Finding the Lessons

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Lent 1A March 5, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"To be Christian is not to have that hole, that need, that awareness of finitude erased once and for all. Rather, to be human is to accept that we are, finally, created for relationship with God and with each other."

Commentary, Matthew 4:1-11, David Lose, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"He did not use the power of the spirit to claim exemption or to avoid the painful difficulties of the path of service. He did not use God to claim something for himself. And it was this serving, suffering, dying Jesus whom God vindicated by raising him from the dead. A church too fond of power, place and claims would do well to walk in his steps."

"Testing that Never Ceases," commentary by Fred B. Craddock from The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Because you formed us from the dust, Lord God, you know well how deeply sin has scarred our human nature. Strengthen us, then, as we set ou t on the lenten journey. Make us victorious with Christ over the deceptions of the tempter, so we may come at length in the joy of the Holy Spirit to the celebration of the Lord's glorious Passover. 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 4:1-11

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
..."The concern of the passage is not so much whether the devil can lure Jesus into this or that sin as it is the portrayal of Jesus as God's Son.' who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.'" (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 68). 
We cannot read this text without having in mind these verses from Deuteronomy 6.13, 6.16, and 8.3).
6.13 The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.
6.16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah
8.3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
These statements come just as the people of Israel are about to enter into the promised land. They are given in the desert to the people by Moses.  These are from Moses are the final testing of the Israelite people's desert pilgrimage.

In this light we see again the the Matthean revelation that Jesus is Son of God who fulfills all righteousness. Jesus also is the new Israel.  We then as his followers are also to be the body of Christ incarnate in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and in this way we too are to be faithful as Jesus and as the people Israel - choosing to serve God, not testing God, and humbling ourselves before the tasks that are before us.
The scholar Harrington writes: Understanding this text against the background of Deuternomy 6-8 allows one to go beyond the narrow themes of fasting and temptation to the level of Christology.  As in the case of all the material in the opening chapters of Matthew, the focus of attention is the identity of Jesus.  Understanding it as the testing of God's son allows one to see the nature of Jesus' divine sonship and its relation to Israel as God's Son." (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 70)
Taking this even further we see that as individuals marking our own pilgrim way of Lent that we are to be the new Israel birthed out of the resurrection and Pentecost.  We are to be faithful in our work and in our mission.  And, to do so we must recognize, name and overcome the temptations and liabilities of human existence.

If we step back we see an important order to the events occurring in the life of Jesus.  We see a movement from wilderness to Temple to mountain and out into the world - a new creation.  Our Exodus themes are powerfully present foreshadowing Jesus' own deliverance, and the deliverance of the world.  Lent is a good time to hold our lives up before God and to ask for clarity about that work of honesty and intentionality.  It is a time for us to accept clearly as Christians what God's will is for us.

Some question this and will be tempted to say we don't know what God's will is for us.  That simply is not a fact.  Christians for centuries have understood God's will for us and it is rooted in scripture.  We cannot escape the scripture (the canon, rule, or measure of life).  As Episcopalians we know we are tempted to test God, to not be humble and to seek our own wealth and ego satisfaction over others. As Episcopalians we often begin our Lenten liturgy with the ten commandments: God's will for us.

I encourage you to turn to the back of your prayer book and see in the catechism of the Episcopal Church how we interpret the ten commandments and how they are a good mirror to a holy and full life lived as God intends. Here is how our Book of Common Prayer Catechism speaks about the Ten Commandments:
Q. What do we learn from these commandments?
A. We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.
Q. What is our duty to God?
A. Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
I. To love and obey God and to bring others to know him;
II. To put nothing in the place of God;
III. To show God respect in thought, word, anddeed;
IV. And to set aside regular times for worship,prayer, and the study of God’s ways.
Q. What is our duty to our neighbors?
A. Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
V. To love, honor, and help our parents andfamily; to honor those in authority, and to meettheir just demands;
VI. To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;
VII. To use all our bodily desires as God intended;
VIII. To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;
IX. To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
X. To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people’s gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.
Q. What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption. 
We are not simply people after peace and justice but we are people who are deeply rooted in a tradition that seeks to tell our story through virtuous action.  We know God’s will for us and for creation. We know what we are to do... We are to be virtuous citizens not only on Sundays, not only within the walls of our homes; we are to be virtuous citizens at work in the political and social environs of our community. And, when we don’t follow these commandments we are to repent and return to the Lord, and begin the work again.

As we make our way through Lent let us be truthful enough with ourselves to honor the fact that we have put our needs above God's desires. We have tested God and we have failed to answer the questions put to Jesus as with the people of Israel as faithful sons and daughters of the most high God.  And, in our truthfulness let us be humbled to seek to change our lives and our ways to better reflect the people we were created and saved to be.


Some Thoughts on Romans 5:12-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"While Paul's statements about the Law here are all too brief and appear to pose alternatives which may be too sharply drawn (is not the Law, the Torah, also a gift of grace?), the focus on grace and love rather than law and rule as the basis for human transformation takes us to the heart of the good news and of hope for humanity."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Lent 1," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"To describe the Christian community in Rome at the middle of the first century as diverse is an understatement..."

Commentary, Romans 5: 12-19, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

The universe of Romans that Paul imagines has three primary actors: sin, death, and the law.  Paul marks time in this universe as a progression proceeding from Adam to Jesus.  In between is the era of Adam to Moses which predates the giving of the law. Then the time after Moses to Jesus where in people are liable for the law given at Sinai.  And that the failure of this law was to bring life; and its shadow side was death.

