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

Enjoy.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Epiphany 4B February 1, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think
A Byzantine church was built on top of a synagogue in Capernaum
"The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be."

"First Thoughts on Passages from Mark in the Lectionary," Epiphany 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The law against working on the Sabbath is an example found in the Gospels. If it is a question of whether or not you should perform the work of healing people on the Sabbath, Jesus' answer is clear. Of course you should heal them is his answer."

"The Law of Love," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

In Christ your Son, O God, you impart to us a new teaching from one who speaks with authority, for Jesus is the unique master of wisdom, and our only liberator from the forces of evil. Make us convinced and courageous in professing our faith, so that by word and deed we may proclaim the truth and bear witness to the happiness enjoyed by those who center their lives and put all their trust in you. 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 1:21-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

What is unbound in us? This is the question that I am taking with me into the Gospel reading from Mark appointed for this Sunday.

This is a very dense and important passage. The author of the Gospel is very much laying a firm foundation upon which he is building his revelation of who Jesus was and the import of his mission in this world and in the world to come.

First, let me caution the reader and preacher against taking this simply as a story about healing. I think this is an important caution as there are people in our congregations who are prone to seizures and epilepsy. They, like their loved ones, are very wounded by preaching on this lesson that does not embody Good News for all people. We as pastors and leaders should not do anything in our teaching or in our preaching that implies that these people are filled with some demonic spirit when what we know is that they are ill. In point of fact to say that this story is solely about healing and the casting out of demons from a person is to miss a great deal of what is going on in the passage and in the entirety of the Gospel according to Mark.

Is this a story about healing? Yes, by all means it is. But what is it that we are being healed from? What is it that is being unbound in us? How and for what are we being freed? These are the questions that must be answered as you prepare your sermon for Sunday.

A couple of things to note: First is that this passage parallels the passage in Mark 5:1-20; wherein Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac. It parallels the passage EXACTLY. The difference is that this passage takes place in the midst of the Jewish community and the passage in chapter 5 takes place in the midst of the gentile community.

The second note is that the community of Mark was indeed a community oppressed on every side. Joel Marcus writes:

For Mark's community, which feels itself to be the focus of the hatred of the whole world because of its preaching of the good news about Jesus (13:9-13), this feature of the initial exorcism would function as a reassurance that eh world's reaction of convulsive hatred does not invalidate the community's claim that its preaching imparts God's eschatological message. (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 195)

In keeping with most of the scholarly perspectives around this passage, it is my opinion that Mark's community feels bombarded by hatred from both the religious leaders of the day and the political leaders of the day. As the passage in chapter 5 reflects the political attacks and adversity to the Jesus message; so here in our passage for this Sunday we can see the attack from the religious leaders of the day.

Let us look at the passage closely.We remember that John the Baptist is now faded to the background. Jesus is taking up his full teaching mission. He is calling people to follow him and he is proclaiming absolutely good news of God and the kingdom of God. We find ourselves then in this Sunday's passage following him into a major center of religious life - Capernaum. It is the sabbath and so he goes and he teaches in the synagogue.

They are astounded at his teaching in part because his teaching is good news but also because he teaches with authority. This kind of teaching is different than the leaders of religion that they normally hear from.

As if to sharpen the distinction between the different messages and preaching a force enters the synagogue. Characterized in a demon possessed man, this force challenges Jesus' teaching. This is essential. We can get caught up in the demon part and not realize that the dialogue here is of the utmost importance. The man says, in the midst of this religious center filled with people:

24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

We might remember that the earliest manuscripts had no punctuation so that these may not be questions at all. We might read this as: What are you doing. Why are you teaching here. This is not good. You have come to destroy us. And, yet too in the enmity cast on Jesus (and for Mark's community anyone who is proclaiming Jesus as Lord) we see a recognition and proclamation of Jesus as son of God - the Holy One of God. Let us also remember the rest of the story and how these same religious authorities will decry Jesus' ministry and that of his followers.

Jesus unbinds the man from his rejection of the Gospel and his preaching.

The response to this is that people are amazed. Amazed at the freedom to believe? Amazed at the revelation of Jesus as Holy One? Amazed at his power over and against the religious authorities? "Yes," I say. All of these and there is in verse 27 a recognition that this is a new teaching and one that comes from God. The response of the people is one that affirms Jesus as preacher and teacher of this new movement. He is bringing reform to an old way. He is in fact leading a new way of being disciples of God.

I am currently reading the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxis. In it the author makes a persuasive case that Bonhoeffer while on the one hand believed in the importance of Christian community he also recognized the reforming nature of Jesus' words and ministry upon a Christianity that was simply religious.

Yes, people who trust in Jesus do experience healing of life. I have seen it. I know it is true. But the passage for this Sunday is about the reform of religion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges all Christians and their communities to remember the Holy One of God and the Good News of Salvation at the core of its life. It challenges Christian communities to boldly proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It challenges Christian community hear the absolute and grace filled message of love.

