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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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 14, 2018

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

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,, 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, December 2, 2016

Baptism of Christ B January 7, 2018

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,, 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, 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


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,, 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,, 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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas 1A January 1, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Typically for such narratives there is more than one stream of allusions. We not only have Israel going down into Egypt and being called up out of Egypt in the Exodus as God's son (hence the quotation of Hosea 11:1 in 2:15), but we also have echoes of the attempt of the Pharaoh to kill Hebrew infants which led to Moses being set among the bulrushes."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Christmas 1A, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Clearly then, the "fulfillment" of scripture in Matthew is NOT to be understood as a termination of the ways of the world. The birth of Jesus does not put an end to human tragedy."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 2:13-23, David Ewart, 2009.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God ever near to us, you numbered your Son, together with Mary and Joseph, among the homeless of the earth, and counted them among the countless refugees who have fled into hiding out of fear for their lives. Shield our families from the dangers to which this world exposes them. Clothe us with compassion and kindness with gentleness, patience and mutual forgiveness, so that we in turn may provide others with the shelter of a home where everyone is welcomed.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 2:13-23
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage from Matthew exists within a wider framework of short stories collected into a narrative. While on the one hand it is tempting to separate them each out and look at the differing pieces something wonderful happens when they are held together. Certainly Matthew intended them to be read in one sweeping episode.

As in Advent, the Gospel continues with a theme of individuals, in this case Joseph, responding to the Word of God proclaimed.

As we look at the text the remarkable presence of the Book of Exodus strikes a note . We cannot read the Matthean text without thinking of the innocents killed by the king of the Egyptians, and hwo Moses was saved by Pharoah’s daughter and how Moses himself flees later.

Moses is considered the greatest prophet of the Hebrew faith and here Matthew makes it clear that the Word is alive and dwelling in our midst. We read clearly that the individuals throughout Matthew’s narrative are hearing and responding to the Word. Moreover, that Christ himself, the living Word, will proclaim and free God’s people once again. However, this time it will not be freedom from an external earthly power (Kings, Romans, etc.) but rather from an internal power which is as deadly – sin.

Yes we must look backward to Moses, at the same time the author is driving the narrative to the cross and resurrection. While this passage does not include the story of the Magi, we must keep in mind the Gospel sequence. This passage looks back to Moses but moves forward to the worshiping kings and eventually the worshipping disciples.

Jesus is in this passage deeply rooted in the story of the people of Israel, changed forever by the presence of the living Word in our midst. Just as Joseph is faithful and responds to the Word brought by a messenger you and I are challenged to worship God in the person of Jesus Christ and to follow him through acts of faith.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 2:10-18

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

I have been struck by this very real notion that God is more than Emmanuel "God With Us."  God is as one scholar put it God in common with us.  This strikes me as profoundly offered as truth in the first verses of our reading from Hebrews.

God is with us, God experiences life as we experience it, God has suffered as we have suffered, and God is our brother and sister in Christ.  "Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death."  An odd thing to say I know...  But the reality of the Hebrews' text is this...we are heirs of Abraham, we are the family of God, we are children of God. "For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham..."  This would have been a radical notion to gentiles in the day this text was first penned.  It is a radical notion today.

I think we underestimate the power of preaching that God is one with us and we, through Christ, are known to God and we are called God's family.  Like a family, we are all apart regardless of our own journey to this moment.  I believe people do not hear enough that they are loved and that God accepts them into God's then the church accepts them; or is to accept them.  

We are not only to be messengers of Good News of this familial adoption we are ourselves to be the ones who adopt.  

Sometimes I think we listen to the story of the incarnation and we think it is a story about hospitality to God.  We say things like, wouldn't it have been nice if people let the holy family stay with them.  Wouldn't it have been nice if the holy family did not have to flee for its life to Egypt.  But the reality is that the radical hospitality is on God's part...accepting us as members of his family welcoming us into the kingdom of God.  The letter to the Hebrews understands this and talks about the lengths to which God goes to embrace humanity.  

Christmas Eve/Day December 24/25

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Ask any parent or grandparent about the birth of a new baby and they typically can describe the event in great detail."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"This scene opens with Roman trumpets blaring an imperial order coming from Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria."

