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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Monday, July 10, 2017

Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +5 July 16, 2017


Creator God, unceasingly at work in the field of humanity sowing the good seed and awaiting its yield, let your Spirit move in power over us to transform our hearts into the good soil you seek. Then may your word bear fruit a hundredfold in our deeds of justice and peace, and thus reveal to a world that eagerly awaits its liberation the blessed hope and glorious freedom of your reign.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 13:1-23

"This is not about what good soil we are, and how well we understand the divine mysteries. This is about what God is doing in staggering numbers."

Preaching Matthew 13:1-9, Anna Carter Florence, Lectionary Homiletics sample.

"The parable of the careless sower, the miraculous harvest, the helpless, hapless seeds, or the good soil? Which brand name(s) do you prefer? Whichever one(s) you pick, 'let's hear something we've never heard before.'"

"Rebranding the Parable of the Sower," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

The setting for this parable is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. There are many people following Jesus now and they are pressing in on him. He is offering them something they are not receiving elsewhere. He is perhaps helping them see that the world does not have to be the way it is and that the reign of God is at hand. He is sharing with them his vision of the kingdom of God and inviting them to realize that the change begins in their own lives. This band of disciples and Jesus are living on the edge of the culture and of their faith but here they are finding companionship along the way. Herein on the Sea of Galilee they are finding that perhaps there are many who feel they live on the edge.

As the people press in on Jesus he gets in a boat and begins to teach them from this place. One can imagine the people sitting along the edge amidst fishermen repairing their nets and boats. They sit and stand and listen.

Jesus chooses a very pastoral parable. Parables of course are stories with many possible meanings. Martin Luther said that one must depend upon the Holy Spirit to open their deep meaning to the person listening. Jesus even says:

The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

It is probably worth spending a little time this Sunday teaching about what parables are and the nature of them. Many people have heard them, but most people don't really know what they are; how many they are; or that they were a natural part of teaching during Jesus time.

The text is divided into two parts. The first is the actual teaching, and the the explanation of the teaching. Both are important and both have their place, but I would suggest to you that you must choose to deal with Jesus' parable or Jesus' teaching of the parable.

Let us simply go over the teaching of the parable by Jesus first. Certainly people in Jesus time were more connected with their food sources and where their food comes from. Unlike us today, most of them would have had small gardens. Certainly there was a growing dependance upon farmers, but unlike the industrial age when we see whole economies depend upon foreign food production, people in the time of Jesus all farmed a little. So it is easy to understand his teaching. The sowers sows the seed this is the good news. The ground is us. We can be fruitful or not. We can be like the hard ground, the rocks, or the thorns. We can let birds come and gather it up. These are hard times and much can happen. Here is what Jesus says:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

I think those gathered around Jesus heard this parable and thought about God. Perhaps some of the more religiously astute remember the prophecy of JEroboam from 1 Kings 14:7-11. In this story the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam that because he abandoned God and worshipped false Gods that he and his household will suffer for their evil ways and and that the birds of the air will peck at them upon their death. It is the same for King Baasha. So there was some understanding by the population that this birds of the air was not a good thing at all!

It is not a difficult thing to think that God is the sower, receive the good news and reign of God and don't let anything happen to it...nurture it...water it...and for goodness sakes be good ground. At the end of the day if every one of our people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning got that much (be good earth for the Gospel) we would be off to a grand start.

I think there is more there though that is worth looking at and going a little deeper. Here we see that listening and doing are important and key to discipleship work.

A disciple is not one who abandons the quest.
A disciple is not one who listens lightly and then returns to his life as though nothing has changed.
A disciple is one who will be persecuted for their faith.and if not prepared the Gospel will not have rooted itself deep enough o withstand pressure to relent.

These are some key discipleship thoughts. I am interested though in what happens when we take Jesus' last words here and return to the parable to hear it again for the first time.

Jesus says, "But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Does the one who hears, who understands it, then bears fruit not in turn like the sower. A fruit tree itself is a sower of fruits and seeds. They fall and land every which way. The fruit tree produces a hundredfold. Yet all of it does not grow new fruit trees just like the original sower of seeds. In this way the disciple becomes like the master, the assistant gardener like the master gardener.

In this way the human being who was created to be God's partner in the garden, tending and walking with God in the end of the day is restored. The disciple returns to the work we were originally created to undertake. We are to be, like Jesus, sowers of the seeds of the kingdom of God. We are to sow with abandonment. We are to sow in all kinds of places. We are to not worry about what grows up but it is the production of fruit and the propagation of the Gospel that is essential.

In our work places, in our homes, in our families you and I are to bear the fruit of the Gospel. Which for Jesus is very clear. We are to be the family of God. We are to care for young and old, rich and poor, the powerless and the powerful. We are to bring all to a closer knowledge of God and of his son Jesus Christ. We are to so proclaim the Good News that those around us find the transformation they are seeking.

