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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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Proper 24A/Ordinary 29A/Pentecost +20 October 22, 2017


Prayer
Let those who exercise authority over others defer always to the primacy of conscience; and help us to use rightly the freedom you have given us, that we may fulfill Jesus' teaching, by rendering to others what is rightfully theirs but rendering to God alone the deepest loyalty of our hearts. 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
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

"It is God who claims us, who made us in his own image. We do not belong to anything or to anyone else." Commentary, Matthew 22:15-22, Clayton Schmidt, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"How can a Jew be faithful and observant and also stay alive under Roman rule? Yikes. But it is precisely this position of being caught in a bind of irreconcilable, conflicting obligations and duties that make real life so interesting. The desire to make the tension go away, to solve it, is the enemy of true faithfulness. " Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 22:15-22, David Ewart, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


As we have noted we are in the midst of a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.
The passage for this week is the passage on giving to God what is God's.  The leaders in the story are trying to get Jesus to make a seditious statement, a revolutionary statement so they can accuse him and dismantle his ministry.

This is a masterful moment of play and humor. It is masterful moment of debate in which Jesus is seen outclassing his verbal opponents.  The reality is that all things are God's. So Caesar can think that coin is his and we should indeed give it to him. But the message is clear all things are Gods.

This is not an argument for a division about church and state. Surely, Christians over the years have understood that they have a virtuous citizen role to play in the world of government and politics.  But this text is far from being a text that offers a view on the nature of our current debate between religion and the public square.

In this passage Jesus is clear: all things are God's.  Even in the subtext as we see the plotting and the future revelation that Jesus is surely to die for his teaching and for his eating with undesirables (as taught in the previous weeks text and lived out by Jesus) we are sure that God will prevail. Even the person hood of Jesus is God's own possession.  The workings of the state may indeed crucify and torture but the kingdom will belong to God and to his son Jesus.

So this Sunday, situated in the midst of the fall, is located right in the middle of many a stewardship campaign.  And, I think the message Jesus offers his detractors and the people around him is just as applicable today.

Every week we proclaim through the Nicene Creed a particular kind of God. We proclaim and give voice to a God whom we have faith in is the very one who has created all things and for whom all things were made.  The whole of creation was ordered and breathed into that it might reflect the glory of God.  Our Gospel today reminds us that in fact all things are God's.

This flies into the face of our modern conception of stewardship.  We teach and we preach that God gave us all things and so we are to give back to God.  That is not the same thing though.  When we teach that we change the meaning of the whole text and the whole of scripture.

The reality is that all things are created by God and all things are God's.  So the question isn't what am I supposed to do with my 5% or how do I get to my tithe goal.

The chief stewardship question I would challenge you to ask the members of your congregation is this: If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

That is a radical notion.  Yet it fits with the understanding of creation. It fits with the understanding of Christian stewardship in the New Testament. It is very uncomfortable and it is so culturally foreign to Americans that most people will not preach it and when it is preached most people won't be able to hear it.

If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

You see when we get this confused and we then adapt the stewardship notion (the idea that all things are God's and we are God's stewards) then what we get is the idea that the owner has actually given over the property to the steward. That really the steward is the owner.  When the steward becomes the owner then there is a new owner, and that owner is not God.

It is a very subtle concept. Perhaps it is so subtle that our authorities challenging Jesus don't even get his joke.  You see we can pretend all we want. Yet as we are reminded on ash Wednesday and at every funeral: dust we are dust we shall return.  Yep. All things are God's, they are God's now, and they will be God's when we are finished using them.

The very heart of stewardship is understanding that all that we have and all that we are is God's and purposed for God's use. The only stewardship question is how does God want me to use all this stuff!

There is another more sinister stumbling block in this text and that is the one that is sneakily portrayed by the emperor's image.  You see we, not wholly unlike the emperor, believe most days we deserve what we have. We deserve what we have, in fact we deserve more than what we have. Remember the one with the most toys wins.  That's right.  The reality is that most of us Americans are still firmly rooted in the false notion that if we work hard God will bless us, if we believe right God will bless us, if we do the right things God will bless us.  Therefore, all the stuff we have is because God blessed us.  No matter how you look at it the second most human way of life (behind it is all mine) is the notion that the more I have the better I am.