Commentary, Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20, Richard Swanson, Preaching This Week,, 2013.
"This holiday familiarity is a particular problem for preachers. We must keep in mind that for some, the Christmas story has been regularly heard since childhood. And yet, these annual rehearsals have failed to reveal to contemporary audiences the jarring display of ancient culture the episode describes."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20] / Luke 2[1-7] 8-20, Joy Moore, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Place on my lips the word of salvation, in my heart a love that welcomes all, and in the depths of my being, the light of faith and hope, which the darkness can never overcome. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:1-20
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

It is a miracle you and I are here reading this.

According to biologists, and reported by the author Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is a miracle you and I are here at all. It is possible that if your two parents had not bonded just when they did, possibly at that very second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here. And if their parents had not done so in the same timely manner you wouldn’t be here either. Likewise this is true for their parents, and their parents before them, and so on and so on.

These ancestral particularities add up. Trace your lineage to the time of Abraham Lincoln and you have 250 of these unique and time sensitive parings. Go back to the time of Shakespeare and you have no less than 16,384 ancestors exchanging genetic material in a way that would eventually and miraculously result in you.

At 20 generations each of you has 1 million, 48 thousand, and 576 unique parings. At 25 generations you and I have no fewer than 33 million 554 thousand 432 men and women upon whose “devoted couplings our existence depends.”

At 30 generations (remember these are moms and dads only) you are at 1 billion, 73 million, 741 thousand, and 824.

At 64 generations, roughly the time of Jesus, our eventual existence depends upon no less than 10 to the 18th or 1 quintillion. If you trace this back to the time of King David you can more than double the number of unique, timely, miraculous couplings that have taken place to make you and I – quite particularly – us.

Surely by now you have figured out that surely something has gone wrong with my math. As a graduate with a degree in Studio Arts, this would be a good guess. Remember though this is Bryson’s math, based upon biological research. And you would be partly correct if you were led to this decision by the realization that there haven’t even been that many people in existence on the earth. However, the biology and math are pretty accurate. What we see in this example is that, while unique and dependant upon precise time and exact exchanges of DNA – we are also all, quite literally – family.

And so it is tonight that we gather as family to celebrate what is a very unique birth, the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to Mary and Joseph.

In our Gospel Luke is eager to provide the story of that unique and particular birth, in an orderly account not shy of giving names, dates, and places of our Savior’s birth.
Jesus as our Messiah and Savior is born into a royal but all too impoverished family of the House of David -- to Mary and Joseph.

Arriving in Bethlehem, the site from which the Messiah is to be born, Mary gives birth to Jesus. We are told she gives birth in the middle of an outdoor or open air place where travelers gather and animals are fed.

At the end of his life, Jesus will be wrapped in linen, tonight he is swaddled in bands of cloth.

He will have no place to be laid to rest; tonight there is no room in the inn.

He will be laid in a tomb, tonight he is laid, the bread of life, in a manger where animals feed.

His parents are literally homeless, and for family are surrounded by shepherds – the first ones to hear God’s Good news. The lowliest laborers come to the poorest of places, to worship and impoverished king.

To those whom no good news is ever given, receive the very first tidings by God’s angel, accompanied no less by a legion of angels singing: Glory to God.

The shepherds received a prophecy telling them how, where, and in what state they will find their Savior, their Davidic King, their brother, their hope and their life.

So it is that they are the first in our human family, unique in and of themselves, to come and worship Jesus, telling Mary all that had happened and why they were there, which she had wondered about…

The shepherds as a response to the unique birth, the glad tidings, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy family leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen and had been told to them.

Children are always gifts to us, and Jesus Christ is a true, special, and unique gift to the human family, and to our spiritual family.

We, you and I are like the shepherds in this story; perhaps not in the outdoor agricultural kind of way – but in the fact that we are hopeful members of Christ’s family. Uniquely us and particularly us, we are given the opportunity to make a worshipful response to Christ’s birth tonight, again for the first time, but we are also given the opportunity to leave this place glorifying and praising God.

We are given the opportunity to place the words of salvation on our lips for others to hear.

We are given the opportunity to feel in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ that welcomes all people.

We are given the opportunity to embrace a light that enlightens our souls with faith and hope – which darkness may not overcome.

So it is that we wish one another Merry Christmas tonight – out of hope, love, faith, and the promise of peace which comes from unity. Tonight no one is a stranger, all are brother, sister, mother, and father. Tonight we walk into the darkness together lighting the world with the light of a newborn child – Jesus Christ: Mary’s Son of God, the shepherd’s Savior, the angel’s Messiah, and our impoverished and humble King.

Some Thoughts on Titus 2:11-14

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

The letter to Titus is clear: God has appeared and has released grace into the world. This is the bringing of salvation to all people.  This is a historical fact.  It is a statement of faith and of reality for those who follow Jesus.  

