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.

You can also search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.


Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Proper 27B/Ordinary 32B/Pentecost 24, November 8, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...if we remember that we are called to be stewards of each other – each member committed to the welfare and wellbeing of the rest of the community – maybe we can experience again and anew God’s blessing of us in and through the family of faith."

"Rethinking Stewardship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"God?s way is the way of self giving love and God?s community needs to be a place where love has freed people to be like that and that includes its leadership, which can often become an instrument of violence."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 24, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Robed in glory before all time, O God, your Son was stripped and mocked.  Enthroned in glory at your side, Christ was lifted up on the cross. Equal to you in the splendor of divinity, Jesus emptied himself for our salvation.  Fix our eyes on this self-surrender, stir up our hearts to give freely and generously all that we are and all that we have for the coming of your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 12:38-44

This Sunday we have two pericopes or passages linked together.  Perhaps we typically look at this story as a question of piety - the religious leaders of the day vs. the widow.  We also may be tempted to make this about pledging as it falls in the cycle of stewardship season.  As I approach it this year I am thinking a little differently. 

We are given an image of religious leaders who enjoy walking about in long robes, they prefer titles for address, sit in the best seats and always have the first place at dinner.  It is an image of endowed special privilege.

We add to the gospel painting a knowledge that the first century widow herself was not allowed to own property or to self-direct and manager her own wealth makes this an even more interested vision.  Moreover, that the religious leaders of the day were the caretakers of the wealth of such widows makes an even more convoluted picture of the relationship between these leaders and the widow.  She brings her last coin; in part because the offering being made by the religious leaders is also her own offering.  She is giving twice, once from the managed resources held out of her control, and once for the little bit she has in her care.

The picture we get is one of oppression and also one of an intertwined life.

Jesus is very clear that this is not the way of the follower of God and it is not the way of the new kingdom recreating the world.  This is quite simply not how God's home is ordered.

This is clear if we take into consideration Jesus' teaching previously of how we are to be kind to one another and to offer one another help and aid and consolation.  The small acts of human love require great courage in a world and system that typically takes advantage of the weak and those on the boundary of life. Therefore, in some sense what is before us is a commentary by Jesus on how those who follow him are to give their all to God.

The thing is that we cannot also take this as purely as a teaching on human righteousness.  First of all, as one dear friend says: righteousness is not a very good motivating factor for humans.  When I read the passage I am also mindful, as the scholars, that the widow is an image of God and of Jesus in particular. 

So, we might once again approach the passage with this question: what does it tell us about God? 

I think when we do this we see that humanity has received from God all that we are and all that we have.  It is from God's generosity and God's bounty that we make our offering.  Who doesn't love the best food, best clothes, and best seats?  All of us - of course.  But what we are reminded of is that these things (the things we normally think of sacrificial offerings) are all God's.  We have taken them and we use them.  God, like the widow though, continues to give and to give out of his love.

Jesus, like the widow, will give of his all; even his life.  This is the nature of God's love.  That though we take and misuse and use God continues to give and pour out his love upon us.  This was true in the crucifixion and it is true in the resurrection; as it is true in the outpouring of God's perfect love - the Holy Spirit.

So, as I go to my desk to prepare words for this day I am mindful not only in the manner in which we might misuse our power and make subject those who enable our lifestyle...I am rather mindful that of God's love and God's faith, like a widow, who gives us his all.

It makes me think that rather than offering a "try harder" to give of everything sermon I might simply remind myself and the congregation of God's faithfulness and love; and wonder with them about how we are to respond as or God makes his way down the aisle carrying the cross, as if he were a widow who give all.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 9:24-28

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

"The cycle of sin and atonement ends in Christ."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 24B, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We also encounter the contrast between imitation and reality in relationship to matters of faith."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 23B, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

We draw closer to the end to our reading of Hebrews. The author too wishes now to put a very fine point on his argument. Let there be no misunderstanding, regardless of your tradition, Christ has passed through the gap and entered into heaven on our behalf. This has happened and it need not happen again. Our sin has been taken away by the one who has gone before us to prepare a place for us. There is no rebreaking of the bread, or Christ's body, there is no sacrifice necessary, no work to be done on our behalf, no matter how early or late you come to the party, the blood has been shed and the sins of many are forgiven. And, just as he came into the world to do this work, to save the sinner, so when he returns he will be about his father's business again. Not to judge, for that judgement has been made, and the price has been settled, and so we - in that time - shall be gathered in. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost 23 & All Saints - November 1, 2015

Proper 26 B (All Saints Thoughts below)

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Sacrifices and outward worship never pleased God unless we first did the things which we owe to God and our neighbours."