In varying degrees all humans are hoarders.

We believe if we can have it, possess it, keep it, hide it, collect it, then we are good, safe, whole, and holy.

I love the wake up call that Charles Lane gives in his book Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving stewardship ministry in your congregation.  He writes:
Our American culture has trumpeted the "self-made man at least since the time of Horatio Alger. The rags to riches story of a person who has pulled himself or herself up by the bootstraps and made something out of nothing has a long-standing place in our nation's mythology. We tend to take a very individualistic view of "success," ignoring the multitude of complicated factors that have caused one person to achieve wealth and power, while others have not.  ...Countless forces over which we have no control have helped make us what we are. The brains and the hard work for which we want to take credit for are God's, and God entrusts them to us.
What we have should not focus our attention on how kingly, wealthy, or blessed we are, it should make us ponder and think about how God would have me help others with what I have been given.  How do I as a steward of God's stuff understand and enact the kingdom of God?

We are not unlike the Roman legions occupying the holy land who produced that coin Jesus held many years ago.  We occupy our fortresses and we think only of the small offerings we should make to the Lord our God who has created all things, gives them life, and by his hand has brought them into being.

We are invited into a sacred relationship with the gardener, with the vineyard owner, with the one who is God above all Gods, Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.  And we are given the privilege of serving as stewards for all things come from thee O'Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.  All things are God's and we have the honor as stewards to ask how God wishes us to use all things.

Only when we begin here by opening our eyes to our faithful claim of a creator God and our role as stewards may we begin the journey of discernment about how to use God's stuff.



Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

"It can be tempting, when we receive the 'word', to think that we have received a special revelation, understood only by God and ourselves, and we allow this to become a justification for all we do and think. But the Holy Spirit moves in others as well as ourselves."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The content of the Gospel is grounded in faith and action?faith insofar as one must accept the message of the return of Jesus, and action insofar as one must turn away from the practices of idolatry. The presentation of the Gospel is found in words and action."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Richard Ascough, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

This week we shift to the first letter of Paul to the community in Thessalonica.  Typical of most letters we have an introduction which was routine at the time of Paul's writing. It is possible this intro was done by a scribe in preparation for the rest of the text; this would be true for the ending of the letter as well.  This is in part why so much of the Pauline texts begin and end in a similar manner.

After the greeting Paul tells them that despite all the adversity they have faced they have continued in faith.  They have undertaken a labor of love and a work of faith.  They are responding to God and God's love for them and have endured their sufferings.  
6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
They have done all this not because of their faith but the faith of Christ that is in them. They have been chosen by God.  Yes they are faithful but Paul is clear it is God working his purposes out in them. In this combined way (God's faithfulness and their own) they are successfully imitating Christ for the community around them to see.  

The families connected together in this gathering (which is really the meaning of the word church here) are known as people who worshiped the Roman gods.  They probably had altars and idols in their homes.  Yet they have come to know that Christ was resurrected and is a living God - he is not dead or a useless idol.  Moreover, it is this living God who will save them regardless of what their end may be.  Their witness is spreading from Thessalonica across the region and it is having a great affect.
in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
What kind of witness are we making to the world around us? How are we letting God's faithfulness be revealed in our actions and in our daily lives? What false Gods do we continue to manifest in our lives and what altars do we have set up in our homes?  Paul challenges us today to figure out how we are living like Silvanus and this gathering of faithful people or how we are not. I don't think this is a moment for shame but rather an honest question about asking: do we really believe the altars and statues we are erecting in our lives are going to save us?  And, are our actions in the world revealing the kind of God we believe in?

Some Thoughts on Exodus 33:12-23

"The fact that Moses' request is not granted reminds Moses, and us, that God is still God. For all his chutzpah, even Moses cannot presume too much. Even Moses cannot know or comprehend God completely." Commentary, Exodus 33:12-23, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Preaching on this passage could address the uncertainty that is a necessary part of faith, or it might emphasise the way in which worship and discipleship are themselves acknowledgements of the presence of God with us." 
The Old Testament Readings: Exodus 33:12-23. Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

"YHWH extends grace, mercy, and assures the promise of a holy presence and a communal presence. YHWH also sets up a tension that is at the heart of our own relationship with God. God gives of Godself, but in God's infinite holiness, God also places limits on accessibility." 
Commentary, Exodus 33:12-23, Eric Mathis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.