Even now God's grace is working its way in the world and transforming our lives.  It is "training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly..."  This is a powerful way of saying that the events of salvation and the good news of salvation are not something of the past, an event that happened, or something that exists in a world far away from us.  No, in fact the good news is happening right now in this very place in the midst of this very people.

God hopes for us and is faithful in his hope that we will be so transformed by this continually acting and reacting grace that we will be zealous for good deeds.  In other words that as this Gospel event is happening now that we will bring fulfillment to the hope of others and to our own hope by living out the salvation in word (yes) but in action.

Advent 4A December 18, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Our lives are marked, since baptism, by the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, who directs us continually to our neighbor, to the other to live in harmony, everyone attentive to the needs of others (as we have witnessed in the three previous pericopes from the epistles)."

Commentary, Romans 1:1-7, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"...our task as preachers is in part to help people identify the ways God is calling them to newness of life in service to Jesus Christ, and at the same time to see the ways God has never been absent from their lives."

Commentary, Romans 1:1-7, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2007.

"Anyway, it seems to me that the translation "God is with us" doesn't completely capture the sense of the Hebrew. The words suggest that "God is in common with us people" -- or "God is one of us." In this sense, John captures the sense with "The Word became flesh and lived among us" (1:14a)."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen, at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God of mystery whom no eye can see, you yourself have given us a sign we can behold: the virgin is
with child and bears a son whose name is Emmanuel, for god is with us. Plant within our hearts your living Word of promise, that, into a world grown weary of empty dreams and broken promises, we may bring forth the living presence of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 1:18-25
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The stage is set and Matthew is our guide: "Now the birth of the Messiah took place in this way." The Genesis of the Messiah took place in this way...

Daniel J. Harrington, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, in his text on Matthew's Gospel points out a few important pieces of information that help to make sense of the Birth narrative.

1. Jews of Jesus' time understood marriage as a civil contract. Joseph and Mary and their families have rights.
2. Betrothal had legal consequences and was arranged through elders in families, and the two parties were in their early teens.
3. In Matthew's Gospel the two are living separately, Mary with her parents. Joseph visits from time to time.
4. Reviewing Deut 22:23-27, we understand that at first glance Mary has broken the betrothal and should be put to death. We don't know how often this was carried out.
5. Divorce proceedings were typically easy and included a written document.
6. An angel who is a messenger comes to visit Joseph.
7. Such a visit most often was described in ancient times through dreams. In continuity with other great leaders of Israel the angel gives a message with the identity of the child and the name. We see this with Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon and Josiah.
8. There are many questions about lineage and birth. Is the idea of Jesus' virginal conception a response to a charge of illegitimacy or is what leads to the charge? Regardless, early Christians believe in the virginal conception of Jesus and it remains one of the oldest and most ancient traditions about Jesus and his birth. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 36ff)

All of these things are important because the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient tradition of Israel. Matthew, as an author, will use this theme throughout his text: 1.23, 2.5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 38) Just as in last week's comment from Jesus that John the Baptist belongs to a prophetic age, here in today's reading we see that Jesus himself is the culmination of and the new beginning for Israel.

It is out of this theme of fulfillment that Joseph becomes for us a major character of the Advent season. Joseph is almost the "everyman" of the Gospel. I imagine him not unlike many of the new members of the Matthean community or new members today. Like Joseph they had some sense of the past. Like many others, Joseph is a good guy. He is wrestling with some pretty weighty stuff. He is struggling to understand and discern how to take the next steps in life. He has a religious experience. He becomes aware that God is with us - specifically with him. God is Emmanuel. Joseph awoke, and his awakening was in more ways than one. He decides to take different a course and to follow the Word of God that came to him.

Some might want to go into a discussion about the creed and belief in the virgin birth. I love that conversation. But I think a more interesting conversation and train of thought is how Joseph represents the life of one entering into community with other Christians and Jesus. I find it revealing to sit and ponder the idea that in this reception of the message that God is with him and the reception of the incarnation, Joseph goes from being a man who, within his rights divorces a woman, to the earthly father of Jesus and a key actor in his lineage and birth. What a precarious moment this is! What an amazing view of how one person's action determines the future.

As N. T. Wright explains - its complicated:

"If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different. But since they do, and since for quite other reasons I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world's creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgment and say: If that's what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object?"  "God's Way of Acting," N.T. Wright. 

