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Monday, April 10, 2017

Easter 2A April 23, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"And when he had so said, he showed them his hands and his side--not only as ocular and tangible evidence of the reality of His resurrection ... but as through "the power of that resurrection" dispensing all His peace to men."

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).

"What is more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives."

Commentary, Elisabeth Johnson, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


On this Lord’s Day, we come together, O God, to proclaim the Living One, the First and the Last, who was dead, but now is forever alive. Open our hearts to the Spirit Jesus breathes on us. Help us, who have not seen, to believe; send us, as you have sent Jesus, to greet the world with the Easter word of peace and to share with all the Spirit’s new life of forgiveness.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 20:19-31
[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

Of Course this text appears regularly after Easter in our lectionary cycle. Furthermore, it also appears as the pre-story to the Pentecost lesson from John.  Every time we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of our gatherings and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertaken on his behalf.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week” suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

A challenging word comes from the blogosphere via Brian Stoffregen [Exegetical Notes (Easter 2 ABC) by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources]
The purpose of this resurrection appearance is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send the disciples as Jesus had been sent. Easter is not just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, it is being sent back into the (hostile) world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus.
So there is a sense of a coming, a filling or receiving, and a being sent or going.  Not unlike Leonel Mitchel's thoughts that liturgy is always about making and drawing people deeper into Christ and the community of Christ at work in the world.  Certainly echoing this liturgical theology and missional challenge are Raymond Brown's (New Testament and Johanine scholar) thoughts on this passage.  His notes follow below from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshippers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).
So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday.  This is a Gospel which clearly provides some marks along the pilgrim road. John gives us a sense that there is a reality to our being part of a community which gathers, receiving the witness of Jesus Christ resurrected, and then being sent to bear that witness out in the world.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday begins with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cueing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. Just as God sent me I am sending you. We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes:

Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission. (John, vol 2, 1040-1044)
This is the recreation in action. The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic revelationary moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That seems the deeper point of the story.  One scholar even remarked that John seems himself somewhat skeptical; perhaps not unlike our Thomas.  Yet...Thomas comes to believe.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (John, vol 2, 1046)
Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the original Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life.

"What should give us pause as we reflect on the contemporary significance of this passage is just how irrelevant it has become in our daily lives."

Commentary, 1 Peter 1:3-9 (Easter2A), Daniel Deffinbaugh, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"It is, of course, too easy to challenge such theology - and it should be challenged. There are however situations where people feel so overwhelmed and threatened that the only hope lies in looking beyond and the only comfort in being reassured that ultimately we shall not be abandoned."
Each of these four readings contains the fundamental language of faith, spoken by the author of 1 Peter, to establish, to shape, and to grow the early Christian community. Such language, employed for the shaping of Christian identity, is fitting not only for the fledgling life of faith, but for the ongoing, present-day life of faith, and its church."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
We begin a series of readings that will cover the next several weeks - all of them from the first words of Peter's letter.

We begin with these words:

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
While scholars debate authorship, I will simply refer to the writer of these pastoral letters as Peter... Peter it seems is offering his readers a vision of the new relationship with God. This relationship is manifested in mercy and this mercy is to deliver the receiver into a life of hope and salvation.

We are to have hope now and in our suffering. We are to see that the God who breaks open the tomb frees us from the great anxiety of death and that we are freed therefore to live a life that is hopeful - we too will live beyond the grave. This brings us to the second theme which is that we will have life beyond the grave!  "Alleluia, Alleluia," is the song we who go dying sing at the graves edge.

1 Peter 1:3-9 describes the state of being defined by God’s “great mercy,” which gives us a “new birth into a living hope,” and fait that is “for salvation” (1:3, 5).

Biblical scholar Karl Jacobson writes that these two themes are not new in scripture and their tension is a very real one.  He offers:

This new birth leads to two “outcomes,” in the “now” and in the “then.” Now, this new birth leads to rejoicing “with an indescribable and glorious joy.” Now, new birth is into joy. Then, “the outcome of your faith,” is “the salvation of your souls” (1:9). And it is the promise of the “then” that brings hope and joy into the “now,” most importantly and promisingly into any now that is marked and marred by suffering, by trials, and by testing.

