Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

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

You can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost +1 / Trinity B May 31, 2015

"All are included, even God's enemies. God did not come to condemn, but to save. As Martin Niemoller once put it, 'It took me a long time to realize that not only did God not hate my enemies, he didn't even hate his enemies.'"

Lectionary Blogging, Trinity B, John Petty, 2012.

"What is crucial in our proclamation is the reality of God's activity in Jesus, God's only Son, sent and given for the sake of the salvation of the world. Only through the awakening of belief through the Spirit can this be known."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Ginger Barfield, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015

"When we become too sure of what we know about Jesus (or indeed the Trinity on this particular Sunday), when we believe that we have grasped him at last, that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Meda Stamper, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.



Prayer

O God Most High, in the waters of baptism you made us your sons and daughters in Christ, your only-begotten Son.  Hear deep within us the cry of that Spirit, who calls out to you "Abba, Father,"  and grant that, obedient to your savior's commission, we may become heralds of the salvation you offer to all and go forth to make disciples of all nations. 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 3:1-17



Nicodemus by Henry Tanner, 1899
Let me begin by saying how much I love this story and enjoy Nicodemus.  A pharisee, a righteous liver, he comes to Jesus and sits and has a conversation with him.  The early church thought this was about entrapment.  Maybe it was.  Regardless, there is deep wisdom in this passage and important thoughts for the follower of Jesus today.

First, let us begin in the beginning.  Nicodemus says that he believes that Jesus is from God.  He literally says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God."  But this meaning in English is better understood as "you are a teacher approved by God."  Jesus then corrects him saying, "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Often times we immediately go to the importance of this phrase in light of our one understanding of baptism.  (We will get there.)  But this is really a message to Nicodemus that Jesus is not himself just another prophet approved by God, but is directly from God, of God.

 Nicodemus does not understand and thinks Jesus is speaking about people. So he asks about being born of God.  Jesus answers in the language of the first century which held a mix of understanding that God was in you and/or that God adopted you as an individual. This language is very clear in the Pauline letters; and, I should say very important language in the Christian Faith.  Though theological in nature these notions are not applied to Jesus directly as he is one with the Father.  (Raymond Brown, John, vol 1, 138ff)

Raymond Brown argues that there is also enough language of adoption in the OT that Nicodemus as a righteous pharisee would have been able to understand that Jesus was offering a vision that the gathering at the end of times was at work in the world through Jesus' own ministry. (140)   There is a notion here that the Holy Spirit of God is begetting, if you will, new members of God's family.  In a time when birth had significant meaning to your culture, context, and religion, this is a radical all embracing notion.  Just as today for the righteous it is difficult to wrestle with God's all embracing drawing in of sinners.  This is a beautiful and mysterious thing.  We are not as human beings able to understand and fathom the depths of God fully and so this Holy Spirit begetting is strange.  Jesus says, ‘You must be born from above.’8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (vs 8, see also Eccles 11.5 "As you do not know how the spirit (wind) comes to the bones in the womb, so you do not know the work of God who does all things.")

This passage also has profound meaning for the Christian community within the context of baptism.  For the first Christians this is about God and the family of God.  It is about being born of water and spirit. It is about the ritual of Christian initiation.  It is important to note that this is completely foreign to the pharisee sitting before Jesus. Nicodemus might have understood baptism as a cleansing or ritual bathing.  Or, he could have understood this baptism or rebirth like the "proselyte" baptism of his own day where a person becoming a Jew went through a ceremony of new birth - literally a rebirthing.  Neither of these are Holy Spirit baptism. (142)  This is a hotly debated topic and can send us off into all kinds of scenarios.  Let me simply say that for the purpose of our reflection, the church has understood this as the necessary form of the sacrament of baptism in order to be reborn and that the stronger pieces of scripture to support this sacrament are found elsewhere and not here.