I am sitting in my study at home as I write this and looking at one of the many manger scenes dotting our shelves and tables. It is Joseph who is there - not someone else.  He like us chooses to say, "yes."

As our Gospel began "Now the genesis of the Messiah took place in this way..." we can see how the genesis of the incarnation takes place in the life of Joseph. We might look at our own lives and see how the genesis of God was rooted in our lives or is taking a place in our lives. How is the arrival of God in our lives remaking our own story and our own narrative? How is the incarnation of God the fulfillment of our life lived up until this moment?

God is with us; this is the foundation of the Good News of Salvation. God is in common, in communion, with his people.  The incarnation is the fulfillment of our past and the promise of our future. It changes our perspective on the world and changes what we do with our lives. The incarnation changes our relationship with others and causes us to act differently, perhaps even going against what is justly our right. The incarnation is a powerful revelation and in this season of expectation Joseph stands before us as one transformed by its message, meaning and invitation and in that moment of action Joseph reshapes the narrative of Good News. Yes, Joseph is everyman and he is a symbol of our potential and possibility. He is a symbol of faithful action deeply rooted in the message, the Word of God, which proclaims: God is with us, together we are reborn, together the world is changed and the continuing narrative spun and re spun.

Some Thoughts on Romans 1:1-7

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

The passage appointed for Sunday is a typical introduction to a letter which is common in most writing of this time. Paul of course has added to the greeting revealing both who he is, who he believes God is and what he is to be doing.

In the first verses Paul is clear that he is a servant to God.  His work is the work of serving and doing the work which God gives him. He is an apostle. He is chosen and the Holy Spirit is upon him and he is to give it to others.  He is in particular given such gifts not by his service (he did not earn them) but rather by and for the purpose of sharing God's Good News of Salvation.

Paul then offers a bit of preaching.  Scholars believe this is possibly early church confessional stuff. God has been at work bringing about this moment of Good News for a long time.  Jesus himself and Jesus' mission was foretold and revealed in the holy scriptures - here of course he is speaking about the Torah most likely and some of the traditional texts (there is not yet an Old Testament collection as we know it.)  Jesus is from the line of David and a royal king, and he is God in flesh, God's very Son.  This is proven by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. It is proven by the resurrection from the dead.  This God in Christ Jesus is Lord of Lords.  (Romans, Fitzmyer, 228)

Paul then returns to the format with a continued greeting.  He offers grace to fulfill our work which is the sharing of God's Good News through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We respond to God's Grace with our own obedience to the work.  We do it all as a response to God's sacrifice for us and so we in turn sacrifice for the Gospel.  We belong to Jesus Christ, our lives and our ministry is Christ's. We are with grace to share this with others.  This is Paul's work and like Paul this is the work of the people in the Roman Church.
"To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul is clear about who he is. He is clear about who God is. He is clear about what his work is and he is clear about what that work is for the church.  We are Christ's and we are to be at work for Christ. 

Advent 3A December 11, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The undercurrent of the entire text is the difference between people's expectations, even John's, and the reality of who Jesus was and the actual character of his ministry."

Commentary, Matthew 11:2-11, Advent 3A, Ben Witherington, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"The challenge for us in Advent is to allow Jesus to restore our senses, to have him open our eyes and ears so that we can go and tell others what we hear and see."

"Hear and See," Blogging Toward Sunday, Erin Martin, Theolog: The Blog of The Christian Century, 2007.

"...tell John about change and transformation in people?s lives. That is what we are here for and that is what excites us. Spiritualities excited by anything else (like the magic of miracles, like overcoming the enemies of God by judgement, like getting all the rules right) miss the point."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Advent 3," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Give us strength for witnessing, that we may go and tell others what we see and hear. Give us patience for waiting, until the precious harvest of your kingdom, when the return of your Son will make your saving work complete. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 11:2-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We have skipped to the end of the second major section of the Gospel of Matthew in order to continue with the theme of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus. While our reading for today does not include the whole pericope it is important to note that Jesus has been offering his missiology, his missionary vision for the reign of God. The framework of Jesus’ teaching was to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”(10:6) Jesus is giving instruction and continuing the overarching Gospel message that the Word and its proclamation include action. As we saw in last week’s reading the action was repentance: change of heart, mind, and place. Now in the preaching of the reign of God we see action as proclamation of the reign of God, healing, raising, cleansing, and casting out. Jesus has finished giving his orders and he has sent the disciples out to teach and preach – to act out the mission.

