Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter 6A May 21, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I will show myself to him, and be known by him, as if he saw me with his eyes: but this showing of himself is not bodily, but spiritual, yet so plain that no other showing could be more evident."

From John Calvin's the Geneva Notes.

"To preach the promise of the Spirit and the assurance of Jesus' ascension in the middle of the Easter season may very well get us out of our resurrection ruts, that the resurrection is all that God has in store for us."

Commentary, John 14:15-21 (Easter 6A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

Fifty-seven times Jesus uses love verbs (agapao, phileo). Add to that all of the occurrences of "friend" (which is the translation of philos) as well as the fact that the primary disciple in the Fourth Gospel is an unnamed character called "the beloved disciple," and we might accuse the author of touting a single issue.

Commentary, John 14:15-21, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good
things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such
love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above
all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we
can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 1979

Some Thoughts on Matthew
[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

We are coming to the end of our Easter readings, we are nearing the Ascension and Pentecost.  The text itself reflects the transition that is underway in the Gospel narrative of John and parallels our own liturgical season.  The words we receive from Jesus in this weeks lesson are words of comfort.  He is leaving them, the moment is near.  Just as the disciples have witnessed Jesus and therefore have experienced the Father's love and care; so as he departs he explains to them and to all those in the coming generations that they will always be close to God.

Jesus is fulfilling the final portion of the mission of God; he is explaining that he will pour upon them the very spirit of God the Advocate who will bind disciples of the living God together and to the divine being itself.
Those who follow will continue to experience Jesus, and the Father's love through the comfort and counsel of the Spirit.  In fact, the as the mission of God has always intended, those who follow and make community in Jesus' name will experience the closeness and presence of the Spirit as it is in this very community that the Spirit will dwell and make its home. (John v.23)

As I search the web for resources I think Chris Haslam does a very good job in describing the nature of the word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit. For those interested in the word study his comments follow:
"Verse 16: “Advocate”: The Greek word is Parakletos, which can be translated as Champion. The Greek word is derived from a verb meaning call to one’s side. The Latin word advocatus has the same meaning, but there is a distinction to be made between the Greek and Roman judicial systems. In a Roman court, an advocatus pleaded a person’s case for him, but a Greek parakletos did not: in the Greek system, a person had to plead his own case, but he brought along his friends as parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to his value as a citizen. One can argue that the sense in John is of giving help – as is usually the sense in the New Testament, e.g. encourage, comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and exhort in Romans 12:1. A Champion is one who supports by his presence and his words."
It is clear that Jesus understands that the Holy Spirit is like Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit represents the Father, and living and dwelling in the community of the Spirit will allow others who did not experience Jesus directly to experience the fullness of the Trinitarian community of God.  The Holy Spirit is another representative, a member of the family which is called God.  The spirit is a direct representative not simply an envoy.  This Spirit will offer to all the world through the community of beloved disciples, and the continuing community of witness and the life of the disciple the truth of Jesus, his life, and the nature of unity all have in God.

From the very earliest created moment God has desired to walk in the garden with his people.  The Diocese of Connecticut has this very wonderful way of expressing this desire of God, this mission of God:
"God created all things in love – the universe, earth, humanity. It was diverse, and it was good. Human sin entered in and distorted our relationship with God, one another, and creation. God seeks continually to overcome this alienation. This is God’s mission. God chose and liberated a people, sent the law and the prophets. God came in Jesus, fully human and fully divine, to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  God sent the Holy Spirit, empowering the Body of Christ.  God commissions us in baptism to participate in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation." -- Collaboratively written, and offered, by the Mission Discernment Initiative working group .
As Episcopalians we cannot read our verses today without proclaiming the Holy Trinity.  We are a people who believe in the community of God and God's desire through mission and evangelism that we unite people into his community. We are people who proclaim the community of love divine.

As you preach this Sunday I encourage you to speak of this key and essential understanding of God, how God desires us to be in community, celebrate the beauty and goodness of the communities in which you serve, and challenge all the people of God to undertake with God, the pleasure of being a missionary people inviting all the world into relationship bound by God's Holy Spirit.

"Perhaps suffering in this case means being willing to renounce certain things in the name of Christian faith."

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A), Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"The point of this rather dense passage seems to be that the hearers need not fear suffering nor fear the powers that be."

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

Our Author is reflecting in the text the fact that the Christians he is writing to are enduring persecution. Households are divided and some are suffering.  He reminds his readers that no matter what comes they are to not fear or be intimidated.  They have faith.  This faith may bring persecution.  Nevertheless, by focusing on God and continuing to live your life as a follower of Jesus they will make it through this time. He writes: your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
The author then reminds us that God is a patient God. Our God is a god who in Christ Jesus suffered. Christ himself and many before us have suffered and died for their belief.  God has been patient as is revealed in the story of Noah and we might also remember Abraham.  God has waited patiently even until this moment.  Yet the God we believe in saves us.  Our God is patient and waits upon us and in return we are to (as Mary responds) wait upon the Lord.

In our present sufferings we are to remember our baptism in particular. We are to be mindful of Noah and our baptism.  He writes:
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
We are cleansed in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever.  This is true and powerful for those who are suffering.

I am mindful of recent comments from our Archbishop past and present who called the so called suffering of Christians in the west dramatized compared to the very real suffering, persecution, and death of our brother and sister Christians in other parts of the world.