From the Geneva Notes.

"All of us who spend our days swimming in the fickle currents of the church, at war with things both petty and impossible -- tired, sometimes, before the meeting begins -- that we are not far from the kingdom."

"Extra Credit," Robin R. Meyers, The Christian Century, 2000. At Religion Online.

You are one God, O Lord, and beside you there is no other.  You alone are we to love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  Sharpen our ears to hear this great commandment.  Arouse our hearts to offer this twofold love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 12:28-34

Oremus Online NRSV Text

The passage is one set with a narrative of confrontation between the religious leaders of Jesus' day and the message that he brings to the world.  The re-genesis of the world is now and the kingdom and dominion of God is now.

God is one, not a static one, but one forever.  God is unity and unifying.  God is working the unity of the world with God and has been doing so from the beginning of time.  The world above and the world below are being unified in the work of Jesus and the work of God. (Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 845)

In a time when God seems distant and when all seems lost, both for the first followers of Jesus and for the Jewish empire itself, this is a radical message.  God is even now joining heaven and earth.

And even more radical is the message it entails: Love God and love neighbor and we shall be connected.  Part of the very work from the creations time is the work of becoming a loving community focused upon God and the neighbor.

I am rereading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and remember now the Elder's words in the section entitled "An Unfortunate Gathering," chapter 4.  Here the Elder speaks of active love.

"By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively and indefatigably.  In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul.  If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul.  This has been tried. This is certain." (1912 trans by Constance Garnett, p53)

This is love which Jesus speaks about is a "one way love" as my friend the Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl talks about it. God has one way unifying love for the creation and for the creature wherein the two dominions are to be joined together beyond any one man's ability to try and put it asunder.  Jesus tells us that we are to be about this one way love as well.  Our one way love is to be directed towards God and towards others.

On this occasion when I read the passage I enjoyed most Jesus last words to his dear inquisitor: "You are not far from the kingdom of God."  This one way active love is greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices to be sure; and yet it is so very hard to do!!!

As the Elder offers consolation to the young woman seeking to communicate how hard this active love is he comforts her and then offers:

"I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.  Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sigh to fall.  Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage.  But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps a complete science.  But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting further from your goal instead of nearer to it -- at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you."  (Ibid, 55)

How easy is the dream of doing Jesus' guiding commandment, how hard to be constantly about active love. So you see we are all so very near the kingdom of God.  Just in the moment when all is lost we may in fact clearly recognize the one way love of God and so be redeemed.  And, in the moments when we offer such love on way to the other we are near.

That is good news it seems to me.  We are being joined and knit together in a new creation by God through God's love.  And, we in life, as we draw close we automatically begin to give that love to others.

I doubt this Sunday that a "work harder on loving God and neighbor" sermon will produce the desired results.  But a sermon of God's one way, uniting love, may in fact be just the medicine for the wounded heart and just the thing to knit our own fractured lives together.

Hebrews 9:11-15

"We might even seek to emulate the level of creativity our author has shown when we face the challenge of speaking this same message to people in our day who live in a different symbolic world but face substantially the same needs."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 23, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

God first came to Jesus' people in the wild places. The message in this week's lesson from Hebrews is a great missionary encouragement. It reminds us that the Gospel took place out in the wild in the midst of a tent. The author also reminds us that the old ways were ways that were repeated on a seasonal and regular basis.

Jesus is our great high priest, and while we are called to remember his sacrifice - this is not a repeat of it. We are invited to ponder instead the perfection of Jesus' sacrifice and to worship a living God who has broken open the temple, mended the gulf between heaven and earth, and who invites us once again out into the world, into the wildness for we are free and a redeemed people.