What is important, what is amazing, is again this notion of grace given by the Holy Spirit.  The idea so very difficult for Nicodemus is that being physically born into the family of Abraham, and following the law as a good pharisee, is not what matters in the end. Rather, the radical notion that the family of Abraham is being increased by the begetting work of the Holy Spirit!  Moreover, that the begetting Holy Spirit is falling on people who do not follow the law like good Nicodemus.  That is trouble for Nicodemus indeed!  For at the end of the day I think Nicodemus like us (when we are honest) is a score keeper. He has a good score.  He is born special and separate, and he has spent a life separating himself even more through his piety.

In the dark night of our souls when we come to Jesus what are we inviting him to bless?  Our score? Our piety? Our actions?  Our work of justice? Our right living?  What are we inviting Jesus to curse?  In the dark night when we sit at Jesus' feet what does he offer us? He offers us freedom from keeping score, keeping score on others; but most importantly keeping score on ourselves. 

Next comes the important part of the passage:  "If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man."  The message here is one of the resurrected Lord.  Jesus will be raised, the Son of Man, will be raised and this will undo the power of the law over us.  Jesus' resurrection and ascension will unify man with God in a new way and in so doing will unplug our score board. He will wipe clean the slate.  In the ascension, in his return to the holy community of God (the Trinity) he does so without any human effort. He does so without having asked our permission. He does so even though he is crucified. He does so purely as a measure of grace for the righteous and the sinner alike.

I believe he offers us grace.  I believe he offers us grace to imagine the family of God as God sees it and to imagine the reality of our personal invitation to participate.  Will we follow this Jesus? This Jesus of grace? This loving Jesus?  Who is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven and unites us into the heavenly community?  Will we follow him when he says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."



"...the preacher will do well to bring up the fact that there is feminine, indeed maternal, imagery for God in the Bible also (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13). That imagery is also used to speak of God in an intimate way, not to define God by gender."

Commentary, Romans 8:12-17, Arland J. Hultgren, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"It is interesting that Paul, writing to what was probably a predominantly male audience, would have invoked the imagery of a pain that has never been felt by males."

"Labor Pains," Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

"Even self assurance is not based on fetching the certificate of membership or recalling an even of the the past, but a sense of oneness or otherwise with the being of God the Spirit moving within our lives (8:16)."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 6, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

We continue our reading in Paul's Romans and we continue as he reminds us that our desires are not the desires of God and so we grate against God's pull upon us. We are ego centered creatures. At our worst we have very little room for anyone else.

But the life of the follower of Jesus is not hallmarked by feeding these personal desires and wishes but instead by overcoming our brokenness to work on God's work. We are to press forward dealing with our own sins and thus building up the character of God within us. In other words those things that are in us, which we do but do not wish to do, which are bad for ourselves or others are the very things that build us up into the character of Christ as we work on them. So it is that we groan we suffer we carry our cross - but we are not condemned.

We have hope. We know that while we still labor the final battle is won. We know that while we chose to labor because of God's grace that we do so out of a great sense of wanting to life a life within God's Spirit. Yet we hope. We hope on our good days and we hope on our bad days. 

This hope of God's winning victory is what pulls us forward. Knowing that death and sin have met their match and God has been victorious sealing for us eternal life allows us to continue to live as "children of God." Knowing that we are heirs, that we are given as intimate relationship with God as Jesus had himself - we are able to apply ourselves tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. 

We are freed from hopelessness. We are freed from bondage to sin and death which kept us from hope.

It is here in this reception of grace, forgiveness, and love from God that we discover hope for ourselves, hope for our lives, hope for our relationships, and hope for our church. 

So let us awake! Let us see that God has won the day. Let us see that in the end sin and death are conquered and let us chose to work on ourselves that we might ever more grow into the character of Christ. For we are one with God, we are his children, and his heirs.





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day of Pentecost B May 24, 2015


"...the Spirit gives power to the community of believers not to identify themselves as abandoned or forsaken, but rather as empowered and sent to bear witness to the world that in the events of the Son God's love has indeed been made real and present for all the world. "

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), James Boyce, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The temptation when preaching Pentecost is to make the sermon a witness to something that happened."