I want to take a moment and ask you to think about your religion. Now I am not talking about your denomination. I am not talking about your church. I am talking about your personal religion? I am wondering if you might make a list of certain things that are required for you when you go to church. Only men as priests or women as priests, incense or no incense, lots of vestments or no vestments, Rite One language or Rite II language or non gender specific language, ancient hymnody in Latin or guitars... I can tell you these are not requirements of Jesus. None of these are mentioned in his teachings. Yet people are constantly at war over these or other lists of required religious iconography in order for the true gospel to be preached. The Gospel is there every Sunday and Jesus is present but I wonder what shackles we bring into church that keep us from hearing it and proclaiming it.

Let us think of our own church now. As a church embattled in structure and economy, in a church struggling with the different orders of ministry and asking questions about how we do our mission, we must hold the mirror of Mark's Gospel up and ask some serious questions about reform. Has the religion become more important than the message? Is the benefit of Christian community lost in the chaos of a faith at war with itself?

As Christians, as Episcopalians, we are imprisoned by our religion.

Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes right down into the center of every congregation this Sunday. He challenges us to teach our faith with authority. To boldly claim the Holy One of God as our own. To proclaim that God is love and that we are to love one another. We are challenged to teach our response to that love is mission.

Jesus comes in and this Sunday looks at our heart's religion and he seeks to free us from it. Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of our inherited religion, and challenges us to be at work in the mission field.

I am an Episcopalian and I love being an Episcopalian and I want other people to meet Jesus in our church and worship him as Episcopalians. To do that we must be freed from our heart's religion and our church's religion that says it is my way or the highway. We must be freed and unbound from those ties that bind us to a certain death that our faith and our communities may be part of the kingdom that is coming.

And, like the demoniac in that synagogue and the religious leaders of Jesus time you and I both know our religious heart and our puritanical faith rejects this invitation be to be free.

Jesus keeps coming though. Again and again he invites us along the way just like his disciples and those he first goes to in Capernaum. He invites us to allow those parts of ourselves that do not glorify God to fall to the wayside, and invites us to be freed for mission. We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed. He invites us most of all to change the nature of our dying religion, that all that are around us (in our neighborhoods and cities) might be amazed at our proclamation of freedom and our teaching with authority -- the unbounded love of Jesus and the freedom to lay our religious shackles down and follow him.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"The message of Paul for the church of today is that one may well have freedom in Christ, but it must be used with discretion and, in particular, with care for the sake of the vulnerable."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"The issue is always relationships, seen in the context of God's will of wholeness for people. It can never just be about being right or about getting people by hook or crook to do things our way."

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


We continue our reading this week in Corinthians. You might look at last week's Hitchhiking notes for context. One of the issues here is that the meat that is being sold in the market is left over from pagan festivals.  The issue has arisen as some thought that what they ate defiled their bodies and still others did not. We might remember that Jesus said that it is not what goes into the body that defiles but what comes out. (Matthew 15.11) Paul is of course in a like minded place - but with some reservation.

Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that it is not knowledge that builds up the body of Christ but rather love. Love is the vessel by which humanity knows one another and God truly.  

Paul then explains that there is only one God and that sacrificing to Roman Gods doesn't do anything. For those who do not know God or are not mature they believe that these Roman Gods have power and sacrificing to them has meaning and so eating this meat is bad for you.  Those who still are acculturated and immature believe then that eating this meat is some how doing something unfaithful.

Having dismantled the argument of the non-meat eaters Paul then turns his attention to the meat eaters and says you must be careful not to be so irreverent as to keep those immature Christians from making progress towards God. This is important because it is reminds the community that just because you are right your behavior may actually be a stumbling block for others. 

What seems important here is that Paul wants all of the Christians in Corinth to grow towards God in Christ Jesus and desires not to leave anyone behind. Therefore, he invites the community to stop shaming one another and to realize that as a community their love is a revelation of God's love. Their unity is a revelation of God's grace. Their common life together is where they will all find salvation.

How easy it would be to be on the winning side and to disregard that God invites all people (meat eaters and non meat eaters) into the kingdom of God. Those who believe they defile their body and faith in God by eating meat are invited into the kingdom just as those who agree with Jesus and Paul. 

I wonder what conflicts in your community and in mine are so easily won without consideration about how our winning and disregard for the "other" impedes their progress towards God. Victory may be fun but Victory with a disregard for those who loose is without honor and has no place in God's kingdom.



Monday, January 19, 2015

Epiphany 3B January 25, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think


"How ready are we to encouter people, share our truth and then instead of manipulating, cajoling and trapping them, allow them the freedom to re-enter the waters of life and make up their own minds about the truth we have shared?"

"Hooking up with Jesus," Peter Woods, I Am Listening, 2012.