Thoughts for All Saints Sunday

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The epiphany is that we are to see ourselves in Lazarus and see the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus' offer of relationship with us."

"Lazarus Is Us," Reflections on John 11:1-45, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

"This story about Lazarus shares much in common with that of the Samaritan woman at the well. With the Samaritan woman the issue was seeing Jesus as the source of living water as compared to ordinary water. Here the issue is to see Jesus as the source of living life as compared to ordinary life."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 11:1-45, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

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 on 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 kingdom'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 Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 11:32-44

Some congregations will move All Saints to this Sunday, so it seemed appropriate to also spend a few minutes reflecting on the Gospel appointed in this year's cycle for All Saints.  This is also our reading in Year A, Lent 5.  I begin with one of my favorite prayers:

O my all-merciful God and Lord,
Jesus Christ, full of pity:
Through Your great love You came down
and became incarnate in order to save everyone.
O Savior, I ask You to save me by Your grace!
If You save anyone because of their works,
that would not be grace but only reward of duty,
but You are compassionate and full of mercy!
You said, O my Christ,
"Whoever believes in Me shall live and never die."
If then, faith in You saves the lost, then save me,
O my God and Creator, for I believe.
Let faith and not my unworthy works be counted to me, O my God,
for You will find no works which could account me righteous.
O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin,
and work for You as hard as I once worked for the evil one.
I promise that I will work to do Your will,
my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life and forever more.

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever." writes William Loader.

John's Gospel is a wonderful proclamation of the power, divinity, and transformation that is available to every person through Jesus Christ. The author has written, among the four Gospels, a compelling witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, as the giver of light, breath, and life from the very creation of the earth.

The story of the raising of Lazarus has never ceased to inspire and enliven both my imagination and my heart for the work of the Gospel. Our Gospel this week is the highest of revelationary narratives in the Gospel in both form and in content.

Jesus' raising of Lazarus is a reason why so many follow him and is clear in 12:17-18. He is as we know and have been experiencing throughout the Lenten readings the giver of life. (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). If we were reading along we would see that this is the last of a second set of miracle stories in John's Gospel that follow and highlight Jesus' teaching and conversation with his followers.

The passage begins with Jesus away and teaching, he is not present for his friend or his friends family. They come to get him and tell him that Lazarus has died. The words used to describe Jesus reaction to this are words that tell us he was affected greatly by the news. Again Jesus speaks of the work that must be done while he is with them, and that the work must be done in the light. Certainly these are like the other sayings that we have seen apocalyptic forecasts. Nevertheless, the very real human loss and desire for life is ever present as Jesus leaves to go to where Lazarus is buried.

He is of course returning to a place where he has shown power before and a place of danger. You might remember that he was almost stoned though he passed through them. 10:31, 39.

Jesus states that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common reference to death in the time of Jesus and after. Chris Haslaam has done some very good research and provides links for other parts of the New Testament that say the same thing: "A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [NOAB]"

Jesus words of peace and comfort are kind and simple....things will be better...they will be all right. Yet we must also realize that the word used here is one that means "to be saved." Sosthesetai is translated into "be saved." It is the word for salvation. Our witness to the raising of Lazarus is not simply a witness then to healing story, or an act of kindness, or a hopeful act, but a transformational act of restoration of health - of true salvation. It is a miracle, which like the other miracles in John's Gospel, clearly represent the work of glorifying God through the ministry of Jesus.

We are told that Lazarus had been in the grave for three days. There is a lot written around the idea of the Jewish burial services and the timeliness of such activities once the person has died. But I do not wish to get into this though it is interesting. I believe that the real meat of the text is in the conversation about salvation and resurrection.

As we continue the discourse on the resurrection we note that the Pharisees believed, along with other popular movements of the day, that all the Jews would be raised. Gentiles too if their integrity was judged by God to be suitable. I like how Chris Haslaam has written about these next two verses.

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [NOAB]
Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [BlkJn]
Jesus then gives life now and in the age to come. Immediately Martha offers the same statement as the blind man in last weeks lesson. Her words, while a question refer to previous affirmations in the Gospel. She is convinced...convinced that the proclamation of Andrew on the Galilean shore was true 1:41. She is convinced that Nathanael's proclamation is true. 1:49. She is convinced that the good news revealed int he feeding of the 5 thousand is true. 6:14.