Faith, like gold, must be refined, tested, and purified; made “genuine” (1:7). This refining of (primarily) the people themselves is a fairly common metaphor in the Bible: 
Zechariah 13:9: “And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” 
Malachi 3:2b-3: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”
Peter writes:
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I am not sure what I want to do with this...  The ancient tradition, of which Peter partakes, is one tha says that God gives us these trials in order to strengthen us.  The old adage "God doesn't give us things we can't handle" rings in my ears.

God has created all things and God has ordered all things - this I believe. And, so in some way I understand that God has set about the things in my life to some extent. However, I don't by that God gives me suffering to make me better.  I understand that the ancient Israelites wondering around in the desert for 40 years interpreted their life this way but I am questioning the reality. So what is a modern Christian to do?  I mean otherwise we are likely to walk down the slippery slope of saying that God takes good care of us because we are weak spiritual souls while those who suffer great hardships are of mammoth spiritual gifts formed by a God who really does want the best for them in the end.

I think that what I want to recognize is this: Peter is right. God's victory over death and the cross provides hope that we too shall in the end make our song.  At the same time when bad things happen, because of the cross God is with us.  The refining that goes on is not because God puts us in the fire but that God is with us in the fire. God is with us in the refining.  God stands with his people in the desert of the wanderings and in the aftermath of human violence and horror.  God says these suffering people are my people.  We will surely be refined when we stand in his presence on the last day.  But I would add that when we recognize that God stands with us - who can be against us.

This does not quite let us off the hook though. We too are judged by this God who stands with us. Are we worthy to stand with him? Where is that? God is clear he is with those who are poor, naked, homeless, hungry, and in jail.  And, for the follower of Jesus who wishes to stand with this God we are challenged to be refined under the glory and brilliance which is his as he offers shelter, food, and his presence to all those who burn.

Indeed let us have hope. Let us see God's presence in the fire along side of us. But let us also see that if we are to stand with this God then we are going to have to stand with his people. And, in so doing let us pray a holy, bright, all engulfing fire that refines our very mortal souls. So that when the hungry, the helpless, and those in need of mercy look up, and we are there, they see not our frail faithless companionship but the very God who has set the stars in the sky, the waters in their courses, and the earth upon its foundation.

Some Thoughts on Acts 2:14-41

As your remember Luke is our author here continuing in the second book the narrative of the disciples he began in the first book – The Gospel of Luke. Here we have just before our passage today Luke’s version of the sending of the Holy Spirit. We of course have not read that yet…we are saving it for Pentecost Sunday. What happens in Luke’s account though is that the disciples are sent out of the upper room with tongues on fire and they appear in the midst of the city where there is a festival going on. People from all over the kingdom are present and the disciples begin to speak in the many different languages that are present. THEN, we have our passage. Peter offers a speech.

Peter interprets the prophetic words of Joel to reveal that Jesus is the one that they have indeed been waiting. He then makes a bold, heretical, and non-religious statement that in fact what has been brought by Jesus’ death and resurrection is meant for all people. This is a categorical reading of the Old Testament that the prophecies of Joel and Isaiah are not simply meant for the people of Israel but in fact that God is doing a new thing in Jesus and opening up salvation for all people.

Peter then reinterprets David’s words. Here we see an essential implanting of the early Christian understanding that Jesus was in fact the eternal Word incarnate and that David therefore was speaking to the eternal Word, the eternal incarnation, just as the whole world had been created through him.

Peter’s statement sounds normal to the Christian ears today. It was anything but normal for the ears of anyone who listened in his day. To the Romans, Greeks, and Jews there were abundant problems with his statement. It is a foolish idea that God becomes man. It was a foolish idea that God would do anything outside of the religious system and understanding. It denied the realm and kingdom of the God’s for the Romans and Greeks, and it denied the special status of the Jews. Then that God would resurrect the dead as a precursor to raising all the dead was a notion held by only a few oddities. Peter’s words would have been understood as: heathenism, atheism, as religious foolishness, and, for those religious to whom Peter and the others belonged – they were heretics.

Let me say that it will take a bold Christian today to offer the Gospel to the people in our world for I fear that it is seen in the same light. It will take people willing to work, serve, and befriend others long before the work of curiosity can take root and a gospel proclamation can be invited to be considered by those in the world today with their pantheon of little gods and demons. Yet, they look and search for meaning and truth. We know what they are looking for. 

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