"What would make you drop everything and pursue an entirely new life?"

"The Call of the Disciples and the Decline of the Church," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"People in the New Community would derive their identity not from their present economic condition or their past familial relationships, but rather be given a new identity as followers of the 'way' of the 'kingdom of God' as taught and lived by their leader, Jesus of Galilee."

Lectionary Blogging, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer
In your Son, O God, you have given us your word in all its fullness and the greatest of all your gifts. Rouse our hearts to grasp the urgent need of conversion, and stir up our souls with longing to embrace your gospel. May our lives proclaim to those far away from you and to those filled with doubt that the one Savior of us all is your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 1:14-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin this passage as Mark clearly breaks from the testimony of John the Baptist and focuses directly on the work of Jesus. Jesus is now the focal point of the Gospel and of Mark's witness.

A second theme emerges directly as Galilee. We are beginning to read Mark more regularly in this year's cycle of Gospel readings. In Mark's Gospel Galilee is the "land of salvation" while it is contrasted throughout the story with Jerusalem; which is the place of rejection. (This was pointed out by such great New Testament scholars as Lohmeyer and Lightfoot; and has been repeated throughout most Markan commentaries.) In Galilee great and miraculous things happen. Healings, exorcisms, teaching, and the growth of the Jesus movement all hallmark Galilee as the place of salvation. Mark as a Gospel author so focuses on this theme that it is the primary and driving force behind his confused geography. For the Gospel author the story and miraculous works are more important than factual place.

In our passage, John is handed over, Jesus comes from Galilee, and he proclaims "good news." I love Mark's Gospel and I have studied it quite a bit. What stood out for me in this reading is Joel Marcus' point that this is "good news" really stood out. In his exegesis of the text (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 171) Marcus points out that the word "God" and "kingdom of God" were later added and not necessarily part of the early Christian witness to Jesus' ministry. Marcus even reminds us that John's Gospel does not even use the term "euangelion," or Good News. This is Good News! It is not good news +; or good news but. The early Christian testimony preserved in Mark's account is that what we have is Good News.

Then Jesus teaches our response. Our response to the Good News that God is near, that God claims us, that God reinserts himself into the world, that God invites our relationship is to discover that we are in a new age of God; we are now in an age of the kingdom or dominion of God...our response is repentance and belief.

What seems very inspiring here is the notion that this is not a one time event. We are not to repent and believe; but rather we are to live a life of repenting and believing. These words of good news and repenting/believing are words that would have resounded in the ears of the newly baptized Christian. They are words deeply connected with the earliest Christian tradition. We are a people who recognize our relationship with God; we celebrate the grace of God and the goodness of God. We then are constantly responding attempting to glorify God in this world by moving our lives closer and closer to the life of God.

We are a people who are not satisfied with the old age or the past; we are a people who want to come ever closer to God's kingdom. We are a people not satisfied with the world as we experience it for we know that when we try and work and repent and move ever closer God's love and grace transforms us and the world around us. It does this through kindness, charity, and good works. This is the center of living a life virtuously. The virtuous life is one that is constantly trying to remove the old and dead life; letting it fall away. And, consequently attempting to live a life where belief matters and affects how I am going to act in the next moment.

This opening reading from Mark's Gospel would have reminded the first hearers of the first moments when they followed Jesus. (Marcus, 176) As we read it today and think about our words for Sunday morning we must recognize that we have the opportunity to stir up and reinvigorate our discipleship. We have the opportunity to see again for the fist time what it means to turn and follow Jesus.

Good News of our salvation and the unique proclamation of God's kingdom and our invitation to be a part is good news indeed!

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"Paul's word may jolt us into asking whether we have in the process lost God and lost ourselves - let alone the real interests of others."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 3,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"And so, the challenge for us today who are in the world is not merely to divorce ourselves from it. And I use the word “merely” intentionally here."

Changing the Form of the World, Amy Allen, Political Theology, 2012.

"In the end, the primary message of this text is that nothing in this world can compare to the eternal fellowship we have with God and Christ."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

Almost all of our historical understanding of Corinth points to the fact that it was a major port during Jesus' time. Because of the Peloponnesus peninsula it also was an essential land route. It was a commercial center, a center for the arts, and the crafts of shipbuilding, and trade.

Into this cultural mix we know that the church there has asked for help and is having some troup. So it is that Paul sits down to write.

The point of the passage seems to be at first glance centered on the relationships between husbands and wives.  Marriage is important and somehow their faith is causing problems within families. Based on my own experience my feeling is that people are in each other's business and have asked Paul to intervene. Paul has done so BUT he is desperately trying to redirect their attention from what he believes are cursory matters.

Corinth is caught up in issue conversations. They are important but for Paul they are not as important as the mission.

