Finding the Lessons

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

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

All Saints A November 1


Prayer


Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Great is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this generation lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kigndom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and riegns 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

"What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture's games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility?"

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Epiphany 4, 2005. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.


Jesus saved for last the ones who side with heaven even when any fool can see it's the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. "Blessed are you," he says.

You can see them looking back at him. They're not what you'd call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration.


"Beatitudes," Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words.


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


This week most congregations will be celebrating All Saint's Day.  Yet, as we we do so we attempt to weave a major Feast of the Church into the Scripture from Matthew.

I want to step back and take a look at Matthew first; then see how we might allow the scripture to speak to our Feast.

As we look at Jesus’ ministry, it is important to see that there is a framework at work in Matthew.
In the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew we see that the individuals who come in contact with Jesus do not have to do anything, Jesus is not teaching about discipleship, he is not charging them to reform the religion of the time -- he is simply giving of himself.

Jesus is intentionally offering himself to those around him. The people in the first chapters of Matthew and in the Sermon on the Mount receive Jesus; this is the primary interaction taking place between those following and the Messiah himself.

Jesus is giving of himself to others.

The Sermon On the Mount begins in Chapter 4.25 and the introduction runs through 5.1. We are given the scenery, which is the mountain beyond the Jordan (previous verse). This continues to develop an Exodus typology which is the foundation of Matthew’s interpretive themes in these early chapters. It follows clearly when one thinks of the passages leading up to this moment: the flight from Egypt, baptism and now the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel the first five chapters parallel the Exodus story. So, Jesus now arrives at the mountain where the law was given.

The structure of the following verses are beautiful and I offer them here so you can see how they play themselves out in a literary fashion (5.3-5.10).
5.3 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

5.10 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven

5.4 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be comforted

5.9 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be called sons of God

5.5 Future Active Voice with Object: They shall inherit the earth

5.8 Future Middle Voice with Object: They shall see God

5.6 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be satisfied

5.7 Divine Passive Voice: They shall have mercy
Matthew uses these formulas and structures throughout the Gospel.
Scholars tell us that the classical Greek translation illustrates the pains that Matthew took as he rewrote Luke’s and Q’s Beatitudes to create the parallels we see. Matthew also writes so carefully that when he is finished, there are exactly 36 words in each section of the Beatitudes (5.3-5.6 and 5.7-510). This combined with the parallels highlight the two sections that must have been meaningful to the church at Antioch (comprised of those who have fled persecution).
5.3ff describes the persecuted state of the followers of Jesus

5.7ff describes the ethical qualities of the followers of Jesus that will lead to persecution

This view is taken from the work of Allison and Davies in their hallmark text on Matthew's Gospel, volume 1.

It is easy to see here in the Beatitudes offered by Jesus that these words are blessings, not requirements. The teachings therefore are words of grace.

In the initial teachings of Jesus’ ministry, healing comes before imperative statements, here Jesus preaches that grace comes before requirements and commandments. This is a perennial Christian teaching: one must receive first before service.

The difficulties required of followers of Jesus presuppose God’s mercy and prior saving activity.

The Beatitudes are clear that the kingdom of God brings comfort, a permanent inheritance, true satisfaction and mercy, a vision of God and divine son-ship. This may be Matthew’s most important foundation stone within the salvation story. We are given, through grace, our freedom to follow.

We are like the Israelites and sons and daughters of Abraham, delivered so we may follow and work on behalf of God.

The Beatitudes also are prophetic as in the passage from Isaiah 61.1. Jesus is clearly the anointed one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, bringing Good News to those in need. Furthermore, the words of Jesus are the result of the prophecy and so they set him apart from all other teachers.

The beatitudes then are also words which not only promise Grace to the follower, they fulfill the prophetic words of the old message from Isaiah: Jesus was meek (11.29; 21.5), Jesus mourned (26.36-46), Jesus was righteous and fulfilled all righteousness (3.15; 27.4, 19), Jesus showed mercy (9.27; 15.22; 17.15; 20.30-1), Jesus was persecuted and reproached (26-7). The beatitudes are illustrated and brought to life in Jesus’ ministry, they are signs that he stands in a long line of prophets offering comfort to God’s people, and he is also clearly the suffering servant who epitomizes the beatitudes themselves. Origen wrote that Jesus is offering this grace he fulfills and embodies his own words and thereby becomes the model to be imitated.

The Beatitudes are words of proclamation. Are we in a place where we can articulate Jesus’ story and life as a fulfillment of God’s promises to his people? God's promise to me personally?

The Beatitudes are words of mercy. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ words for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be saved before we begin to work on Jesus’ behalf?

The Beatitudes are words of care for the poor. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ special concern for those who are oppressed in the system of life? Are we ready to follow him into the world to deliver his people imitating the work of Moses and Jesus?

As we reflect then on the Feast of All Saints it is more clear how this passage might speak to the church. We understand the saints of the past (holy and common) and the saints of today, along with the saints of tomorrow to be those who in their lives offer us a vision of this grace, mercy, and vision for God's special friends - the poor.  Who are the ones we look up to from the past?  Who are the one's in our life today?