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"Jesus is not left behind that we might soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion. John promises no such flights and is silent about future miracles. The task of the disciples and disciples after them is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. Transitional events are minimised. What matters is life and love."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons



Prayer 

Today, O God, you bring to fulfillment the paschal mystery of Jesus your Son.  Pour forth your Holy Spirit on the church that it may be a living Pentecost throughout history and to the very ends of the earth.  Gather all nations and peoples as one to believe, to hope and to 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 John 15:26-16:15



Jesus begins his teaching several passages before our reading today when he speaks to the disciples about the fact that because of Jesus' own intimate relationship with God he is going to suffer and die; and if they follow him they will certainly suffer and be persecuted as well.  They will be persecuted because the notion that the individual may have a personal experience of God was anathema to the people in religious power of his day and it is anathema to people in religious power today.  In point of fact (and as Bonhoeffer once put it) the grace and mercy received in personal relationship with the Godhead through Christ is the non-religious faith of Jesus.  Direct connection, unorganized, non approved, and unsanctioned, relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit is a threatening to institutional threat. For this reason, and for the reason that Jesus is a friend of sinners, he and all who follow him will suffer and many will die.

Jesus then offers to those who are listening, his closest followers, a message that the Holy Spirit will remain with them and that they will not be disconnected either from Christ Jesus or from God himself.  In fact the very nature of a personal relationship of grace, thereby unmediated by the world and its religion, will in point of fact prove the reality of his words.

This grace of the Holy Spirit is given by God alone. It cannot be earned.  This Holy Spirit comfort will put at ease all those who bear witness to it because it requires nothing of approval from the world.  Jesus in his words here is clear that living in the Holy Spirit is a way of life devoid of worldly approval and religious authority. 

One of the reasons that I love the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is that we are (when at our best) trying to live into the challenge of God's Holy Spirit.  We are trying to see it moving in the world.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our piety.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our lawlessness.  We attempt to be conscious of the Holy Spirit's presence in the midst of our context.  At our best our mission and ministry is not limited to our church campuses but is meeting the Holy Spirit in the world; both as it sends us out and as it transforms us through our experience of the Gospel in the world.

This Sunday we will, in many ways, mislead our people into believing that Pentecost is the birth of the church.  I want to suggest that at its best the Holy Spirit we may wish to remember is a Holy Spirit that offered relationship beyond the confines of our church with the sinners of the world.  That it reminds us within the church of our smugness and too often self-satisfaction which builds up barriers rather than offering an embrace.  May we on this Sunday, this Pentecost Sunday, be reminded not of God's having birthed a perfect community but of God having invited his people to leave the temple and synagogues in favor of a faith (a personal relationship) that leads the faithful followers of Jesus out into the street to meet the people where they live and in the market place. 

May we on this Sunday rediscover a missionary Holy Spirit that is articulating in the culture of the world (its images, music, economy, and culture) God's grace. And, like the disciples who on Pentecost were given the tongues of the culture which surrounded them, let us pray to be giving tongues to name and call out the Gospel as we find it in the world around us.

Acts 2:1-21

"Despite the theological attractiveness of seeing Pentecost as the reversal of Babel, there is little from the ancient historical and religious context to suggest that Luke or his audience would have made such a connection."

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost A), Mikeal C. Parsons, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Sources for this Sunday's First Reading

Luke interprets the events of Pentecost through the eyes of the covenant with Abram. This is an essential ingredient to the story of the Gospel and the mission of the community. Here we see the promise to Abram unfold in reality. All of the work of the Gospel and Jesus' reaching out to the sheep of other folds becomes clear as many are adopted into the family of God through the mission and ministry of the first followers. 

The event itself is worthy of the Old Testament with noise and fire and a great tremendous inbreaking of God into the realm of men. The work of Jesus and his life has moved to the cross, tomb, and into resurrection and now the fruit is to be harvested.