So it is that Paul reminds them they are living in an in between time. They are waiting for Christ who is to return. Their work is clear - the few Christians in Corinth are to work hard together to share the Gospel and teach others about Christ. They are to bring people into the family. They are to work with God to bring salvation to as many people as possible.

Paul certainly believed this was all going to be over before he himself died.

How often we look at and focus upon those things which really are the things of this world and issues of our time, instead of being attentive to God's reconciling love and his ministry of grace.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 24, 2015, 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany 2013 Year C


Quotes That Make Me Think

"...Jesus’ words are a call to real life, real people, real time. This is God in our present and in our reality."

Commentary, Luke 4:14-21, Karoline Lewis, at WorkingPreacher.org, Luther Seminary, 2013.


"A change in condition always accompanies an encounter with the divine. Radical change is what Jesus proclaims and will perform. Jesus does not merely affirm the condition of his children. He is about the reversal of fortunes that results not just in change in one's environmental state, but in the person itself."

Commentary, Luke 4:14-21, Roy Harrisville, at WorkingPreacher.org, Luther Seminary, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

On this day which is holy to you, O Lord our God, your people asemble to hear your words and delight in the feast you prepare.  Let the Spirit that anointed Jesus send us forth to proclaim your freedom and favor.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 4:14-21
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


In our liturgical reading we have moved from the Epiphany through the Baptism of our Lord, to his first miracle at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee.  We arrive this week to settle into a reading of Luke’s Gospel as Luke intended it, sequentially.  We land in this first reading (following the propers for Ordinary Time) on Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth.  It is never easy to come home, and it certainly brings its own challenges when you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, as in Jesus’ case.

We certainly have the parallels for this section in Matthew 13:53-54 and Mark 6:1-2 if you wish to read through them.  And, as in Acts 13:15 and the parallel passages we are given a view of the worship that dominated synagogue gatherings of Jesus’ time. (Haslam)

We are in transition mode in the Gospel once again, and here the words from verse 14: “filled with the power of the Spirit” remind us that in Luke’s Gospel we haven’t been at the wedding but rather at his baptism.  So we are in the midst of Jesus’ inaugural preaching mission which begins, according to Luke, at home.

For Luke teaching and preaching flows out of the Holy Spirit, as do all the activities of ministry.  This is clear throughout the Lukan Gospel and certainly in the first chapter of Acts: 5:3, 5:17, 6:6, 13:10, 22, 19:47, 20:1, 21, 21:37, 23:5, Acts 1.1.  The scholar Luke Timothy Johnson believes the Holy Spirit sent Jesus out on a preaching tour of the many towns and villages and that he is just now coming to Nazareth.  Jesus has returned to “where he has been raised.” Interestingly, Luke uses the term “nourished” here.  Jesus is returning to where he was nourished, and the word frequently means where he was nourished in his religious studies (see Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p78).

Some scholars believe that the words “as was his custom” were used to describe Jesus’ custom of teaching in synagogues. I believe this better belongs to the idea that as a pious Jew, Jesus knew that the custom of attending synagogue.  He was nourished in a Jewish home and educated in their religious customs and it was his nature to follow what his family had given him and return to the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath.  (The Sabbath is a theme in Luke’s Gospel and can be picked up in these passages: see also 4:31-37 (teaching and casting out a demon ); 6:1-5 (his disciples pluck some heads of grain), 6:6-11 (restores a man’s withered hand); 13:10-17 (heals a crippled woman); 14:1-6 (heals a man who had dropsy).
Third Isaiah, or later Isaiah, is so very essential in the early Christian understanding of who Jesus was and understanding his ministry.  This is true for Luke that begins with several citations and now continues in this passage with a reading that helps the reader know who Jesus is.  Just think about the prophetic words being read and how here in the midst of the people of Nazareth is Jesus the person who will fulfill in his ministry the very words of Isaiah.  Jesus will cure, bind up the broken-hearted, and announce the day of the reign of God, comfort all who mourn, provide for those who mourn free the captives, and to proclaim a Jubilee year.  You and I can think of moments throughout the Gospel narrative when Jesus does these things.  Moreover, you and I can also tell stories of when Jesus Christ did these things in our own lives, along our journeys.
Handing the scroll back to the minister or Hazzan – a person who is a synagogue leader, Jesus sits down.
We of course continue with the second half of the story next Sunday.  What is very important here is that Luke has moved this event to the very first part of Jesus ministry – considering where both Mark and Matthew place it in the Gospel. Luke is illustrating, and highlighting, who this is, what his ministry is and what kind of messiah is he going to be.  Luke’s Jesus is here for the disenfranchised and for the poor.  Luke wants this message to get out right at the beginning as if to inaugurate Jesus’ ministry with clarity about  his coming from God on God’s behalf to restore creation, making the wounded whole, and filling the hungry with good things.