As Christian people in the west we do not honor our fellow Christians who are suffering when we talk about suffering in the U.S. for instance.  Sometimes I think we cry wolf and call it persecution when we are challenged by prevailing attitudes that in turn persecute or treat others without dignity.

The context of Peter's letter is important. The letter is addressed to slaves, and Christians who have no power, who are in the minority, who are dying and being persecuted. He is offering them hope in their suffering. We in the west need to be vigilant to insure that we do not take this passage out of context and use it to protect racism, class-ism, or bigotry.  It is always good to know that when we are powerful we are to seek powerlessness. 

Some Thoughts on Acts 17:22-31

This passage comes well into the book of Acts. Last week we were introduced to Saul before his conversion where he was participating in the stoning of Stephen. This week we join Paul as he is making his second trip. Paul has had his conversion and become missionary helping to plant and to support emerging Christian communities. In this passage Paul has arrived at Athens.

I have to admit this is a very important and key passage if we are to embrace a missionary hermeneutic. So, I want to examine it carefully.

First, let us name what we do with this passage normally. A quick survey of sermon resources tells me that we often read this passage through the lens of the existing church and our liturgical or worship traditions. So, we read this as being about Christian liturgy and worship vs. pagan worship. This is not quite the context because for the Athenians Paul is the pagan and maybe even an atheist. The second way we read this is might be to make this an internal argument about our internal spiritual relationship with God vs the pagan gods we worship out in the world. This moves us into a dualistic understanding of world as bad God as good. Worse, it makes God into something inside of us and removes transcendence from the equation and perpetuates an immanent frame of humanism disguised in gospel words. Finally, preachers put their people in the place of the Athenians. They are the pagans who have come to learn. I don’t see much of this, but it is there. Somehow, the preacher believes they are to be the apologist within the organization for the people. All three of these scenarios move the work of responding to the lesson, God, or the world as an internal work that takes place within the individual or inside the church. The scholars who seem to get this closer to a missiological understanding place the hearers in the role of Paul and play with the notion of conversing about God out in the world.

Taking a look at the passage again we notice that Paul comes to Athens to meet up with and wait for Silas. This is important in that we must see that while Paul is on a mission trip, the actual frame of the story happens while he is waiting. He is out in the world. He is noticing his surroundings. He is about his work when the mission opportunity occurs.

Paul is clear that there is a lot of idol worship and he is “distressed” by it. The word here is interesting, because a direct translation is that he was moved by the spirit. He was provoked by the spirit. I pause here because some of the reading gets us into an antagonistic situation. Paul though is moved by the spirit to talk about all of this idol worship so he engages with anyone who will engage with him.

We automatically put Paul into an antagonistic situation where he is arguing for something over and against something. This could be the situation but this runs a little against the grain of Luke’s narrative in Acts which seems so very interested in engagement for the sake of relationship and invitation. Princeton Scholar Clifton Black points out that for Luke, “all other philosophical or religious views do not have to be dynamited as false in order to prove the gospel true.” In this vein then we see Paul is invited as a fellow philosopher into the Areopagus to speak with the greatest minds in the city. The invitation is not so that they might confront him as in some of the Old Testament prophetic duals between God’s prophets and Baal’s. Instead this is a conversation.

Paul then tells the story of his time in Athens. Paul uses their own image, their own idol as a tool to discuss the God in Christ Jesus. Note very carefully that he does not turn over the tables in the false shrines, or call them heretics, or tell them they are not believers. In fact, Paul speaks to their highest selves and their searching and seeking.

Moreover, Paul does not offer them religion for religion. He offers them faith in a God who seeks relationship with the creature. He is not interested in competing against the other lesser gods, he doesn’t even deny their place. He simply offers a vision of a God who reaches across creation and embraces humanity, who bridges the gap of sin by God’s work on the cross, and who raises all people through the work of resurrection. This is brought about by Jesus. Paul makes a compelling case. But it is a case not made by bashing the religion of his hearers. Instead he uses what he has observed about his hearers and their faith to speak to them about the faith in Jesus.

Scholar William Loader writes,
“Both episodes today [Peter and Acts] are about removing barriers, barriers constructed by religion itself. Both are saying that the whole world is God’s creation, the playground of the Spirit. The whole world is the object of God’s love, the love incarnate in Jesus Christ. Every attempt by human beings to capture God in images, in a book, in a temple, in a people or culture, in a religious experience or in an institution, is a denial of the Spirit. It is a re-erection of Babel’s tower, another futile assault on God’s power in the name of human power, another desperate bid borne of fear, to define out the unknown, the unpredictable, the unmanageable future God promises us. The serpent’s vision still entices us: we want to be like God.”
To often mission is about us having something they don’t have. It is about them coming in here to get it. It is about making a case about a God seen faithfully only through the eyes of religion and worship. This is not the missiology framed in Acts and not in this passage about Paul. We do far better to speak the truth that our greatest witness is out in the world – sometimes while we are waiting. That the invitation is not to shame people into religion by propositioning them to see how ours’s is better. It is rather about true engagement, valuing of other faiths and religions as pieces of revelation of God in Christ Jesus and seeking with them to understand and speak about the God who suffers, dies, and is resurrected.

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