It is in this important framework of mission, the word is spreading from city to city, that we arrive at the first verse of today’s Gospel reading. John is in prison. He hears of the work being done. John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” Most every scholar I read this week showed an interest in how out of sync this question seems to be with the proclamation made by John the Baptist. The pre-modern scholars too ask similar questions. The themes of doubt, disappointment, and disillusionment are present throughout the scholarly wrestling with the text. Perhaps it is a crisis of faith. Maybe it is the narrator’s desire to distance John from Jesus’ ministry. It seems to me though to go too far down this road of inquiry (while biblically fascinating) can lead us to miss Jesus’ answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus then continues teaching them and reminds them of the image of the prophet and the message of transformation. He says:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Our translation does something interesting here in verse 11. Perhaps you are using a bible that translates it differently too. In the translation by Daniel J. Harrington (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 157) he believes Jesus is saying, “Amen.”  John the Baptist is the greatest prophet of the past, but he remains in the past.

Harrington also writes:

The assessment of John is prefaced by “Amen” – an indicator of special solemnity on Jesus’ part. His saying assumes that John does not participate in the kingdom of heaven, that is, he belongs to a different stage in the history of salvation (see Luke 16:16 [The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until the time of John] for a similar schema). John may be the greatest figure of the past. But from Jesus’ perspective he belonged to another age.

As I meditated on this passage this week I wondered what age has passed for our church. I too think it is the age of prophecy. We have for many recent years spent our time prophetically calling the world to change. This era of prophecy was captured best when one political leader remarked the world had changed from the time when the Presiding Bishop was sitting in the Oval Office to a time when the Presiding Bishop was across on the lawn picketing the actions of the Oval Office. To everything there is a season. John’s question and Jesus’ answer tell us of a season of proclamation and prophetic work that prepared the way for the incarnation. Jesus is saying that season is over, this is the season of incarnation, of the reign of God. Perhaps the challenging message for our congregations today is the message that as communities that have received the prophetic Word, we are to be at work in the world.  
You and I are to be in the world and at work in the world incarnating Christ’s love, community, and transformation. It is time for action on behalf of God’s people. It is a time when the church must enter a new age, an age where it is known not for what it says but for what it does.
Some Thoughts on James 5:7-10

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

So...what is missing?  In James 5:4-5, just before this we are told that God opposes the arrogant, the oppressive rich, and is interested in the cries of the laborer.  What a great passage! Wow! One has to wonder why we don't read that part on Sunday morning.  

Yet it is important because we don't arrive at our passage today without knowing who it is addressed to and why.  The author is telling those who are poor and oppressed to be patient and faithful.  God is very  much the judge - and this is not an abstract judge either.  James believes that God will return as judge and this is out of a deep sense of hope and desire for justice.  God will oppose the wicked and reward the good.  

James says, not unlike the farmer who is patient so the poor and oppressed need to be patient.  He writes, "Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."  

Depend upon those who have come before you and their stories to understand the present age of oppression is where our text ends. So...what is missing?  Here at the end of the passage we are missing the last verse which helps to interpret vs 10.   Specifically, Luke Timothy Johnson and others, believe that this last little bit is a reference to Job from vs 11. (James, LTJ, 1995, p 324)  

Which prophet, which story? Specifically: Job.  Look to his endurance, his faithfulness, and his waiting.  "God rewarded the one who, despite his suffering, stayed loyal to God."  (IBID) So too you must wait and be faithful. 

Advent 2A December 4, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

The Kingdom was coming all right, he said, but if you thought it was going to be a pink tea, you'd
better think again. I f you didn't shape up, God would give you the ax like an elm with the blight or toss you into the incinerator like chaff. He said being a Jew wouldn't get you any more points than being a Hottentot, and one of his favorite ways of addressing his congregation was as a snake pit. Your only hope, he said, was to clean up your life as if your life depended on it, which it did, and get baptized in a hurry as a sign that you had.

"John the Baptist," Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures.

"Repentance, or metanoia, to use the Greek word, refers to far more than a simply being or saying one is sorry for past sins, far more than mere regret or remorse for such sins. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and the inauguration of a new one, in this case initialized by an act of baptism."

Commentary, Matthew 3:1-12, Ben Witherington, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Repentance is a correlate of freedom. The tearing away that takes place in detachment is only possible because a deeper, more powerful and superior attachment has come: the attachment of faith, the grip of the kingdom."