Like so many stories in the Old Testament where God acts on behalf of his people because they are not being cared for, Luke gives us a vision of the incarnation where God is seeking to restore creation.  The restoration of creation for Luke begins with the understanding of God’s special interest in the poor, powerless, and voiceless.  Jesus’ work is a freedom and release from evil through exorcisms, healings, education, and economic transformation.  Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “the radical character of this mission is specified above all by its being offered to and accepted by those who were the outcasts of the people.” (Luke, 81)


Some questions I am pondering: Are we as a church involved in this work? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and not be directly involved in the work that Jesus was involved in? Who are God’s people today that we are not being attentive to?


Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:12-31


We have a problem with this passage.  I believe as human beings we have a problem with this passage and as a church we have a problem with this passage.  I know a little about both.  As human beings and as church (we could put all organizations into this category as well) we like everything to be the same.  We just do. We don't need to get all into it; but we ought to admit it. We like regularity, dependability, and the expected.  We order our lives in this way. We order our families in this way. We order our organizations in this way.
The Gospel truth in this passage is, "everything can't be the same." (v19)  Paul writes, "If all were a single organ, where would the body be?"  Everything can't be the same.  The view at the whole of creation should tell us that fact; God didn't mean for everything to be the same.  The universe is filled with various things and colors of things and many multiples of living things.  Everything is not meant to be the same nor can it be...for if it was it would perish.  In Paul's language from the letter, if we there was only one organ it would be just that an organ - it would never be a body on its own.

Moreover, what makes the body the body is baptism; not right belief or right action.  What makes the body the body is God's grace and love.  In baptism we the community recognize the individual as an individual of God's; God's beloved. God's love.  In baptism we say outwardly and we mark the individual so that we may say to ourselves..."See everything can't be the same, look at this beloved person of god who is different from me, yet God loves them and they are one of God's family members." That is what we say in baptism.  
I think we forget sometimes. Sometimes we forget that baptism is just as much about the community as the individual who is being baptized.  We forget sometimes and we think baptism is about making everyone the same.  But in keeping with Paul's letter to the Corinthians baptism reminds us that everything is not the same.  People are not the same.  People come with different gifts.  People are different. Communities are different every time a new person is baptized and marked as Christ's own forever.  We forget that the marking isn't for Christ so he remembers.  The marking is so the individual and we don't forget!

But this same-ology is the sin of the church.  The great sin of the church (on every side of the aisle) is that we must all be the same. We must all think the same. We must believe the same.  We must be either Jew or Greek. We must be either slave or free. We must be either progressive or conservative; high church or low church; right or wrong.  You name the same-ology you choose.  I know my own!

Paul reminds us that when we make same-ology our theology we are doomed. The body will die. It will cut off its members and it will die.  That was the problem for the Corinthians. They thought some were right and some were not right; some had better gifts than others; some were in and some were out.  The Corinthians had a same-ology.

When we have a same-ology we can say I have no need of you.  Paul tells us that is not healthy nor good nor right thinking.  It isn't Gospel thinking to be sure.  

The Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us all means all.  We have need of one another. Everything can't be the same.  When one suffers we all suffer.  We all have different roles and different work. We have a more excellent way and that is to be a community where everyone is not the same. We are to reject a same-ology.  

This is where we live right now.  I know it.  I recognize it.  Pretty much every side of our cultural divide, our religious power struggles, our cultural wars is promulgated by same-ology.  That will be what history will say about our time as leaders in the church.  I am not sure I am satisfied with that story.  I think I might want to write a new story about how the church awoke from its slumber to find that it was possessed by same-ology. That all sides chose to be clear about how God in Christ Jesus unites us.  We decided together in our different ways to work on God's mission instead of our own. We decided to put down our weapons which had been trained on one another and we charged together against the menace of poverty, lack of food, and all the evils of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  I think I would like all the help I can get on that mission!  I think I would give up my same-ology to motivate and move the diversity of God's people to engage the Good News of Salvation and our particular and unique revelation of Jesus.  Yes...that is a much better story; a more interesting and scriptural way of doing Church.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Epiphany 2B January 18, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think
"But let the humble, gentle, patient love of all mankind, be fixed on its right foundation, namely, the love of God springing from faith, from a full conviction that God hath given his only Son to die for my sins; and then the whole will resolve into that grand conclusion, worthy of all men to be received: 'Neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by love.'"

An Israelite Indeed (John 1:47). Sermon by John Wesley.

"Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves."

"Come and See,""Nathaniel," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"What can we do to alleviate some of those fears that may well keep our neighbors and friends from ‘coming to see Jesus’ for themselves?"

