Finding the Lessons

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

You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date.

You can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Proper 8A/Ordinary 13A/Pentecost +3 July 2, 2017


Prayer

Pour forth into our hearts, strong and faithful God, the wisdom and daring of your Spirit, that we may take up the cross and follow Christ, willing to lose our lives for his sake and to manifest to the world the hope of your kingdom. 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 10:40-42

"What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them?" 

Commentary, Matthew 10:40-42, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."

"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


It is important when reading this text that we read the word which come just before as they are intimately tied together; the one giving way to the other.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
There was in the Jewish tradition of the day an understanding that in the last days of "tribulation" households would be divided. This is the reality of the time.  Allison & Davies write, "The absence of peace and the presence of the sword is a sign of the great tribulation. And it is in this great tribulation that the Matthean church must carry on its mission." (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 219ff)

Our text for Sunday expands upon this theme bridging and fully quoting Micah 7.6.
4The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. 5Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; 6for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.
Here too it is important to read what comes next in Micah's prophecy to understand the fullness of the words that Jesus is speaking to his followers.  Micah proclaims
7But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 8Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.
Just as Micah looks to the Lord for guidance in the time of trial; so too the disciples must look upon the Lord and upon his example and come after him.  In a time of division one can not look for allies in the field but rather to be allied with Christ.  "For Matthew, the cross is, as 10.39 makes plain, the outstanding symbol of self-denial."  (Allison & Davies, 221)  Central throughout the Gospel the cross is this profound moniker of discipleship.  This text is universally attributed to Jesus. Irenaeus in Adv. Haer. 4.5.4 wrote: Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood, follow Him (The Word)."

The purpose of the this challenge and call is linked not to violence but rather to service.  The disciples are to engage selflessly to Christian service.  This may include death as it certainly did for many martyrs.  But it is also about justice, food, clothing, and all of human life.  When one orients one's life to Jesus one chooses something more profound than a utilitarian manner of life which serves ego and bodily desires and hungers as the primary source for direction.  It is a profoundly different way of thinking about life. Rather than making a life based upon one's doubts, fears, or suspicions, one is choosing to affirm the life of Jesus and to choose intentional to try and live out a life which reflects the glory of God and immolates Jesus and his compassion and blessings for others.

To choose to live life as a follower of Jesus means to give meaning to one's existence. It is to live the life we were created to live: loving, caring, and creating community one with another.

Our mission is the mission of Jesus as so clearly stated in the Gospel of Matthew and exemplified by Jesus in Chapter 9.  We are to go about all the cities and villages. We are to gather people and teach.  We are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God out in the world.  We are to be about the work of healing people's lives, their hearts, and their bodies. We are to have compassion on all we find out there, or who walk through our doors. Jesus says to all those who would do this work and come after him, taking up their cross, and denying themselves: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask teh Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  (9.35-38 and 10.5-15)

We are given authority by God to do this work. (10.1)

We are sent out in the midst of crisis and a time of fear and injustice. (10.16ff)

We are to be like the teacher and have no fear and to live our Christian lives out in the open (10.26f)

This is our work.

Now that the missionary message is clear Jesus turns his attention to teaching about welcoming missionaries.  Returning again to Allison & Davies:
Those who welcome the eschatological messengers of Jesus in effect welcome Jesus himself and gain for themselves reward.  With this thought, which makes the decision for or against the missionaries equivalent to the decision for or against Jesus..." (225)
With these words Matthew closes Jesus' discourse on the life of discipleship and what it means to place one's mind on heavenly things even in the midst of living in this world.  The kingdom and reign of God is possible in this place. We are able to fulfill our purpose if we are courageous and deny that which "draws us from the love of God."  In some way we are challenged to make a decision about what the purpose of the earth and our place upon it holds within the schema of God's action.

Not unlike Joshua who chooses to follow the Lord, Christians make a decision that the purpose of creation is to fulfill God's will, and that we are to join in that work proactively and intentionally.Our work is not a utility that serves me, or to make life smooth and easy, but is to serve the utility of God. Jesus reminds us, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Mtt 6.24)

Take up your cross and follow me.

Some Thoughts on Romans 6:12-23

"The passage reminds us that we are still vulnerable to sin and death, post-baptism. And so the issue becomes: which slavery do we want--slavery to sin that leads to death or slavery to Christ that leads to life?"

Commentary, Romans 6:12-23, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Christ followers in Africa, Asia and Latin America have no problem with the Christian metanarrative. The way they read the Bible leads to the marriage of word and deed, faith and action. Why do their churches look and act so different from churches in the West?"

"Slave Wages," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.





We continue this week reading through Romans. We might remember that Paul has been clear with his readers that baptism has given them a new life.  Even though humanity continue to try and use the law to be close to God all that did was empower false rulers and religious leaders. The law simply made it even more difficult for reconciliation between God and man to occur.  So God responds by loving even more - this is grace.

BUT, while they have this new life and sin/death are forever beaten by Christ and his cross - we are still subject to sin.  We are still going to be tempted and we will even fall to our passions.  But we must be focused upon the life that is in us - this righteousness.  Sin will not win the day - rather - Jesus' death and our baptism will prevail.  

He then returns to this idea of lawlessness. Can we do whatever we like? Nope.