The Matthean Advent Gospels, James Arne Nestingen, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1992.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


With righteousness you judge the poor, O steadfast and faithful God, and with justice you decide aright for the meek and lowly of the earth. Shatter the silence of Advent’s wilderness with the voice of the one who cries out to prepare your way and to make straight your paths that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance, lie in harmony with one another, and be gathered at last into the peaceable kingdom of your Christ who was, who is and who is to come.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 3:1-12
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

It is clear that in this passage set for today we have two pieces of important and foundational messages which add to our Advent work of preparation and are also signals of what the Gospel of Matthew is all about. On the one hand we have the expected “Brood of vipers” speech of John the Baptist to begin our season and call us into repentance. However, and I believe more importantly as we begin a reading cycle of Matthew we have an inauguration underway.

We begin with words that tell us that times are changing. The simple statement of “now in those days” is deeply rooted in the ancient psyche of storytelling within our scripture as an indicator that we are moving into a new time.

We are in a new play, we are in the desert, in the wilderness - an apt setting for an Advent message. More importantly we imagine the parallels with the ancient Abrahamic ancestors and their dessert/wilderness wanderings.

The message from this man is clear: repent.

Here we begin to see something important and uncomfortable emerge in the Gospel. Repentance is tied to the eschatological, our actions of changed mind (which is the literal Greek translation in this case) is very much a partnership with the coming reign of God. The kingdom of heaven is near and this act of repentance is a component of preparation.

We then receive the quotation from Isaiah. The voice and the wilderness here would have been powerful images in the minds of the listeners to John, and to the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel. This is a new time, we are in a new place with ancient meaning, we must act in accordance with the drawing near of the reign of God, AND it is a particular kind of reign. Our deliverance which is coming is the fulfillment of God’s prophetic words to the captives in Babylon. God’s promise is coming true in a new and revelatory manner which shows a link to God’s Word of the past with the incarnation which is at hand. The listeners could not but help hear the powerful words of the prophet Isaiah that are linked with John the Baptist’s quote:

Isaiah 40:2-5
2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
 These are words of great comfort and wisdom from a new Elijah. The clothes that he is wearing are clearly the clothes mentioned in the text from Malachi 3:1. This is not only a prophet with powerful words calling people to repentance, but he is also and must be promising great deliverance and hope for all those who feel trapped and consumed by their sin and brokenness.

Then our author, our narrator tells us that ALL were going out to him. This was powerful and a new time was coming a new emerging message and revelation. It was a time of renewal for the people and they wanted to be a part of this ritual. These first images of baptism are rooted in this hope for something new and for change. And it is clear in the text that this model of baptism is clear: the word is proclaimed, the individual is moved to change their way of being, they are baptized to mark this repentance and confession.

This was a powerful movement and the Gospel’s witness to the fact that John was a powerful actor and player in the politics and religious life surrounding Jesus’ own emergence.

We then add a second scene to our already meaty story of proclamation and repentance. It is here that we begin to see the architecture of Matthew’s story telling for we see that the narrator moves us quickly from the idea and the Word to action and then into community and community action.

John sees that some of the people (Pharisees and Sadducees) are coming for baptism are arriving and that perhaps they are seeking something other than true amendment of thinking and being that will lead to transformative action.

John and the Gospel are clear: your heritage does not save you, your fruit will reveal who you are. The scholar Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. writes: “The Pharisees and Sadducees are warned not to imagine that the mere ritual of baptism will preserve them from God’s wrath. Rather they must do the good deeds that are appropriate to genuine repentance in view of the coming kingdom…Belonging to the children of Abraham will not protect those who refuse to repent and do good works. There may be an allusion here to the rabbinic idea of the “merits of the fathers” according to which the righteousness of the patriarchs is charged to the account of Israel.” (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 56)

Now I want to be very careful here by identifying too much the Pharisees and Sadducees and to name and recognize the all too easy way Christian preachers scapegoat them and the anti-Semitism that is all too prevalent in our culture. When we make too much of them we miss the powerful message of the Gospel.

You and I are the ones to hear John the Baptist charge. We are the ones who must hear that perhaps we are about our religious life in a manner that must change. We are the ones who must look at the fruit of our faith and what it is or is not bringing about in our community. The question is not for someone else, but for us: Have we for too long stood on the shoulders of our ancient traditions and ancestry as Anglicans and Episcopalians? Are we bearing the fruit of the kingdom of God?

Are we as we sit in our pews on Sunday morning able to bring to the altar labors this week which were not simply prayers and offerings of our hearts but the glorious work of changing people’s lives?