"It Seems Like It Should Be So Simple...So Why Isn't It?" Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer
O God, you reveal the signs of your presence among us in the church, in the liturgy and in our brothers and sisters. Let no word of yours ever fall by the wayside or be rendered ineffective through our indifference or neglect. Rather, make us quick to recognize your saving plan whenever we encounter it, and keep us ready always to serve as prophets and apostles of your kingdom. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 1:43-51

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This week we shift across to one of our Johanine readings for the year.  The passages in John's Gospel, according to most scholars, follow a carefully crafted narrative that steers people away from the proclamation of John the Baptist and towards the revelation of Jesus.
The passage also refers to the calling of the two disciples.  In reading the whole account you can see that they bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah - the "Son of Man."  In this theme we have the notion of the promised king of Israel being presented in the holy titles being used.  At the same time the competing notion that such a vision of Jesus' ministry is all too narrow.

Another theme has to do with the calling of the disciples.  The image of Philip and Nathaniel who being seen by Jesus, were called by him, and then the blessings of life as they do so.  Moreover, their own witness to Jesus as the "Son of Man."  Seeing and proclaiming who he is and revealing to the world that this is the one to come and see.

Now what has most intrigued me about this passage comes from Raymond Brown's text on John (vol 1, 59ff). And that is the images that are being linked to this story from ancient Israel's story.  Brown illustrates well, I think, that Jesus in the story is connected to the image of Jacob's ladder (shekinah), the image of the divine chariot (merkabah) of Ezekiel, Bethel itself, or the rock (the first rock God created upon which Jacob laid his head).  What a wonderful set of traditions; none of which in and of themselves are completely convincing scholastically.  Nevertheless, I love them!

What really resonates with me as I hold in tension the symbols floating in the text and the movement away from John the Baptist combined with the "seeing" imagery of Philip and Nathaniel is that we have quite a wonderful passage about Jesus as the center of Christian life and discipleship.  Jesus is central and he is out in the world for us to see.

What I thought is that we preachers spend a lot of time telling folks we don't see Jesus.  Think about that for a moment. We tell them we don't see Jesus in their actions, in their spending, in their lives. We don't see Jesus in the church. We don't see Jesus in the world. We don't see Jesus here and we don't see Jesus there. Think about the last 10 sermons you gave and I wonder how many of them spent time telling people how we don't see Jesus.

In fact I wonder if the amount of preaching about not seeing Jesus in people's lives has to do with the numbers of people who don't want to listen to us preach about not seeing Jesus and so don't come to church.

What if this Sunday we actually told our Episcopalians and those who might be visiting with us that we see Jesus? We see Jesus in them. We see Jesus in their lives and in their stories. We see Jesus out in the world. What if we made a concerted effort this Sunday to not give "Bad News" and we tried to avoid telling people how we don't see Jesus?  What if this Sunday we gave them "Good News?"

What if this Sunday we preachers were solidly about seeing Jesus Christ out in the world?  If we like Philip and Nathaniel were able to tell our neighbors, brothers, sisters, and fellow church goers that we see Jesus and we want them to see Jesus too?

It would be news if we and our church goers left our churches and went looking for Jesus out in the world and found him in places, images, and things like rocks and said, "Look here is God out in the world. Here is how God connects us. We call this connection to the most high God - Jesus."  Generous and holy naming would become our work out in the world and people would hear from us a new story; perhaps a story they have been longing to hear. 

Our work as evangelists is not sitting around waiting for people to come into our churches and ask us to show them Jesus; then in some theological discourse of via negativa telling them where we don't see Jesus.  Or even worse, preaching to them about how they aren't doing it right and how we don't see Jesus at all in their lives and in the world.

Our work is to go out and generously listen, generously name Jesus in the lives of others, and generously invite people to come and see the good news as proclaimed in our Episcopal Church.

I wonder if we might together, as preachers and parishioners, promise that for the next month we are going to take on as our Epiphany discipline the work of seeing and announcing Jesus to those around us; and that we would do that with positive and affirming statements.


Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 6:11-20




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Paul stresses that the believer in Christ also belongs to that same Lord. There is no such thing as being one's own. Each of us has commitments that bind us to other persons or ways of thinking and living."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"...Paul regularly shifts our focus from morality to relationships, just as he shifts our focus from law to freedom. But his notion of freedom is wise to issues of power and confronts the splitting and compartmentalization which refuses to let God be God and love be love in everything."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 2," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

This is a very important passage in the discussion of Grace. Basically Paul's take is, simply put, that: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

Rowan Williams once told me: "We don't experiment with our bodies."

Certainly, Paul is not speaking to our particular issues and culture wars. Paul is speaking specifically to Corinth - which was not a healthy place. It was a Licentious place.

They perhaps have embraced freedom too much. It isn't that we aren't free but not all things are good for the body or good for the community. As one fellow blogger Chris Haslaam put it: "He quotes a slogan from his opponents: 'All things are lawful for me'. (They are saying I can do anything I like.) He does not disagree - for Christian living does not depend on observing a set of rules, but on God who accepts even those who break his laws – but he adds a qualification: some things may not be 'beneficial' for the person or in the community."

