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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter 5A May 14, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world."

"Let Jesus Show," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"This is a terribly difficult word to preach for surely there are always those among us whose heartfelt prayers have gone unanswered and whose hearts have been broken, whose trust shattered by Jesus' failure to keep this promise."

Commentary, John 14:1-14 (Easter5A), Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Rubens Painting of Philip

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God, give us eyes to see
the beauty of the Spring,
And to behold Your majesty
in every living thing -
And may we see in lacy leaves
and every budding flower
The Hand that rules the universe
with gentleness and power -
And may this Easter grandeur
that Spring lavishly imparts
Awaken faded flowers of faith
lying dormant in our hearts,
And give us ears to hear, dear God,
the Springtime song of birds
With messages more meaningful
than man's often empty words
Telling harried human beings
who are lost in dark despair -
'Be like us and do not worry
for God has you in His care.

Helen Steiner Rice
Read more at:
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Some Thoughts on John 14:1-14
[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

This week we continue with Jesus' teaching of the interrelated life of the Apostolic community and the Holy Trinity. In my opinion this passage gives an understanding of the interrelated nature of God as Trinity and how that interrelated life is to be a part of the interrelated life of the community.
The very first verses are key to the creedal arguments of the second century and the statement that the Spirit proceeds from the Father became a chorus for the Greek or more Western argument.

Jesus says that the Spirit will bear witness to him. What is meant theologically is that the Holy Spirit will, in it's very person, bear witness to the unity and love between the Father and the Son, and bear witness to their love. The Spirit is the very perfect image of God's love.
It is also clear that the Spirit will provide the undergirding of the community and that those followers, the one's whom Jesus called to be with him, will be witnesses because of God's presence with them in and through the Spirit.

It is clear that the passage holds within itself and Jesus' words a sense of dread for the apostolic community that remains. Whether a forecast of things to come or reflecting the reality of the time in which the text was written, the message is clear throughout chapter 14 - as the Jesus movement continues to take shape and bear witness to a new community life they'll be segregated and separated from the religious roots from which their faith was birthed.

Religious zealots have always sought to purify religion (it is human nature it seems). I cannot help reflect on the major stories of religious upheaval, from Babel to Babylon to Pentecost to the Reformation, we see God building and rebuilding his faithful followers challenging them in ever new ways. Phyllis Tickle speaks of these moments as great shifts. The nature of the church as Family of God is deeply rooted in these emerging shifts over thousands of years. N. T. Wright's work also gives a clear understanding of the emerging deuteronomistic family of God and how it has shaped us.
The disciples are right in the midst of a great shift and Jesus tells them they will not be alone, and that the Spirit will help them to understand their witness of the Truth which is clearly meant to be the Living Word Jesus Christ. From Stephen to Polycarp the names of the earliest martyrs are eternally with us. Perpetua and her friends have been joined by a holy family of saints who have paid the cost of faith - a family of God martyred by Christians and non Christians alike. Even Thomas and Philip who ask Jesus these questions, will be a faithful healers and preachers and will die as a martyrs for thier faith.

There is martyrdom of the physical body and there is martyrdom of the conscience, too. Our zealotry has little room today for difference of opinion and conscience falls away as we wrestle with the cult of belonging. The heresies of the ancient world catch up with us once again, Donatism and its friend on the opposite sides of the spectrum Gnosticism; Nazarene to its partner Manichaeism. Each requires perfection of its followers, rather than mutual and communal discernment of the Holy Spirit's revelation, which begins not with our knowledge, but of unknowing our common search for truth and our common brokenness and sinfulness. Always beyond us and always our aim, the collect for Richard Hooker is therefore prayed in hope: help us seek unity not for the sake of compromise but for the sake of comprehension.
I guess all of this is to say that it is easier for humans to walk apart because of their zealotry than it is for us to walk together for the sake of truth. No wonder Jesus prayed for the comforter to come and for the unity of those who follow him!

The verses  which come towards the end of the passage, and yet are not included in our reading, confirm the reality of Jesus' own perfect revelation in that the Spirit's work will confirm what has been taught. There will not be a new or differing revelation as time wears on. Now some will say, but don't we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work and reveal God in the world through the mission and ministry of those who follow Jesus?

I think sometimes we get confused about what is changing. As a person who loves to think systematically and theologically, how I understand this may in fact be different than most, but what I am about to say also fits with my understanding of the Episcopate as keeper of the church's faith, handing down a living tradition of apostolic belief. The revelation of God in the unique person of Jesus Christ and the community of the Godhead as Trinity is an unchanging reality and faith. However, I remember at this point, and always at this point (humbly I must admit), the prayer for the church from our prayer book, page 816: where [the Church] is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it... All this is to say that here are the areas where I believe the church is challenged, not with new revelation but with the challenge of seeing God and God's mission more clearly.
Raymond Brown confirms this reading in today's text when he writes:

"Verse 14 reinforces the impression that the Paraclete brings no new revelation because he receives from Jesus what he is to declare to the disciples..." The author records Jesus' concept that he, like the Paraclete, is an "emissary of the Father. In declaring or interpreting What belongs to Jesus, the Paraclete is really interpreting the Father to men; for the Father and Jesus possess all things in common...In Johannine thought it would have been unintelligible that the Paraclete have anything from Jesus that is not from the Father, but all that he has is from Jesus." (R.B., Anchor Bible, John, vol ii)
Perhaps in our time the Gospel -- the Good News-- is the promise that seeking the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will, intends to be nothing less than a pilgrimage into the heart and community of God. So I pray at the end of my life's journey, may I find I am closer to God and that such a closeness reveals and births in me a love for my real and ever expanding family of God.