You and I as we sit and ponder the words of John the Baptist can see that this Gospel of Matthew holds for us a clear message that we are to be at work in the world around us bearing fruit fitting our loving God’s reign. The proclamation of the word leads to transformation and repentance, which leads to real works of faith. Bearing fruit for the reign of God is not a ancillary to the life of faith but an essential component to healthy spirituality in the family of God. “Repentance and return to the Lord,” those words from our Baptismal Covenant are essential keystones in a life well lived with a God who reveals himself incarnationally. We must make real in our world – outside of ourselves - our hearts transformation.

Some Thoughts on Romans 15:4-13

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Paul begins this passage in verse one.  I think that is important because without it the words he writes are without context.  Paul is writing to the strong in faith and he is clear that not everyone is faithful, not everyone is in the same place. He says some people are in fact weak in their faith.  Regardless of what New Testament scholar you read you will quickly become aware that whole households (servants and family) were baptized when the leader of the household became baptized. This means that the early church was used to churches existing with many different kinds of people. They were all on a journey and many were at different places on that journey.  What Paul makes clear is that those who are strong in faith are to be hospitable and kind. The individual is to work for the greater cause in their neighbor and work for their success.  They are to be patient with those around them.  Even Christ, Paul reminds us, was accepting of others and well...put up with a lot.  These are the important words that come before our passage.

Just as we are to be strong for others and leaders, we are to remember that we too were given instruction.  We are upheld by the writings of the Old Testament and we are given in them a vision of hope. Just as God was faithful for our Abrahamic faith ancestors - God will be faithful to us.

The God we believe in is the same God.  God is faithful and steadfast, God encourages us, and gives us life. The life we are given by God is one meant to embrace neighbors and live in harmony with them.  We are to share the hope that is in us and share God's promises with them so that together we may become an ever new community.

We the faithful are to welcome others as Christ welcomed us.  Not by expecting perfection first but by truly opening ourselves up to be helpful to them in journey.  God in Christ Jesus did not do this but instead welcomed us and served us and even died on the cross for us.  Christ was faithful and loving to us to prove not only the truth of God's love but also in order to convince us of his grace.  We too are to do the same for others.  We confess, sing, and tell of god. We are to walk with our neighbors and help them as they grow to know this God. We like the first disciples who reached out to the Gentiles are to also find the other God fearers and and spiritual pilgrims of our day and walk with them.  

Paul concludes this part of the passage with a prayer that we will be filled with hope and joy in this work; for surely any other sentiments fail to glorify God and fail to attract others to his cause.  We shall surely fail if we do not have hope about our future and the future of our faith.  For who wishes to be attracted to hopelessness.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Advent 1A/ November 27, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment."

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

"...God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live and walk by faith day after day."

Commentary, Ben Witherington, Matthew 24:36-44, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Thank you for proclaiming the wild grace of this frighteningly merciful God, Working Preacher. Because sometimes I need to be startled out of the comfortable daydream in which I have unintentionally trapped the biblical God."

"The Undomesticated God," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Unknown the day and unexpected the hour when Christ will come at last: O God, whose word even now goes forth and whose house welcomes all the nations home, rouse our household of faith from its sleep. Strengthen us to beat our swords of war into plows that work in peace. Then nation will not lift up sword against nation and all your children will be ready to welcome your promised day of peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 24:36-44
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin our new year and a new cycle of readings of Matthew’s Gospel at the end.  We are in a section wherein Jesus is telling his followers to be watchful.  And, he is giving them parables that challenge them. 

We begin simple enough: we will not know when God is coming.  Then we are reminded of Noah’s flood. And, we are told people will be taken up and some left behind. Then we have the parable of the householder and the thief.  This is normally where we get in the weeds with Jesus’ teaching. We typically want to spend all our time trying to either decipher how and when this is going to take place, or we spend our time attempting to understand how we get to be the ones taken away with the Son of Man.  However, no sooner have we taken steps down this road and we have missed Jesus’ message to his disciples: be watchful.  Be watchful and be ready.

It is actually just how well we are prepared for the coming of the Son of Man which will determine our being gathered.  This major shift in eschatological thinking and argument provides for the Christian today a particularly sharp message on this first Sunday of Advent: if you are not ready you must be ready.  Moreover, it is a rather big change from the Lukan readings of the past months.

In this one series of parables where Jesus calls those who follow to prepare and be ready, he unifies theology of the end times with theology of behavior.  Eschatology and ethics may no longer be separated. 