The issue for Paul is when the individual is enslaved by their indulgence. Christian Liberty is not a license to destroy one's body or another's. It is not to be disruptive or destroy a community for the sake of your own beliefs.

The key here for everyone to hear is that when we are too focused on our will and our want and our desire we are taking our focus away from God.

We are not only in a spiritual relationship with God but also a physical one. Overeating, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual abuse, in fact any abuse of the body (though it will be remade in the resurrection) is a divide/chasm created between God and ourselves.

We are not separate bodies and then separate spirits - we are intermingled, entwined. Our lives are as well. There is no secular and profane but instead a great connection of all things - and that connection is intimately tied to God too.

I believe all of us would agree that Paul's understanding of how the body works is a bit outdated. We know more about how we work, how our bodies get their shape, and how they go together with other bodies. We have new thoughts about what is a person and how is that person truly connected body and spirit/psyche.

None of this new thinking, which is important and VERY different from 1st century understanding of biology and psychology, lessens Paul's clarity about how while we are free because of God's Grace, our freedom is not always good for us.

I think the preacher this week has an opportunity to reclaim this passage from the sexual debates and culture debates of our time and talk about how to re-engage a spirituality which includes the body.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Baptism of Christ B January 11, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think


Chinese artist He Qi depicts the baptism of Jesus.

"The main thrust of today’s text and the meaning of Jesus’ baptism for us is that we are baptized into something. A fundamental change takes place in baptism, at whatever age."  

Commentary, Mark 1:4-11, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"Jesus’ baptism isn’t preamble to all that comes later in his life, it’s the highpoint and climax of the story in a nutshell."

Baptism and Blessing, David Lose, ...in the meantime..., 2015.

"When baptism is a wilderness experience, an unexpected entrance of God, and a little terrifying, well then, we will know the meaning of baptism according to Mark."

"Baptismal Blessings?" Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Lord our God, O Holy One of Israel, to the waters you call all those who thirst, to the feast of your covenant you invite all the nations. As once at the Jordan your Spirit tore open the heavens, and your voice proclaimed Jesus your well-beloved sons and daughters; lead us by your Spirit through the water and the blood, that our love for you may strengthen us to obey your commandments, and our love for one another be the victory that forever conquers the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 1:4-11

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We are now heading into the season which follows the Episcopal Church's celebration of Epiphany. The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally the Baptism of our Lord, and the reading is taken from the Gospel for that year. As such then we see that the baptism narrative is taken from the Gospel of Mark. It actually has three parts to it. The first part is the preaching of John. The second part is the baptism itself. The third portion is Jesus' vision.

The beginning of our reading today falls in the very earliest of passages in Mark's Gospel and it includes the tail end of John's preaching and flows easily into the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist is preaching that the "strong man" is coming. The combination of Greek words and how Mark opens his narrative make it unmistakeably clear that Jesus is the eschatological (end time) figure that Israel has been waiting to arrive. John's ministry has been to prepare the people and to be a moniker of the signalling the Lord's arrival. In language and clothing he appears as a voice heralding a new time and a new mission. (You might refer to the post for the second Sunday of Advent to read more about this part of our passage. You may also want to read Joel Marcus' work on Mark, page 163, specifically.)

The baptism of Jesus implies that perhaps Jesus was a follower of John the baptist. Such ideas and wrestlings with who baptizes who are age old and should not take away from the idea that the incarnation, God in human form, comes and is present with us and that he himself is baptized. I find myself drawn less to the idea of authority and whose student was whose and ever more closely invited to see that as John proclaimed there is a new Way being formed. There is a new structure to the world being made. Jesus and his baptism, like our own baptism is a part of that structure.
The action takes place on the edges of society, in the wilderness, not in the safety of sacred space. And, the act itself challenges us to ask were are we as a church doing the work of baptism? Where are we doing the work of heralding a new structure and a new Way to the world? Are we locked away where only a few can hear or are we out in the world, on the edges, inviting and encouraging people to see that there is a different way a new and every revealed way of being the kingdom of God?

The third part of the narrative today, following the proclamation and baptism, is the vision. Reading through the scriptures we might remember or rediscover Isaiah 64:1-2:

Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down
to make known your name to your enemies,
and make the nations tremble at your presence,
working unexpected miracles
such as no one has ever heard before.

The images that are before us also remind us (I think intentionally) of the deliverance of Israel from the army of Pharaoh through the waters of the Red Sea. Certainly, this is part of our own baptismal liturgy. But we know what is coming next... Jesus is to go into the desert wilderness for a time of temptation.

The baptism is the launching of Jesus' ministry. It is the first corner stone of the new structure. It is the first step along the way for every Christian. It is a movement through the waters from sin and imprisonment to freedom and life eternal. There is another image here which is rooted in scripture and repeated in our baptismal formula and that is the death of Jesus on the cross.

