisticates-the Greeks, as Paul puts it - it could only seem absurd."
From "Foolishness," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

We must remember that this text is primarily about the community that has taken sides over against itself aligning along factions associated with particular preachers.  In the midst of preaching Christ it has somehow gotten off track and has become about signs, philosophies, and the preachers themselves.  So it is that Paul begins by marking the nature of Gospel preaching that which locates all the power and authority in the crucified Christ. 

No preacher and no human has the power of redemption - save the Christ.

Those who look for sound wisdom will most likely not understand the foolishness of the cross.  The philosophies of the world have not brought forth the knowledge of God and his grace, Paul proclaims.  People will look for signs and symbols, philosophies and wisdom in order to believe. And, many preachers will offer these things. You may even be drawn to these things as a seeker.  However, it is never the signs or symbols that save. It's not the wisdom or great philosophies that save.  It is always and only the death and resurrection of the crucified Christ.

This truth and reality is where we find the strength of God.  It seems foolish by philosophical standards that God should become human and die; yet Paul proclaims it is this very foolish notion by which we are all saved.  That in some very profound and miraculous way God undoes all philosophies and all wisdom by doing the unusual and becoming one of us and experiencing life as one of us and dying as one  of us.  God in Christ Jesus becomes strong in weakness and victorious in death.  

God himself claims the world as his own and through his incarnation and presence shows us the way to eternal life.  We discover in Christ that he is the source of life and light. If we are to understand through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ alone, and we are to seek wisdom in God alone, and we are to seek righteousness and sanctification from God alone.  It is not in understanding fancy things or secret things that we are wise; no more is it true that by becoming strong we become stronger than death.  Only in Christ do we receive eternal life.  Paul writes, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”"


Some Thoughts on Micah 6:1-8




The problem that the Lord has with his faithful people is their lack of faithfulness! What is so often missed in the reading of the Old Testament is God’s forgiveness and God’s concern for the lowly.

Micah gives voice to God’s concern that the people’s lack of faith is revealed in their lack of concern for the poor. Here then we see that God is reminding the people of his work on their behalf. God was faithful. Micah writes:

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

God looked upon God’s people and saw that they were in need of a champion, they were oppressed and suffering. But in Micah’s time the people have forgotten and so are oppressing their own fellow citizens. They are mistreating the poor and those who are hungry. So it is that Micah pleads God’s case as if he is in court. There is judgement for those who do not share what they have and the judgment is guilt. Faithlessness is seen here as a key ingredient to righteousness and caring for those out of an understanding of plenty a sign of the lack of such faith.

Faithlessness believes that the Lord won’t provide.

Micah offers a glimpse into the response of the people:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

The people want to make a sacrifice to God…that is their way of thinking this will soothe God’s woundedness on the part of those in need. God then responds by reminding that God delivers, God frees, God provides, and God takes care. The response that God requires is this:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This is not unique to Micah. Mercy, kindness, and humility coupled with justice can be found in Hosea 6.6, Zechariah 7.9. The Gospels pick this understanding up with the metaphor of God’s nature as shepherd and compassion for the helpless and hopeless. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews: share what you have and do good works these are the kinds of sacrifices that God desires…none of this groveling stuff. The work and response to God’s raising of Israel out of Egypt, and raising Jesus is in fact to raise others.

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