How we are in this world has an impact on our life in the world to come.

It will be easy to slip this first Sunday of Advent sermon into a discussion about preparing our home for Christmas, or preparing for the incarnation of God, and even preparing for a season of watchfulness.  The message from Jesus and this Gospel author are clear, we are to be ready through our actions.

As we seek to understand what is expected of us in regards to the message of Jesus here in Matthew’s Gospel we might be reminded of the theologian Origen’s comment: Just as Jesus is offering this grace he fulfills and embodies his own words and thereby becomes the model to be imitated.  If we look back we discover the unique qualities of Jesus that fulfill not only the prophetic message of Isaiah but also are the basics of Christian discipleship in the world.

Jesus was meek (11.29; 21.5)
Jesus mourned (26.36-46)
Jesus was righteous and fulfilled all righteousness (3.15; 27.4, 19)
Jesus showed mercy (9.27; 15.22; 17.15; 20.30-1)
Jesus was persecuted and reproached (26-7)

These qualities are clearly defined in the beatitudes and serve as a basic road map throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

As you and I begin again a time of reading a new cycle we must endeavor to understand clearly how our actions are part of our faithful following of Jesus.  We must now listen and read the Gospels together as we begin a year of discerning the message and proclamation of Jesus as given in the Matthean account.

Some Thoughts on Romans 13:8-14

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Our Advent theme of preparation is sounded again in Romans.  In this passage Paul is focused upon love.  Followers of Jesus love others, in so doing they mimic the ministry of Jesus and the work of God.  In loving others they also fulfill God's law.

Paul offers a very clear view that not loving another will in fact lead to adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness.

Love others - this is the highest rule and the highest goal.

Adeptly he has moved from a discussion on what is owed to the authorities to what is owed to one another - which is love. (Joseph Fitzmeyer, Romans, 677)  Deeds are the way that a Pauline faith is lived.  Love lived creates the framework for all other questions about the law and quickly moves Paul from legality to grace in future discussions (Fitzmeyer, 677; Gal 5:6)

To understand Paul's full treatment of love you must go to 1 Corinthians 13.  In Paul's economic discourse of love we discover the following.  All other gifts are worthless without love.  Love is: patient and kind, not jealous, not arrogant, not rude, it does not seek its own interest, is not irritated, does not reckon things wrong, does not delight in wrong doing, rejoices in truth, puts up with all things, believes all things, and never fails.  Love lasts and is superior to all other things.  All of which is summed up in vs 13:  Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul then ends concludes his reflection on love in Romans with urgency.  Now that you have become believers you can see that this is true.  There is urgency and we need to be about this work now and immediately.  Let us live in the light, and love in the light putting away the behaviors that will cloud and deform this love: drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.

Let us instead do what Jesus Christ does and love.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 2:1-5

As we begin our new year we start out with Isaiah who wrote some 760 or so years before the birth of Christ. Isaiah is writing prior to the crushing fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. You may remember that God has chosen not to save Jerusalem because the people and their leaders had forgotten God and so God will not save the nation from the invasion. People doubt God's power to do so anyway, and others are sure God is on their side. Many thought their nation would last forever and never fall - certainly not to another army.

Scholars have settled on the notion that what we see here in chapter 2 is evidence that we have multiple documents combined in the text. We see too some reflection of other prophets like Micah. 

What strikes me as the most important is the prophets commitment to the future and God's power and might to gather God's people. (Remember we just heard Isaiah 65 where God indeed promises this.) God, Isaiah speaks, will gather a new Zion on a holy hill and many will make a journey to the great mountain - they shall go up it says. Here God will place a holy people who will be examples of God's love and justice. They will accept God's message and be good leaders and depend upon the torah to guide them in all things. God will be the judge, not the people. This righteous living and Godly judging will in fact bring about a new age of peace.

This age of peace will come when the people are faithful. When it comes it will be a time of great harvests and people will babe in the need of plowshares and pruning hooks as farmers return to the work of the land and give up the study of war. 
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
The passage ends with an invitation. For Christians we see a prefigured Jesus here, a revelation of the incarnation. That God will bring about a time when peace is the highest good and people will follow a lord of peace, who feeds where there is scarcity and catches fish where there is none. Jesus is the one who brings about the new age and his work of feeding and catching overthrows old economies where people are owned by the king and work towards the betterment of the ruling class. They are nothing more than armies of workers like they were in Egypt. God comes then and frees them into a new life and new age.