Jesus approaches the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. It is not a resurrection story. But we cannot miss the connections as Jesus calls forth the dead from the tomb as he will most certainly do in the Easter miracle bringing all of the saints into light.

I also am struck by the reality that Lazarus must be unbound and that many participate with Jesus in this work of freeing him from death into life, from darkness into light.

The Gospel tells us that this miracle of reviving Lazarus is for the glory of God. It is also brings many more into the Jesus movement. We cannot see the disturbing events that lay ahead of Jesus without seeing the impact of this great miracle on the movement itself. For surely, as the Gospel testifies, the leaders of the day were worried and concerned.

This is a great miracle story. It is one that is rich with inter-textual meaning and connections. It highlights Jesus' as the one who gives life and breath. As Jesus says in the beginning of the text day is becoming night, and yet as we read we see that it will be Jesus who brings us out of the shadow of the darkness of the tomb into the light of day.

The witness of this passage is an evangelical one pointing us to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ so that we might believe and then raise the dead ourselves!

We are here at the precipice of our readings of Jesus' ministry.  On this day we remember the saints of God who have gone before us, we are mindful then of our own tomb and our own death yet to come.  We hope in God and Christ Jesus that this death will not be an end but a passing.  We hoep with sure and certain faith that God has raised Lazarus and in his work to bridge the kingdom of God with the world that we shall be scooped up into his harms, unbound from our eathly ego and all that binds us.

We continue the longest series of readings from the book of Revelation this week.  In today's passage the vision is of a new heaven and new earth.  The first things have passed away.

As a number of theologians point out the book of Revelation squarely places the kingdom of God's work on earth.  Rather than the heavens consuming the earth as in many other apocalyptic tradition the image and theme of Revelation is that heaven comes to earth; the fulfillment of the incarnation and the work of Jesus.

At the wedding at Cana of Galilee one can imagine the bride and groom and the many attendees gathered around enjoying the company of one another.  The image though of the bride of Christ given in the previous chapter is not a wedding feast where earth is brought into heaven and all rejoice.  It is instead an image of a beautiful and wondrous earthly city.  It is a place of hospitality to the stranger and  a place of rest for the weary pilgrim, and peace for God's people.  Tears are wiped away in this place and the world itself is transformed.

Such a city has been on the hearts and minds of Christians from Augustine to the slave, from the missionary to the persecuted.  It is found in the writings of William Blake and is present in the abolitionist and civil rights leader's voice.

In revelation we are not offered a future hope of heavenly bliss but a transformed earth.  The resurrection happens on earth and so to will the reign of God.  We can all think of the Armageddon images and films which promise some form of escapism from the world.  This is not quite the image we find in Revelation.  The earth is made new.  Not unlike the Christ after resurrection where he is more present, more real, than he was before the same may be said for the new earth.  The reign of God on earth will be more present and more real.  What has been seen only in part will be revealed in an even greater way.

The earth which has been sowed for power and ruled by authorities other than God will be changed.  It isn't so much that the earth or seas will be no more as they will no longer be used and corrupted by powers outside of the reign of God.  The earth that is made new is sustainable and God will provide for his people.  This will be a new world, remade, and reordered such that the power of Rome or Babylon cannot keep the waters of life from those who seek it.  This vision is transformative and promises a different world which will provide all that is needed for its population. The hungry and thirsty will receive good things to eat and drink.  The powers that have ruled the world and corrupted the creation and the creatures will no longer have dominion.

The city which John envisions comes down from heaven to earth is a sight for us all.  It is a revelation of a new earth; and the promise of a creation which supports bounteous life under the reign of a loving and providing God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 22, October 25, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...what would you do if failure didn't matter? What would you endeavor, dare, or try? What mission would you attempt, what venture would you risk, what great deed would you undertake?"