If we are to go deeper...if we are to go beyond a gnostic understanding of this gospel text where some get it and others don't...then we ourselves must become sowers of the Gospel seed.

One flew off in the belly of a bird.
One sprang up, but withered fast.
One choked by thistles, or so I've heard.
One gained a hundred when it was cast.

Come hear the wise old story
Of a sower and his seed.
He flung it far to fall,
Then battled bird and weed.
Some seed sprouted quickly,
Then withered in the sun--
But some seed fell upon good soil,
And repaid the work he'd done.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
\Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Sun and rain and time pass by,
And what was sown awakes.
First the blade, then the bud,
Then full ear it makes.
Come now golden harvest,
We'll reap what we have sown.
Seed once watered by our tears
Will be glad sheaves brought home.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves.
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves,
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

2002 by Skip Johnson

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:1-11

"...To hear, that is, that no matter what we've done or has been done to us, no matter what we may have previously heard or presently believe, God is not angry with us. To hear that God loves us, forgives us, accepts us as we are, and sets us free to live lives of meaning, purpose, grace, and gratitude."

"What Willl You Do...?" David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"Preachers of this text must, therefore, be careful to read it not as an ethically prescriptive text but rather as an anthropologically descriptive text, a metaphor for the act of salvation that only God is able to do."

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Last week we talked about the two ways of being in the world - living by the law, living by the grace of God knowing you will fail to keep the law. In this passage Paul talked about the conflict between the exterior doing self and the inner believing self.

In this passage Paul continues his thinking by laying out that something is simply wrong in our inner being - in our mind - our will.  We seem (while we are created to be God's creatures) to be unable to do what God wills. We are sinful and we are somehow broken.  Our flesh, Paul offers, seems to do bad things quite naturally.  

This being true we are grateful to God that there is no ultimate condemnation for these mistakes.  100% forgiveness.  This is true Paul says, because God's Spirit, through God's action in baptism, has freed us from death.  Nothing we do has done this...God has done it all. God has loved us so much that God came into the world.  God in the world, reaching out to us in perfect love, dies because of our sin. We do what we do...we kill love, forgiveness, and mercy.  God is faithful to us and does not raise a hand against us but heals and serves us and changes the equation.  God suffers what we give in return and dies in accordance with the law and our will.  God then redeems the whole situation through resurrection - forever reconciling us with God and with one another.

Paul then illustrates that even still there remains two mindsets which struggle against one another - the one focused upon ourselves and the other which is focused upon God.  The first is rooted in the law and leads to death; the second is a life lived in gratitude and leads to eternal life.  Those who follow Jesus are the ones who are living in the spirit and therefore will not die but have life eternal.  

God's spirit is with us - even to the end of the ages - and when we live in gratitude to the mighty work of God we be living in the spirit and have life abundantly.  This is the only way one has life.  The truth is that as humans we live believing that everything else will bring us happiness and eternal life. We believe all else will provide life abundantly - but in the end - the truth is clear - none of it brings gratitude and life.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 25:19-34

"This very brief, one verse account, continues the theme of the promise threatened and promise fulfilled that runs throughout the book of Genesis. Moreover, as in the instance of Sarah and Abraham, the theme of barrenness makes a powerful statement with regard to the power of God to bestow the unexpected gift of life in situations of barrenness and despair."

Julianna Claasens, Working Preacher

"It took Jacob of the Torah more than twenty years, plus a night of wrestling with God, to learn that steadfastness and clarity in his own identity, not trickery or violence, could win him the blessings of prosperity and peace."

"From Rivkah's Womb to the Western Wall," Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center.

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text 

Old movie serials would bring you up-to-date quickly before the next episode. This is similar to how we read through Genesis in our cycle. We discover since we last caught up with Abraham that our story follows a creation story about the linking of the Arab people within the line of Abraham as well, this time through his wife Keturah. These origin stories link all the people of the middle east together. Abraham has since died. Everyone is disbursed. 

While Rebekah and Isaac are having trouble getting pregnant, she speaks with God through an oracle and finds out she will have twins, but the younger will serve the older. 

Again, as before with Cain and Abel and with Isaac and Ishmael, we have two brothers divided.
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
As a child I loved this story - even though I was the oldest. When the time comes for the twins' birth of course this is a great wrestling match between the hair one and the heel.  They were always at odds (similar to the other brothers in our origins narrative). Esau was a hunter and a man of the field while Jacob was a tent dweller. Isaac loved Esau because he was like him and he love the hunt. Rebekah loved Jacob. What follows is that Jacob tricks Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup! In this way Jacob secures from Esau his lineage as the future patriarch. Spoiler alert: of course he gains from Isaac the blessing as well. 

In the end the great division between the two brothers will come to a head later in our story. Jacob will have to learn (not unlike many other characters in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament) that one cannot survive by trickery alone. Wrestling with angels, a dream, return to Canaan, a final conflict with Esau, and finally a lost son will bring him around to understanding the grace and mercy of God. 

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