Can we see the potential of saints yet unknown to us already out int he world working and serving? Can we be open to the next saint who is yet to cross our path and offer us a vision of the kingdom of God?

Excerpt from Holy Women Holy Men

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day—as a sort of extension of All Saints—on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.  (page 664)

Some Thoughts on 1 John 3:1-8

"It may be significant that this text is full of indicative verbs, not imperative."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The church's integrity wells up from, and is channeled by, God's calling (3:1b; 3:3). To be a saint is to live in the same love by which God has loved us (3:16-18; 4:7-12)."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints A), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"We get Christian hope confused when we think that our hope is based on now nice we are, or how well we behave, or on some hidden piece of us called 'the soul' that will survive through death and destruction."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

In this letter from the Johannine community we understand that they take seriously their familial ties with God. they are the followers of God and are to be called the "children of God”. God loves them and Christ as Savior of the world has unleashed that love and it now claims them. They are God's children.  

New Testament scholar David Bartlet writes:
...John's Gospel points to a future hope. Sometimes that is a kind of individual future hope: "In my Father's house are many dwelling places... I will come and take you to myself" (John 14:2-3). At other times, there seems to be hope more like what we find in 1 Thessalonians, i.e., hope for a general resurrection at the end of time. "Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

The author reminds the readers that Jesus was not listened to in his own lifetime and so it is unlikely that his children will be listed to... nevertheless, they are his children now and in the future. There is an understanding that what they experience now is only in part what they will experience once they are unified with God in his kingdom.  They do not know what that will be like but as his children they have a sure and certain hope.

So, the author tells the reader, live a virtuous life.  Live an ethical life.  Be like God - good and pure.  Now what is important here is that we are not simply talking about a set of words that we interpret through our own lens. We must, we must, understand that for John and his readers in the community to be good and pure is to be like God who loves.  We are to love. Love love love love - Christians this is your call...as the old song goes.  I like how Loader (one of my faves) says it:
It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.
We are saints and children of God because God makes us so...we are loved. We are the be-loved of God.  And our response to this be-lovedness is to in turn love others.  This is the chief if not the primary work.  How we doing with that I wonder? I wonder how God thinks we are doing with that?

I think rather than pointing a finger at our people and telling them to love more. Giving them new boxes to check and new tasks to fulfill...perhaps we might simply begin by loving them and by telling them that they are loved. Tell them you love them. Tell them they are loved. By all means, please, tell them God loves them. 


Some Thoughts on Revelation 7:9-17


"Led by their Shepherd-Lamb, God’s redeemed people will come through the tribulation into God's new Promised Land.”
Commentary, Revelation 7:9-17 (Easter 4C), Barbara Rossing, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"So much of the imagery is strange if not, perhaps, even estranging. Yet it is a way of asserting hope for people who faced hopelessness. It is a way of making God central and keeping the vulnerability of God in our vision."
"First Thoughts on Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


All that is needed is faith in God through Jesus Christ that the great abyss has already been traversed and an eternal bridge erected. 

In the New Testament, this is the idea that it is only through God’s work upon the cross – that is the death of Jesus that one enters the reign of God on the last day. Today’s lesson from Revelation describes that day and completes the prophetic words of Jesus.

Our great sightseer into the dream of Revelation sees the many who are saved. When wondering who the people are he is told, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The sign of Jonah offered by Jesus, that in the last days the wedding feast will be consummated by his own death. Not by miracles at Cana nor by telling parables or working miracles. No all who enter, enter by his grace and work on the cross. It is only for us to believe that it is so. No amount of our work or repentance gets us in – only the blood of the lamb.

It is a macabre image rooted deeply in the psyche of the first century mind. Nevertheless, it is an image that reminds us of our power-less-ness in the face of death.

This second vision though is one that is to bring us hope. The passage has been paid. All is needed is faith. For those who come to believe, who come to turn over their lives in this world, the next, even in the last moment as they are faced with the reign of God their way is afforded to them. Even in the Divine Comedy all is never lost and hope has the last word. So the clothes are washed in blood that is already spilt.

So, for everyone then comes the promise: “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is comforting apocalyptic imagery for the believer. But there are many who are living in their own personal apocalyptic world today. People who are the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and many more…the lost, the lame, the least, and the lonely… They face death today. Will there be food on the table and a roof over their heads. For those Christians who have found the depths of Sheol paved for them, then it is their work in turn to do some washing in this world. It is for the faithful to make the paths straight, the valleys high, and the mountains low for the poor who in this world have no way out of Sheol. For the faithful they are to carry their own cross and lay down their own lives and sacrificially provide for the other who faces death as a daily companion. In this way then the promise of relief is not something to be received in death only but may be received by being given in life now.

I believe the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about his own present time. It may provide hope today as well and it may even provide transformation of community life. But we will have to get over the idea of being afraid of death. It is such a trivial thing if we but believe and then act out our belief.

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