"While it has become commonplace these days to describe the coming Kingdom as a reality far removed from the plane of this world, there is really nothing in Peter's eschatologically-oriented letter to suggest such a notion. For him, the revelation of Christ was destined to happen in the midst of creation itself, and it was here that Christians were called to be a priestly community in anticipation of the event."

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:2-10 (Easter5A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"These expressions converge in a vision of Christian life that 1 Peter shares with many apostolic writings. Everyone who receives adoption into God's people enters that new life by grace alone (sounding a note that the Old Testament makes frequently and forcefully)."

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:2-10, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

We might well remember that Peter is writing to a household of new believers. They had all gotten a new God. Everything in this faith is new to them and some may not have even chosen to become Christian. As part of the household they would have simply been baptized with the rest of the family.  So the text is a text of instruction.

The author uses that wonderful image of living stones. They are all part of this new household, this new family, of which Christ is the chief living stone.

Then the author goes through the Old Testament and reveals to the new members that this was and is the way it is to be. They are part of a long and ancient heritage - this is a value of their ancient society.  We see clearly then that Psalms, Isaiah and Hosea are prophecies telling of the coming Christ, the followers and the church that is even now being raised up.

Chris Haslaam writes:
In v. 7, Christ is the “stone”; he is rejected by the community’s pagan persecutors but to us he is of great value (“precious”). Their rejection was ordained by God before time (“as they were destined ...”, v. 8). In v. 9, the terms used of Christians are all from the Old Testament – where they refer to Israel. The Church, the new Israel, is “chosen” by God to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection (“mighty acts [of God]”); it is God who chose the new Christians for conversion from paganism, “out of darkness into ... light”. In baptism, they have come from having no relationship to God (“not a people”, v. 10) to being “God’s people”, to receiving God’s gift of “mercy”.
 Just as the readers had no part in receiving their old Gods they have no part in receiving their new God. This God has chosen them though from before time. It was meant to be.  Chiefly among their items of inheritance is the gift of mercy and forgiveness.

While their old Gods desired of them many sacrifices and many liturgies (even in the household amidst their daily routine), this God is a God of freedom and relationship.  They are marked in this new relationship by the waters of baptism.

This is a truly foreign idea to someone living today. I think as a preacher you have to relate through the notion of what enslaves and requires attention of you today...what are the gods that are controlling your current life?  Do you know that this ancient creator God has chosen you?  Are you aware of what this God requires? This God has in fact chosen you as he has chosen Israel and he is a God of mercy and forgiveness and love.  This God does not require constant maintenance but rather acts of sharing, of kindness, of mercy.

Some Thoughts on Acts 7:55-60

As we mentioned in last weeks lesson what we know is that the community(s) Luke was familiar with had an understanding that they were to make sure that the lost and least were cared for. They were even willing to sell their things to do this ministry. Collections were taken, held in common, and redistributed for the purposes of ministry to the people in the wider community.

We know this was true elsewhere as there is testimony in both the Gospels and the letters that early stewardship was to share what you had with others. It was not a complex model or program. The work of the church in explaining stewardship revolved around a theology that understood that: 
  1. That if you wished to experience a relationship with Jesus, you had to know and serve those whom Jesus loved and that is the least, lost, hungry, and imprisoned. (When did we see you?, Matthew 25:31-46)
  2. That religious systems are not to take from the poor and weak but give to them. (The widow’s mite, Mark 12:41-44)
  3. Jesus invites those who follow to be neighbors with those unlike themselves. Their community was beyond family, clan, and religious belief and included people outside their faith circles. (Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37)
  4. Those who follow Jesus are to sacrifice their own safety and comfort for the lost as Jesus did. (Good Shepherd, John 10:11-12)

Service and mission to the lost and least was an outward understanding of the theology that understood God himself united heaven and earth in order to serve and die for God’s friends.

This gospel work of service required communities to oversee the work and so we are told in Luke’s experience this is revealed in the work of Stephen. Stephen and others were chosen early in our narrative (6:1 of Acts of the Apostles) to do the work of caring and feeding the orphans and widows. Gathering resources primarily was the work of Stephen. The believing community would take up offerings or sell what they had and then purchase food for the feeding of the hungry.

What has happened in the religious community prior to our reading today is the following. The religious leaders are getting concerned about this new sect within their body. I do not believe that everyone is called to be an evangelist. The scripture is clear that some are pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, etcetera etcetera. But what is also clear is that when you serve for instance, as Stephen is doing, people may in fact come to believe. All of this was causing the numbers of the followers of Jesus to grow within the religious gatherings and the religious leaders were getting nervous. So, they call Stephen to come before the judges to determine what to do.

In response to questioning then Stephen gives his testimony. Stephen tells them that essentially religion is the enemy of God and that forever while God has been sending prophets to tell them so, they have in turn (in the name of religion) prosecuted them. So it is that religion does to all prophets what it has been doing from the very beginning… if religion is to survive the prophetic call it must kill the prophets. So, Stephen says,
”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Needless to say the hearers do not take this very well and the religious judges decide that Stephen must die. In a twisted turn they actually fulfill the prophecy of Stephen that religion kills the prophets and they are going to keep doing it as long as it furthers their purposes. A fact and tradition not lost on Christian religious tradition and well implemented after the religious institutionalization of the Jesus movement.

The judgment is made. The mob seizes Stephen, covers their ears so they can’t hear Stephen’s preaching. It was tradition for an execution to take place outside the city so they take Stephen out to through him into the pit and cast stones on him. Stephen, like Jesus, forgives his executioners revealing a key understanding that Christians are a people of peace even in the face of violence, murder, and executions. We are left with the image of Saul as part of the crowd and an understanding that he too will play a greater role in our narrative as he wrestles with and comes to terms with the message of a gospel meant for all people. So in this one foreshadowing moment we see too the beginning of the mission to the whole world – including the non religious.

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