Jesus is the last Adam, he is the one who is setting the world aright.  Jesus' followers are reconciled by Christ to God and are saved.  They share in freedom from the law's death by virtue of Christ's redemptive act of resurrection.  Their sin, inherited from Adam, is washed away.  

We receive a free gift.  We are unable to correct our nature our humanity, we are unable to see the value which is inside of us.  God justifies us in Christ's righteousness.  God imputes our value.  God loves us.  Through Christ's faithfulness we are given life - we are acquitted if you will.  We are given the opportunity to see ourselves as God sees us.  Then we are given the work of responding.

Now that we are freed and have received this grace we are sent (we are apostles) to share this grace and good news with all people - with the Gentiles.  Paul sees that our work is to share what we have received and what we have experienced in the freedom gained by Jesus.

On this first Sunday in Lent when we may be all too ready to accept the rule of God and our failure, our reading from Romans reminds us that God has redeemed us.  We are free through God in Christ Jesus to respond. I think sometimes Lent actually grounds into the human psyche the notion that we can in fact (through our disciplines) keep the law.  Paul's letter to the Romans reminds us that it is purely out of God's one way love that we are redeemed.  


Some Thoughts on Genesis 2:15-3:21




Our Old Testament reading today is the story of the fall. It is an origins story. The sweeping creation of all things includes the making of human beings. Many scholars of the text will tell you that there is a second creation tale woven in. This tale seeks to tell us of why we are the way we are.

I am reminded of the ancient Norse myth of where poetry comes from. The story though is entitled something akin to: where bad poetry comes from. This genesis, this beginning, story is about where our bad poetry comes from - if you will. It is about wisdom that pulls us from our intended relationship with God and death.

The text itself speaks of God's desire to walk in the garden with his creatures. God has created these trees. one is of good and evil and the other is life. Formed from dust we are created as images of God. But the humans are tempted to understand and to know. They are tempted to have life. There is a creature who is crafty, walks on legs, and helps the humans along their path. 

You well know the rest of the story and how they eat from the tree and discover they are naked before one another and God. So it is they receive a bit of punishment from God...the creature will be like snakes we know today...the woman is going to have pain in child birth...the man will have to work. And, finally, we are told that the snake and the humans will be enemies.

Episcopalians do not espouse biblical literalism and so we dismiss this and the other story as a factual account of creation. Episcopalians do espouse that the scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. So it is that as we consider the passage we wonder what this has to do with salvation.

Now, what is curious about this text is that it never is used by the writers of the Gospels or the letters in the new testament. It is referred to as in passing in some of Paul's writings. He frequently compares being led astray by the serpent to being led astray by those who wish to offer a contrarian view to the Gospel. Cross references will lead you to other passages regarding sin, lust, and death...but that is a way of looking back into the passage and seeing there what we want to see.

This passage would be referred to endlessly by the early church fathers as a text on modesty, lust, and the veiling of virgins. By the reformation Calvin writes this, "The design, therefore, of Moses was to show, in a few words, how greatly our present condition differs from our first original, in order that we may learn, with humble confession of our fault, to bewail our evils. We ought not then to be surprised, that, while intent on the history he purposed to relate, he does not discuss every topic which may be desired by any person whatever." (Commentary on Genesis: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.ix.i.html) 

What I want to point out here is that while we have inherited the notion that the God's rectifying act is rooted deeply in a midcourse correction of Adam and Eve, there is barely a mention of it until we get to a more modern time. 

It is clear that the Gospel authors saw Jesus in the frame of Adam. The Gospel was to be a new beginning...a re-genesis if you will. Moreover, that the gospel this week of Jesus' own tempting is in some way to give a nod to previous temptings of others. Most especially the temptations of the Israelites while wondering in the desert and maybe a small nod to the creation story.

But the creation story is our topic so lets stick with it a bit more. The first thing is that I want you to put out of your mind all that business of somehow there was perfection in the story prior to the eating of the tree.  I am not sure where we all get that...but it is not the case. Now, I am leaning on my Robert Farrar Capon here (Genesis the Movie, 287) I am taking this, like Capon and Paul (for that matter - Galatians 4:24) as allegory. They did not have anything on...meaning that they were literally and figuratively naked before God. The idea here is that their goodness and badness was all out in view. Creation was a folly of revelation where in humans were known by each other and by God. Their "foibles" were out there in the open. (Ibid) There was innocence and most importantly...no "criminality". (Ibid) You see the story doesn't say they were perfect to each other, or that they didn't make mistakes, or even that somehow they were innocent. It just isn't in there. What is clear is that there was no knowledge of their follies and foibles...there was no knowledge or shame of their sin. 

We human beings want to sanitize the text and make the garden of eden a world of perfection and in so doing live out the story itself. That world was perfect, this world is not = sin. So... God does not like sin and wants us to live in a perfect world and be perfect and so we must create a lot of morality dances and laws so as to recreate the perfect sinless world. But that really isn't the story nor the case at all. 

I am going to leave you with this to ponder. God's saving act, by one who knows no sin (that pre-fall nod I talked about), is an act that removes the shame from us so we might return to the arms of our beloved - God. Capon says, "God makes shamelessness his supreme virtue." (293) God in Christ Jesus came to save the shameful, shaming, shamed, and all the rest. He hung out with them and he hung out with the religious doing the shaming as well. Jesus' death on the cross does not return us to perfection but instead makes our imperfection our way back in. 







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