In today’s passage Moses complains that God has not revealed who God is going to raise up to assist Moses, then he angles for a view of God, and God essentially responds by showing Moses his backside.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that this passage falls between the Golden Calf story in 32 and the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy” in 34 which includes the second set of tables. And, Sacks questions: what is Moses trying to accomplish here? (Sacks, Jonathan. “The Closeness of God (Ki Tissa 5776).” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 25 July 2016, rabbisacks.org/the-closeness-of-god-ki-tissa-5776/.)

Let’s face it, the passage is weird. Leaning on Sacks here to fetter out the strands, we clearly see that a) the people of Israel are lost in many ways, a “national crisis” is at hand, and Moses is seeking theological understanding and a look at God; b) the actual sentences don’t make sense together (editor’s mistakes, see verse 14 specifically and the order of things); C) some confusion on what the people’s sin was – actually. (Ibid)

Not to mention Moses has moved his tent outside the encampment! The whole story is a bundle of emotions and leadership anxiety.

Sacks writes:
It was as if Moses was saying, “Until now, they have experienced You as a terrifying, elemental force, delivering plague after plague to the Egyptians, bringing the world’s greatest empire to its knees, dividing the sea, overturning the very order of nature itself. At Mount Sinai, merely hearing Your voice, they were so overwhelmed that they said, if we continue to hear the voice, ‘we will die’ (Ex. 20:16).” The people needed, said Moses, to experience not the greatness of God but the closeness of God, not God heard in thunder and lightning at the top of the mountain but as a perpetual Presence in the valley below. 
That is why Moses removed his tent and pitched it outside the camp, as if to say to God: it is not my presence the people need in their midst, but Yours. That is why Moses sought to understand the very nature of God Himself. Is it possible for God to be close to where people are? Can transcendence become immanence? Can the God who is vaster than the universe live within the universe in a predictable, comprehensible way, not just in the form of miraculous intervention?
What is important here is the arch of the narrative which gets somewhat lost in our chip choppy way of reading it. The story goes that Moses is essentially pleading with God to come close to God’s people. That God cannot always be the God of mighty acts and transcendent power.

To this God replies in a similar way to Moses as to Job – you people cannot and do not understand my ways. I imagine him saying to Moses, “Do you not know my story and how I have been with you and your ancestors in every step, in your dreams, and upon your lips? Do you not know how I have walked with my people in the garden of their lives? I am a mighty God of mighty acts but I am also the God who knows the intricacies of human life, hairs on a head, and the sweat of your brow.” So it is that God does then what Moses asks and comes and fills the people with his presence.

Such inexplicable transcendence and immanence is alluded to in the gospel of Mark chapter 6 when Jesus walks on water. Here the Gospel taps into this very idea alluding backwards to the story of Job 9:4-11 and our passage from Exodus for today. Jesus passed them by. (Richard Hays, Echoes of the Scripture in the Bible, p. 72.) Here in the Gospel then is the revelation of God in the person of Christ Jesus (through whom all things were made), the eternal incarnation revealed. It is the very Christ, the incarnation who may be seen passing by Moses and Job. The great mystery that Moses and the people can’t seem to comprehend is that God is and has always been nearby in God’s incarnation. The question Sack’s asks we see as a revealed and unequivocal, “Yes!” God is both transcendent and cannot be contained fully in any vessel, though is revealed in the person of Jesus and all of creation and its history, as immanently present.

There is always quick move to make God somehow contained in the vessels we make for God – whether that be a tent of meeting – the Mishkan, a church by the sea where Jesus walked on the water, or in our very hearts. This is merely religious thinking though. The reality is that God is present and always present. We may glimpse this God only but for second and from time to time but God is present always, in all places, and with all people. Religion inserts a notion of dualism here that is essential to religious power. But God is both the God who shaped the universe through Christ and the God who floated down the Nile watching over a baby basket. God is both the mighty voice and presence upon a mountain top and the one we intimately call our relative: father, mother, brother, and sister. Like a mother hen he gathers us and with a mighty voice she shatters a rock and water comes forth that we may drink deeply of the mystery of a God revealed.

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