Like bookends the beginning of the Gospel offers a vision of the end, wherein here at the baptism the heavens are ripped apart, the spirit descends, and God pronounces that this is his Son. We can compare this to the temple curtain which is ripped apart, Jesus breathing his spirit out, and the centurion making his proclamation. (Donald Juel, Mark, 34-35) Just as Jesus is baptized here in the waters of the Jordan so does every Christian man, woman and child find their baptism at the cross of Christ.

Today as you look out over your congregation you will see a group of people who more than likely believe that the government is not way it was meant to work, that power rests in the hands of the most wealthy people in the country, and that the current state of politics promises no change. They sit there also with the knowledge that they work hard and help their community and their neighbors; as do most Christians which Pew research says make up the majority of those who give time and treasure for this work. They are also worried about their future economically and they are concerned about who will take care of them. The holidays are over. Many have returned from vacation needing a vacation and the promises of what the shopping season promised are not what they expected.

It is a lie to pretend that our world mirrors the wilderness world in which John made his proclamation or Jesus was baptized. We live lives in the Episcopal Church that are foreign to most of the people in the rest of the world. It seems to me there are two very real places though in this gospel that hit right in the heart of where most folks are. The Gospel today recognizes that the world is not the kingdom of God and a new time is before us in this instance to turn, change, and make things different. We are the inheritors of God's vision and we are the ones who by walking the Way of Jesus make so transform the world around us that we shall in the days to come experience something new and different. We are a part of this building, Jesus is the cornerstone and we are the living stones being built up into the kingdom of God.

The second thing is this. In a world where not belonging is the norm and secret boundaries divide people clarity about living in the family of God and how you become a member is Good News. Most places you will not be told how to belong. Most places you will not have the opportunity to be invited to be a part. The "in" crowd is small and not many people are sharing the secret entrance rites. But in the family of God everyone is a member. In fact the moment a person recognizes the Grace of God moving in their lives they are "in." Baptism is the public rite of initiation which reminds them and the church that they are already God's sacred possession. They are God's sons or daughters, they are God's beloved, they are the ones upon whom Jesus breathed the breath of life and for whom Jesus died on the cross. Baptism is the clear sign that reminds us (not God) that we are his people and the sheep of his hand.

That my friend in the wilderness of this world is VERY Good News.

Some Thoughts on Acts 19:1-7




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"A sermon cannot do everything, but as a congregation celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord, it is an opportunity for the preacher to speak about the many levels of baptism. One can teach, not only about its obligations (as above), but also about baptism's significance as an event where we are incorporated into Christ and, consequently, share his destiny."

Commentary, Acts 19:1-7, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"Clearly for Luke baptism is also about much more than individual experiences. It is about to a radical extension of doing and being good, or better, embodying God's goodness and justice in the world."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary:Baptism of Jesus," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


We have already learned about Apollos in previous passages. We know he is Jewish and from Alexandria and that the is a student of scripture. (see 18:24-25) He was teaching about Jesus and a seeker of the divine and of truth. Priscilla and Aquila meet him and open up the scriptures to him and show him a few things more - that Christ is the Messiah. They tutor him - if you will.

He is baptized and then comes to Corinth where he happens upon Paul.  We learn that they had been baptized but not given the Holy Spirit. So we begin to see here the tradition of laying on of hands with the gifts of the spirit. Paul says:

“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
So it is that they are given the Holy Spirit by an apostle. 

We see here as in other places that the apostolic mission was not only to baptize but to lay hands upon the individuals and call down upon them the Holy Spirit. 

The passage is used theologically to debate baptism and if water is enough or they have to be baptized in the spirit. For too long our Episcopal Church has left this baptism of the Spirit to a more charismatic part of our church - and certainly there are gifts of the Spirit. 

However, we must claim that the giving of the Holy Spirit to those baptized through the rite of confirmation is itself a very real giving of the Spirit. We are fulfilling and imparting in this ancient act of laying on hands the very real Holy Spirit of God. 

Theologian Frank Crouch writes:

This passage also connects with the gospel reading from Mark 1:4-11 (as well as Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). In the four gospels and in this passage from Acts (including both Paul's and John/Apollos' baptisms), the intent is to focus us on Christ and to share with others what Christ brings into our lives and into the world. Not to focus on Christ only as someone who did something for us "back then" but to focus on Christ as someone who, through the power of the Spirit, lives in us and moves us forward today. John/Apollos' baptism of repentance and Paul's baptism in the name of Jesus ultimately find their fulfillment -- if they do find fulfillment -- in transformed lives. (Commentary, Acts 19:1-7, Frank L. Crouch, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.)
So as we think and teach about our baptisms and the blessings of the Holy Spirit we to encourage the living of new lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are transformed by the laying on of hands and the forgiveness of sins. We are freed by the grace of God to go out and live on his behalf - as authentically as Jesus lived himself.