Finding the Lessons

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lent 4A March 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"As the fruit of Jesus' vine, we are on display and stand for something Other."

Commentary, John 9:1-41 (Lent 4A), Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Those who preach faith as the cessation of pain, suffering, poverty, restless nights and turbulent days are offering false comfort."

"Coping in Jesus' Absence," Fred B. Craddock. Commentary from The Christian Century, March, 1990. At Religion Online.

"We cannot be light to the world until we can see that light in the eyes of beggars in our town and in our global village, welcoming that light as Christ's presence among us and receiving each bearer as a neighbor, a brother or sister with a face and a name."

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Lent 4. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, 2005.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

O god, the author and source of all light, you gaze into the depths of our inmost hearts.  Never permit the powers of darkness to hold your people captive, but open our eyes by the grace of your Spirit, that we may be able to look on your Son and see the Once you sent to illumine the world,so that, seeing we may believe and worship Jesus as Lord. 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 John 9:1-41
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

God's work is revealed in us. This is the message of the Gospel today. God's work is revealed in our own healing as we come to make our pilgrim way with Jesus. God's work is revealed in our own mission and ministry to others. God's work is revealed in us; both as we are healed and as we get our hands dirty doing healing work.

As we read along John's Gospel we see that this miracle is the second in a group of three. Jesus is passing by a place were beggars usually gather and the question about sin and his blindness is posed.

All the scholars I read point to both the social history and the scriptural interpretation of the time giving evidence that people believed that people's trials were punishment for sin. (We might remember Job's friends.)  Jesus answers that God's works are revealed in this man. The glory of God is revealed. John's Gospel repeats that the work of Jesus, who has come down from above, is here to glorify God. (see John 11:4, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”.)

The next verses remind us of the imagery of night and light explored last week and are ever present in this Gospel. We might remember that “I am the light of the world” parallels 8:12 where Jesus says: “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

Like many healing practices at the time of Jesus, he spits in the ground and makes mud. I believe here we see the remaking of humanity by God - the new genesis of life. John's Gospel is a new creation story and the image here of God remaking this man so that he may see and bear witness to the light is essential to the Gospel and the understanding of this pericope.

The people are divided and amazed and concerned. Our response to our remaking is clear though we are to “‘Give glory to God!’” This is the response and our work. We might look elsewhere in the scripture to understand the meaning of this. When we do we see that it is "a technical term meaning tell the truth! It is a formula used when people are to confess their sins. In Joshua 7:19, Joshua urges Achan: 'give glory to the LORD God of Israel and make confession to him'. See also 1 Samuel 6:5; Jeremiah 13:16; Acts 12:23 (Agrippa dies); Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:2. [BlkJn] [NOAB]" (Chris Haslaam's Clippings)

Of course the religious establishment wants none of this and so while they are astonished they react by blaming the blind man. This is a typical response from those in power to those who are left out of the system; this is surely his fault. The man who does not accept the authoritative version of the events is driven out of the synagogue.

The man returns to Jesus and begins a life of following - a life of discipleship. His witness, worship, and proclamation becomes his work. Just as God is revealed in the healing, we see at the end of the text that God is revealed through the man's discipleship. His ability to see, proclaim, and live in the light of the Lord is an important part of the story. Healing and being remade by Jesus Christ is only the first part of one's pilgrim journey. Our Lenten journey is a healing one. We are turning and remaking ourselves. Through various disciplines we are opening our eyes to see God's hand at work in the world and in our lives personally. This revelation brings us closer to God as we proclaim and bear witness to the light which is in the world. This is only part of our pilgrim way of lent though. The second half is to remake and reinvigorate our hands in the world. Like Jesus we are to get them muddy with the primordial clay of creation and be at work in the world around us. We are to be healers: proclaiming release from the powers that bind us and giving sight to the blind. In this way we participate in the kingdom of God that is becoming and is to come. We live with our eyes wide open to the emerging new creation and light which is already breaking in the world.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 5:8-14


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"Ephesians focuses heavily on discipleship: how we should live in light of the grace that has been given to us in Christ Jesus."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:8-14 (Lent 4A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings."

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

Our passage from Ephesians in many ways echoes the passage from John.  Paul tells the Ephesians that they once could not see or understand who God was or the revelation of God in Christ Jesus - they lived in darkness.  Now because God has given them grace they can see a bit more clearly and live in the light.

Being able to comprehend and understand the way of Jesus comes after the saving act of Christ. It is a response to grace and mercy.  We often get it backwards believing that if we do the right things then we get God's love.  We have a kind of modern economic free economy view of God.  Paul is saying you are saved, you receive grace, you are now to respond. You are to live in the light and your desire is to respond to the grace by pleasing God.