It is the coming of the Holy Spirit. This itself is the fulfillment of God's promise. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to share the Good News of Salvation to every people through every language, and in every context. Here the diverse vision of God is seen in the gathering of people from all over the known world to receive the first words the Holy Spirit speaks to the world. 

This will be fulfilled in the work of every story of the book of Acts and is shall be the banner call of the men and women who take up the ministry of Christ. 

The Holy Spirit is sending the followers of Jesus out into the world, to speak the peace of Christ, and to serve and care for God's people. The Holy Spirit working in these followers are to be the hands and feet of the God in the world. They are to baptize and proclaim a new age.

Romans 8:22-27

"This seems to be the thrust behind the Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words: a sign that the Spirit is present in our midst, even when no words are exchanged. That presence can make it possible for us to endure."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost B), Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"As children of God and joint heirs with Christ indwelled by his Spirit, we are one with creation in suffering, longing, and hope."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"It is our vocation to allow Christ to use our hearts. It is our vocation to come to maturity in Christ who is our Truth. We do so by attending to the Christ present in the truth of one another."

"Listening with the Ear of the Heart," Frank T. Griswold, Cross Currents, 1998-99.


Textweek Resources for this week's New Testament Lesson

Every creature, all of creation, is groaning under the work which is theirs to bring about God's plan in tension with the course that the present time has already set. Followers of Jesus, and the world itself are bearing witness to God's intentions for us. Our inner selves beats against our bodies/mind's desires. We have received grace yet our flesh is waiting its redemption. We are already adopted as Christ's yet we continue in the world and brace ourselves against its trends and winds.

Here is an interesting turn. Paul offers us the reality that the action of saving has already taken place. We see this in the work of Jesus. Yes, salvation is something that lies before us. But here Paul is quite clear - its evidence is behind us. Just like the fullness of our redemption and salvation awaits us, we still experience it here and now. We are drawn towards our being. We are becoming our truest selves.

We know the changes that have occurred in our lives because of our coming to faith. We see the movement of God and God's work on our behalf. We believe, we have faith, that this work is truly meant for us. Yes we see the cross, understand the cross, believe - in our seeing - that the cross is meant for me, for us. But we have faith that this working of salvation out in us is moving us towards God's intended purpose for our lives. This is something not seen but understood. The witness of the Gospel text, the witness of Jesus' own life in Paul's time, these tell us that what took place, what was seen by others and experienced by others, is meant for us as well. So faith brings hope and endurance.

The Holy Spirit bears witness to us that this is true. If we depend upon our Lord and we are open to his aid, through the Holy Spirit, so we receive mutual aid. We are part of the family of God now and so we, like all others, receive the Holy Spirit's support - even when we do not know what we need. Perhaps, it is important to go back her to our beginning. Our purpose lies in the work of God in creation - this life is not meant for our own ends but for the one who created us. We are groaning against the shifts and changes but God is moving us. We have faith that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. So it is that God's Spirit is with us, moving us, nudging us, guiding us, praying with us, and bringing us to our ultimate purpose.

On this Pentecost Sunday this reminds me that the work of the church, the community of Christians, is not the support of the church itself. The work of the Church and community is the work of God. In the same way the Holy Spirit is working God's purposes out in us and in our church. This is not the same thing as believing that what we experience as the particular flavor of church we have is the end of God's chosen expression. No, the Holy Spirit is moving. We are groaning even now under the stress and strain of a church which seeks to be what God called it to be on the one hand and what we want it to be on the other.

The church has already been saved we might say. We know this is true if we look back at the work of God in Christ Jesus. But that work is being lived out even as we speak.  We have faith that our efforts will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we seek to be faithful missionaries of God's reconciling work. We know that God is moving us, even if the steps of how we become who God invites us to be are unclear. We are groaning too. Oh dear Lord how we groan. But we believe, we have faith, that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction as a church. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. Where the church does not resemble the kingdom of heaven there we must open ourselves up to the Spirit's guidance.