He uses then the image of ancient slavery to explain the ways in which we make our course through the world.  You cannot serve two masters he says...you can only serve the one or the other - life or death.  You are now, through your baptisms, servants or slaves (people bound to) God.  This bounded-ness to God is unbreakable and our hearts in thanksgiving for salvation seek to respond.

Paul says...look you were focused on the wrong things, things that didn't bring you life or liberty.  You payment for serving these things and these other masters was death. Now God frees you. God frees you to a new life without death.  God invites you to respond and to serve a different master.
I think we have to be very careful as we work through this passage given our western history with slavery.  But like our brothers and sisters in other cultures we should not shy away from speaking about how God frees us and we have an opportunity to respond. We should proclaim the reality that God's grace and love has forever linked us to the divine life and that there is nothing we can do to escape it.  And, should we wish to speak on how the meta narrative offers an ethical life - then engage by all means. But be clear that the narrative is not one that invites a new slavery to a new law which serves the empowerment of men and women and society.  Instead our ethical work is the just and proper use of creation, the freedom of captives, the visitation of the sick, the clothing and sheltering of the poor.  We have a new life of response to God's grace and that is to BE God's grace in the world.


Some Thoughts on Genesis 22:1-14

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present.


Stanley Hauerwas, a seminary professor, theologian, says: “Christ bids a person to come and die,” and even if he meant that metaphorically, it is still not easy. Are we willing to engage in that struggle, are we willing to make that sacrifice, are we willing to take that journey with Abraham and Isaac? God is waiting to find out, and God is patient and will wait as long as it takes.

Dan Bryant, First Christian Church, "An Uncalled For Sacrifice"

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament 

In the generations of religious following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem there was a direct connection between the Temple mount as the site of the binding of Isaac. (Levenson, Zion, 94-95) It is that on this mount God comes near and is seen. In this way the tradition dating back to the time of the Judges was that this mountain site, like other shrines in Israel, was a place where in God could be seen. The Temple itself becoming the chief place where God was present among God's people.

What takes place over the centuries is captured well in the writing of Jon D. Levenson in his book Sinai and Zion. He writes, "The Sinai tradition [that associated with the covenant of Moses and the shrines of Israel]...represents the possibility of meaningful history, of history that leads toward an affirmation, Zion [the tradition of David and the Temple] represents the possibility of meaning above history, out of history, through an opening into the realm of the ideal. (Ibid, 141-142)

Here then is the meaning for the early Christians of the story of Isaac. For the early Christian the idea that a beloved son of the family would be brought into violence was in fact a thematic reality - an "archetypal" account if you will. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 43) In this way it is not that Jesus was the required sacrifice as latter centuries would propose but that it was natural for the beloved son to come to a violent end. In fact it is the very act, in the rabbinic tradition, of this violence to the sons of Israel that over and over again plays a redemptive role in the great Sinai story of historical affirmation.

We want to be careful though. The religious theologian and philosopher is quick to remind us that while there are particular traditions that place God as the actor requiring Jesus death, this is an offensive theology. Perhaps rooted in the story of Isaac what we know is that Isaac's story itself is a story about how God wishes not to have child sacrifice.

René Girard writes:
Far more than we moderns generally realize, human sacrifice was a fact of life among the peoples of the ancient Near East in tension with whom Israel first achieved cultural self-definition. Israel's renunciation of the practice of human sacrifice took place over a long period of time, during which intermittent reversions to it occurred. No biblical story better depicts how the Bible is at cross-purposes with itself on the subject of sacrifice than does the story of Abraham and Isaac. ... We are told that God bestowed the blessing and promise on Abraham after the "test" on Mount Moriah because Abraham had been willing to do what God had intervened to keep him from doing -- sacrificing his son. This understanding may have had a certain coherence in the dark world of human sacrifice to which it hearkens back, and it may have some psychological pertinence, but the true biblical spirit has little nostalgia for the sacrificial past and almost no interest in psychology. What we must try to see in the story of Abraham's non-sacrifice of Isaac is that Abraham's faith consisted, not of almost doing what he didn't do, but of not doing what he almost did, and not doing it in fidelity to the God in whose name his contemporaries thought it should be done. (Violence Unveiled, p. 140)
So what are we left with? Jesus, the son, falls victim to worldly sacrifice as did so many sons an daughters during the time of child sacrifice before God said, "Stop." This is complete victimhood to the memetic, the repeating, sacrificial offerings of humanity to the lesser gods. The God we worship desires not child sacrifice and instead redeems Isaac and stops it...just as God puts an end to death in the resurrection of Jesus.

Today we will spend a good measure of time in our pulpits speaking of the near sacrifice of Isaac and questioning how faithful are we willing to be? Are we willing to journey to Mount Moriah or the mountain top of our choosing and lay down our life? Meanwhile the true question of faith remains be for us. As followers of Jesus are we willing to lay down our violence and willingness to sacrifice our brothers and sisters on the altar of social wars, global un-mandated wars, and doctrines of our supposed protection when the Christ we worship dies as a peacemaker and invites those who would come after to take up their cross and lay down the crosses intended for others.

Girard challenges us:
Nearly four thousand years ago, Abraham passed this test. He heard the voice of the true God telling him to stop, don’t kill. And now almost two thousand years after the voice of our risen Savior forgiving us for our numerous slaughters, all those brought together on his cross, are we ready to pass the test, too? Are we ready to stop the killing? What could happen in our world if two billion people who claim Abraham as their father could finally recognize what this test of faith is really all about?





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