What is pleasing to God?  Paul would reply as he does to the Ephesians:  "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"

Margaret Aymer in her commentary in Working Preacher writes:
Ephesians is an example of advice to communities trying to find a third way between the realities of Gentile paganism, the majority religiosity of the ancient world, and the church's foundation of monotheism. A majority of scholars hold that this letter is written by a pseudonymous author in place of Paul; if this is the case, then the primary struggle to bring together Jew and Gentile in Paul's early letters has been resolved and a new culture has been born, a culture that is an amalgamation of the two previous cultures. The author counsels his audiences to turn toward this culture rather than to be influenced by the external culture of the world around them, which the author calls "darkness." The advice, here, seems particularly aimed toward Gentiles who have become Christian, those more likely to be wooed back into the "mainstream" of life.

William Loader writes in his Blog:
To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings. We are still very good at hiding injustices or hiding ourselves from them to our shame. They extend from sexual abuse and exploitation to downright poverty and victimisation of the weak and disempowered. Our author mixes the images when he speaks of the fruit of light, but there is no mistaking what he means. 5:9 makes this clear. Light is goodness and justice and truth. It is not about knowledge or spiritual elevation or mystical ascent, as valuable as these may be.
Paul is clear.  You are part of a new family now.  As a member of God's family - as children of light - you are to resemble your Father who is in heaven.  This is neither a simple faith nor a one that is separated fully from the world. To be a member of God's family is to do the hard work of God. You are to bear light out into the world. You are to do justice and love mercy. You are to engage yet remember you are always and forever now God's.

Aymer warns that in choosing to preach this lesson we may "err" in preaching a simplified mystical faith for fear of engaging our cultural complexities; or we may so engage our cultural complexities that we miss the opportunity to preach the Gospel of the children of light.  Our challenge is forever and always to remember that there is a very creative edge in being in the world but not of the world.  The author of Ephesians, our Paul, is trying to shed a bit of light on that murky enmeshment.

Some Thoughts on I Samuel 16:1-13



It has been a while since we introduced the book of Samuel so let’s begin with a refresher. The whole text includes both books (they were not divided until the Greek translation). The book itself tells of the life of the prophet Samuel and how he comes to anoint the first king of Israel and then the second.

Today’s passage picks up as the spirit of God we are told is passing from Saul, the king, to David the successor. We get to see that Samuel himself is searching for the new king in the house of Jesse. Samuel is a bit nervous about all of this and goes. Samuel imagines all kinds of physical representations of the new king – for he doesn’t know David yet. And, he is continually mistaken. Samuel is seeking not who he thinks should be king but is looking for the one upon whom God’s spirit is resting and who God is making king. Samuel eventually will find David not in the house but in the field as a shepherd – this is a call of the rulers of Israel to be shepherds. The metaphor here is linked throughout the old and new testament from this time forward.

When Samuel anoints David the Spirit of the Lord falls on him. Everyone is a witness.

Having accomplished what he came to do, Samuel returns. Let us simply say, “King Saul is not a happy camper.” After King Saul’s death, for which Samuel grieves, David brings together the kingdoms of the North and the South to become the first ruler of a united Israel.

Gospel writers play on Jesus not only as the new Adam but as the successor to David’s kingdom – uniting all the people of faith. But this passage is not used for that in particular point in the Gospels. For the inheritor of the Davidic kingship in the is world and the next the Gospel authors will draw on different passages. The hallmark of this passage for the first Christians was the powerful statement, the realization that Samuel has in his search, that God does not see has humans see. God sees different.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is dealing with what is called a halakhic controversy in the very beginning of the narrative (Mark 2:23ff). (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 49.) This is the part of the story where Jesus and his companions are challenged because they pick grain on the Sabbath. Jesus is also challenged for healing on the Sabbath and feeding people on the Sabbath. The halakha controversy is a debate about the collection of religious laws in Jesus’ day which at times were in conflict with one another. The Gospels are full of attempts by the people and religious leaders to trip Jesus up with questions about these conflicting laws. Richard Hays, scholar and theologian, points out that in Mark’s Gospel he first leans on the idea that like David in our passage from today, Jesus is anointed but his full authority is not yet recognized by the leaders all around him. But, Gospels go a step further.

In the Gospel of John, our author uses our I Samuel passage today to show that God sees differently that human beings. In so seeing God solves the conflicting religious laws by setting out priorities. John’s Gospel will pick this up in chapter 7. Here too we see the conflicts in play. Jesus is making a case that because God sees the world and humanity different, God’s love may “override” other commandments.

Let me end with Hays’ brilliant words for us on the use of I Samuel by Jesus. Hays writes, “This implies that the law’s fundamental aim of promoting human wholeness and flourishing can in some instances over-ride its ritual prhibitions. This is certainly not a negation of the law; rather, it is an argument profoundly respectful of the law’s own inner logic, an argument that operates within well-established Jewish hermeneutical precedent… That this is so is underscored by the subtle scriptural allusions in the final thrust of Jesus’ rejoinder to his critics, ‘Do not judg according o appearance, but judge with just judgement.’” (Hays, Scripture, 298)

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