"Bartimaeus, Luther, and the Failed Reformation," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"How do we retell the story without sidelining blind people today? That is easier said than done. If we play up the miraculous we heighten the pain where healing is not happening and may be impossible. Piety can easily race by in the euphoria of symbolism and the only abiding message is; we are irrelevant and you are irrelevant."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 22, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"If your prayer isn't answered, this may tell you more about you and your prayer than it does about God. If God doesn't seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he's giving you something else."

"Bartimaeus," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

Links for Reformation Day lessons from

God our Savior, from the ends of the earth you gather the weak and the lowly.  You make them a great and glad multitude, refreshed and renewed at your hand.  Throwing off the burden of sin, they run to the Teacher for healing.  Let the faith Christ bestows restore to the church this vision of the gathering that embraces the weary and wounded of this world.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 10:46-52

Jesus has been teaching that the society of the kingdom of God is one marked by servanthood rather than rank or power.  He has prophesied that his own life will end as the suffering servant and that he will be raised.  He has offered a vision of a new world; a recreated world. 

Jesus has also offered an understanding of discipleship which is one in which the follower leaves the comfort of life in order to help the lives of those who are comfortless.

So it is that we come to the road side outside Jericho.  This passage is filled with drama and symbolism. 

Jesus makes his way in the business of a crowd towards Jerusalem; always with his face set like a flint to the cross.  And from the margins, from the edge of this mission, comes the cry of the blind man.  He is at first hushed by those around Jesus.  This is a reminder of how easy it is while trying to be faithful to be deaf to those on the edge who faith is intended to help.   How blind the crowd of Jesus followers is to the cries from the edge.  And, I imagine them hushing him again, and saying, "We are too busy following Jesus."  So it is the blindness of the followers of Jesus that is revealed as Bartimaeus' sight ever sharpens.

Bartimaeus knows all that is happening and in the story and he cries out.  Sometimes I think in the midst of life we are unaware of just how aware those on the margin are - prophetically aware. This hit me squarely as I read through Joel Marcus' textual exegesis and he offered this from a boot entitle Memory; about the holocaust: 
The uncanny effect of this sort of blind sight is evoked by Douglas' description of a Holocaust survivor who wore dark glasses during her testimony at Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem:  "She appeared, then, to be blind (though she was not), an impression made all the more striking as the dramatic force of her testimony found focus in the words 'I saw everything.'" (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 763)
As the passing diorama makes its way, Bartimaeus shouts ever louder.  Jesus stops, invites his petition, and then heals him.  The response to this event is the throwing off of his clothes, the clarity of sight about the world around him, and then Bartimaeus follows.

Joel Marcus and others remind us that the passage is very much linked to early baptismal rites.  For example this one from Marcus' commentary.

Baptizand: "Have mercy on me!"
Deacon, in the role of Jesus to the congregation: "Call him."
Congregation: "Be brave, get up, he's calling you."
Baptizand removes his clothes and approaches the deacon.
Deacon to Baptizand: "What do you want me to do?"
Baptizand: "I want to be illuminated."
Deacon, baptizing him: "Your faith has saved you."
(Mark, vol 2, 765)
So in our passage today we are given wonderful new ways of seeing ourselves and our following.  We are able to see the world of servanthood to the comfortless.  We are to interpret our own faith journey in light of being given sight to see and to follow.  We are given an encouraging word to cast off our clothes, to move from the edge into the center of the stage, and to participate in the new ways of this strange emerging kingdom of God.

We should be careful first not to punish our own crowd that will sit before us as preachers this weekend.  We should remember they too are there like Bartimaeus, on the fringe of society, doing something most people will not do this week's end - go to church. They are there calling out for a bit of grace and mercy and kindness. They are calling out for love. 

The preacher has a dual task this week's end, both to stop as Jesus did, and remind the blind of his love for them. To stop and pause for a moment so that their sight might be restored and so they can follow along the way.  That they might cast off their clothes that bind them, so that they may enter the crowd of life and along the way help others to see as well. 

The passage reminds me that the Christian Church is not a society of the wealthy who redistribute their wealth for the sake of the poor, but a community of blind people seeking clarity of sight so that we might in turn help our brothers and sisters see.

Epistle Hebrews 7:23-28

"While of major interest in the first century, most Christians today do not think much about the nature of the priesthood. Amidst this comparison, however, the author makes some very important statements about how Jesus accomplished human salvation."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"He died once; he intercedes perpetually."

"One reason that Jesus the High Priest can offer this eternal salvation is that he can focus his priestly work on intercession because he has already taken care of the problem of sin. Other priests are daily occupied with sin removal (Hebrews 7:27)."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Amy L B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

Jesus is the new high priest and the author here reiterates this work in case the reader/hearer did not understand the first time.  So it is that we are told (as if from a different vantage point) that Jesus is able to provide this once for all intercession on our behalf. The cross of Christ is a one time victory for all sin and not a rehearsal each time there is sin. Christ is not continually offering Christ's self for humanity but instead this one time defeat and victory over sin and death is a "sufficient sacrifice once offered" as our prayer book liturgy reminds us. 

This one time offering is therefore also a better offering than human priesthood and a new and better covenant than the many old ones. For here in this new covenant we are redeemed forever and marked as Christ's own.

Furthermore, this offering is perfect(ed) in that it is God's offering instead of our own human offering. It is God's offering and of such a quality that it is everlasting. 

Sometimes, I think our faith is tested not by our belief that God reached across the cosmos to embrace us and has forever mended the gulf between us but that such an occurrence and work of Jesus is forever. I think we sometimes lack the belief that Christ is victorious. So we might say that we know that Christ is our intermediary, our great high priest, but we should get to work saving ourselves just in case.

In this lack of faith in Christ's sufficient work on our behalf we return to an old law. In this old law we are the priest who is completely imprisoned by our sin, brokenness, and fallen-shortness of the kingdom. Here we must continually offer new sacrifices trying to live into some ideal. Here we attempt to acquire a list of qualities that we might repeatedly purify ourselves. Each of our sacrifices, like the sacrifices of the religious priesthood of Jesus' own day, made over and over again for the sake of salvation. 

The high priesthood of Christ is once and for all, there is no more sinful economic exchange required on our part.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 21 October 18, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Within our hearts are both humility and arrogance, respect for others and a desire to outshine them, a desire to serve and a craving to be served. The one you feed wins."

"Stupid Disciple Tricks," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"Maybe Jesus 'buys us back' by showing us a way out of the devastating cycle of looking for glory, joy, and peace on the world's terms by teaching and showing us how to receive by giving, how to lead by serving, and how to find our lives by losing them for the sake of the people around us that God loves so much."

"Glory, Glory," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"As his disciples flee into the darkness with their swords, he is dragged away by Caesar?s men who come after him with the sword. The sacrificial victim of "civilization as we know it," he bids us to let go."

"On Being a Survivor," William Willimon, The Christian Century, 1986. At Religion Online.

Maker and author of life, in Jesus we have found the path to wisdom.  Let us, therefore, be bold to approach you, not seeking privilege but asking mercy.  Let us live among on another, not seeking to be served but to serve.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

So we begin our text with a wonderful interchange between James, John, and Jesus.  I imagine that their response is due to their excitement about his resurrection and the prospect of a new dominion that is about to burst forth from the empty tomb; humans always personalizing the possibilities as they relate to themselves.  Jesus answers twice: what they ask is not his to grant; moreover, the way of discipleship in the new dominion of God is a way of service.

I am so grateful to Joel Marcus for drawing my attention to Daniel 4:17; 7:9ff; 12:2; and Isaiah 53:11ff.  The Gospel theme of sharing the Good News is one always tempered, not by majesty, but by service.  God gives power to the lowliest, and they serve like the Son of Man.  Just as he gives his life for many, bearing their iniquities, so too they are to be like him and serve.  (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 752ff)

Henri Nouwen wrote: 

Can you drink the cup? Can you empty it to the dregs? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring? I realized these were our questions. 
But why should we drink this cup?  There is so much pain, so mcuh anguish, so much violence, Why should we drink the cup?  Wouldn't it be a lot easier to live normal lives with a minimum of pain and a maximum of pleasure? 
After the reading, I spontaneously grabbed one of the large glass cups standing on the table in front of me and looking at those around me -- some of whom could hardly walk, speak, hear, or see -- I said: 'Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can we lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?  Drinking the cup is much more than gulping down whatever happens to be in there, jsut as breaking the bread is much more than tearing a loaf apart. Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting, and drinking.  It is the full celebration of being human. 
...Just letting that question sink in made me feel very uncomfortable.  But I knew I had to start living with it. (Can you Drink The Cup, Ave Maria Press, 1996)

For Jesus, this cup is one marked not by the empty power of worldly leaders but is marked by the service of others: the holding of others in one's arm like the children; the lifting of others like those  who brought the sick to Jesus; and the drinking with others who no one would dare to drink with because of their uncleanness.  Jesus "radicalizes" his statement, he makes is a horrific idea by using the word "slave".  He offers this radical work of being bound to another as the image of servitude.  Jesus is bound to humanity, he is bound to serve, we are (if we are to be measured and counted followers of Jesus) to be bound to the neighbor and other in our life.

And, in his last words Jesus reminds them that he is bound to them and gives his life as a ransom.  He gives of himself to hostile powers in order that others may be freed from death.  I the dominion of God, in the kingdom of heaven,  life is given to the other and service is the mark of discipleship.  Citizenship is marked by service to others, Jesus teaches. 

So it is that our tradition embraces the understanding that it is important to share the Good News of God's service to his people, his love, and his grace.  It is essential to impart to others the reality of our belief that God in Christ Jesus gives completely of himself for the world and in so doing frees us.  AND, while we share the good news of new life we are also committed to giving people new life through our own service and mission.

Hebrews 5:1-10 "In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Why does salvation depend on a high priest who is subject to weakness, who prays in crisis, who learns what the human lot is like? Why does Jesus' service as high priest require his identification with us?"

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Pentecost 21, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

The author of hebrews continues in this passage with his metaphor of the high priest of Israel and Temple being supplanted by the high priest we have in Jesus.

It is Christ Jesus who is appointed by God to be the one who enters in the gulf between humans and God, he is the bridge, the gate, the shepherd to lead us from our earthly habitation into God's habitation.  Jesus is for the author the one appointed to help us in our weakness. Not unlike the priest of the Temple in Jesus' own day where the priest was the intermediary for the people to God, the author of Hebrews sees Jesus in a similar role.

Rooted in the author's own tradition we inherit in Hebrews the understanding that Jesus in his baptism is appointed for this work of reconciliation.  Like Melchizedek he is a priest forever. Interesting because Melchizedek was an ancient but faithful high priest of the the Canaanite people who comes and blesses Abram.

I would say that knowing what humans do to other humans, and especially to prophets, God in Christ Jesus is faithful even unto the death which is given him. Out of our sin, our greed, our human desire to have us stand in God's place (to be our own high priest) we execute the other - in this case the Son of God. God though uses this and does not allow death and sin to have the last word but instead is faithful to his own cause which is the binding of heaven and earth together - so it is that God redeems us and redeems our actions. In so doing then Christ is raised as a new high priest. 

I think it is important for the author of Hebrews to note that Christ becomes lower than God and the angels to undertake this work; moreover, that Christ is humble and lowly. All of this is in contrast to the priesthood of humans. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Proper 23B/Ordinary 28B/Pentecost 20 October 11, 2015

"If we imagine Jesus looking at and loving us, I wonder what is the 'one thing missing' he would see. And what is it that he would ask us to do in order to finally be fully following him?"

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 10:17-31, David Ewart, 2012.

"The deceit of wealth is almost inescapable; the burden of guilt, both individual and corporate, impossible."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they're kept out of the place but that they're so out of touch with reality they can't see it's a place worth getting into."

"Money," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

More precious than gold or silver, O God, more enduring than health and beauty, is the spirit of your wisdom: in her hands, uncounted wealth, in her company, all good gifts!  Send this wisdom from your holy heaven that we may hear and follow the Good Teacher, Jesus, who looks on us with love, and gladly forsake all lesser wealth for the unrivaled treasure of your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 10:17-31

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

Oremus Online NRSV Text

In the last passage we read that Jesus invited us to embrace children and to invite children into our midst. We were told to be like the child as well.  All of these are passages wherein Jesus takes a powerless, voiceless, person without authority and shows how central they are to the dominion of God which is spreading throughout the community as he teaches, preaches, and heals people.  We are confronted then in this weeks passage with the opposite of the child (who has nothing) with a young man who has much.
The language used to describe the man is well off physically, financially, socially, and within the religious power structure of the day. He is a good man who is following all the rules set out before him and he benefits from his position.  Again, he is the opposite of the child. 
What many preachers will do this week (because I have routinely done this as well) is use this to speak about how the man does not give enough.   Jesus tells him to give it all and the man cannot so he walks away.
The reality is that the kingdom of God is a gift, it is grace.  The man simply receives it.  He cannot earn it.  Better stewardship will not earn the kingdom.  Meeting the budget will not earn the congregation a dream year of abundance, not will it provide assurance for heavenly gate entry.  The kingdom is something that is given freely.
It is with this that Jesus seems to confront the man.  It is his wealth and self assurance of perfection that is in the way of the grace God offers.  The man does not rely upon anyone or anything outside of himself and his wealth.  He is the one who fulfills the law.  Unlike the child who has nothing and is completely dependant upon God's grace and the kingdom mission; the young man has trouble coming to this place of acceptance because of his successes and abilities.
We find this sown up in the conversation between the young man and Jesus. What must he do to inherit if he has done everything?  Jesus moves from the fulfillment of the law the notion of receiving the kingdom as grace.  Human beings are alienated from God, we are different from God, we are not God.  God is good, God is graceful, and God gives and invites.  Elsewhere in scripture Jesus does speak of people as good. But it is here, for the point of reminding the young man that he is not able to enter into the kingdom without the grace of God, that Jesus uses the words from the Shema so effectively.
Jesus then speaks of the reality that wanting, coveting, desiring, and craving things just leads down a path which will ultimately distance us from God.  Jesus then speaks again of the new family being formed in the kingdom and I believe he truly hopes for the young man to follow.
The man of course walks away because, I think, he just can't trust God enough.
This it seems to me is the core of the passage and the core of Jesus' teaching in this section.  To be a little one, a follower of God in Christ Jesus, you have to trust God.  The man's inability is what saddens Jesus as he walks away.  Jesus then turns and begins to teach on how this trust in God and in the family of God is always eroded by not having enough.
Jesus says, it is just hard for people dependent upon money to receive freely the grace and dominion of God.  Wealth gets in the way.  As soon as you live as one of the "firsts," or order your life as a "first," and make your needs "first" one is in trouble and will continue to have trouble following Jesus.
Jesus again brings into the conversation talk about the new family and children - it is a family that is marked by discipleship and dependence upon grace freely given.  It will be those who lose it all in the service of the kingdom who will gain the most.  Jesus himself will model this as he descends to the cross and the valley of death. 
I think as we think and ponder what to say on Sunday we must be prepared to offer a glimpse of those things which keep us from receiving God's grace.  The passage is ultimately about discipleship. We have an intimate view of the teacher attempting to help the disciple see what it is that is holding him back from receiving grace or living in the new family of God. 
How will we help our congregations see what holds them back from faithfully walking the way of the cross?  How will we lose the binding cultural ties of being "first" in order to follow the one who is last?

Hebrews 4:12-16

"There should be no greater encouragement to us as Christians than that of the mercy and grace God promises to us, mercy and grace that are based on Christ having loved us enough to identify with us to the point of suffering and death."

Commentary, Hebrews 4:12-16, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, are there when we face our times of need. This is not so much about when we fail, as it is when we face hard times and are confronted with temptations which threaten to overwhelm us."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Remember that for the author of Hebrews Christ is our great high priest. He has come to be with humanity, lower than the angels, and in both his incarnation and in his suffering, death and resurrection he has freed humanity from the power of evil forces which insure death and separation from God. Christ is the reconciling agent which bridges God and humanity and the chasm below. 

The word, the logos, is that from which all life flows. Through Christ, we proclaim, all things were made. It is through this very living word that we are known to God. It is important then that we lean into this relationship with Christ because it is this very relationship in which we are found, discovered, sympathized with us, and discovered by God. 

So it is that our great high priest, God in Christ Jesus, is our mediator and our advocate before the throne of grace.