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.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Lent 3C February 28, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The word translated as 'repent' is, at its root, about thinking and perception. It refers to a wholesale change in how a person understands something. It implies an utter reconfiguration of your perspective on reality and meaning, including (in the New Testament) a reorientation of yourself toward God."

"How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines,"Matthew L. Skinner, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2013.

"Faith understood as an ongoing relation on engagement in God and with God in the world can never sit back in distraction or religious self-preoccupation or self indulgence, because the God we know in Jesus keeps opening our eyes to both joy and pain, to wonder and to need, and inviting us to see them and not withdraw from them, which is the wont of religion."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, you revealed your name to Moses in the burning bush and your mercy to every generation in the teaching of Jesus. Tend us patiently as the tree you have planted, and do not let us perish. Cultivate us with compassion, and nurture us with forbearance, until, by your grace, we bear at last the abundant fruit of conversion. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 13:1-9
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
Rubble near the pool of Saloam

When last we dealt with this passage it came to us after a series of natural disasters and in the midst of war.  Today, we can look around us and see that much is unchanged. People remain concerned about the economy, jobs, natural disasters, and intentional gun violence.  Death is a perennial companion with life but in recent months we have discovered the pain of death that seems to victimize us.  Whether it is the Sandy Hook shooting, the monsoon floods in Malawi, or the meteor strike we are left wondering as did the ancients do these deaths mean anything about the faithfulness of those who lost their lives. Trying to figure out the meaning of these things often comes after considering the feeling of being blessed by being granted life in the midst of such tragedy. Chris Haslam, a Canadian priest and blogger, reminds us in his commentary for this reading that both Jews and the Hellenists of Jesus time believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s “adverse judgment.” We see this not only in Luke’s Gospel but Jesus addresses this idea in John’s Gospel 9:2-3.

It is important, essential, to point out that Jesus rejects the idea that a man was born blind because of his or his parents’ sinful ways. 

This then is the context in which we pick up our first verse of today’s passage where a few who had gathered around  Jesus talk about how Pilate mingled the blood of Galileans with the blood of the sacrifices they were making in the Temple. While we do not have a historical account of such events, the story does match in theme and tone other accounts of Pilate’s cruelty to the Jews. It is an awful and tragic notion.

Jesus responds by asking, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? This response is what I like to think of as a Jesus twist. Here we have a group who thinks that there is a hierarchy of sin and punishment dealt out accordingly, Jesus points out to them that they think this in all likelihood because they are safe and therefore more holy. 

He seems to recognize that they are arguing that the violence of one’s death relates to the darkness of one’s sins – an idea that is misused and popular throughout the Christendom of the middle ages and continues even today in some circles of believers. Jesus goes right to the point and is unwilling for his listeners to believe they are greater than or that they sin less or that their sins are lesser so he says: “Everyone must repent. Everyone is called to repent, repent early, repent often, repent now, and repent.” He tells them they are going to die too and suddenly and unprepared.

Jesus tells us of the story of the tower in Siloam, a city tower connected with the wall. Perhaps Jesus is speaking about one of the towers near the pool mentioned in John 9:7. Josephus mentions such a wall near the pool (LTJ, Luke, 211). And, Jesus drives his point home asking, were these people more in debt to God than others?

Next, Jesus moves into teaching mode and offers a parable about the fig tree planted in a vineyard. Notice that while Mark in 11:12ff and Matthew in 21:18ff both offer a story about Jesus and a fig tree, here we are told about how Jesus uses the fig tree image as part of a parable for the explanation of his words regarding the Galileans and those washing in the pool of Siloam. (LTJ, Luke, 211)

Jesus is drawing on very powerful images from Micah 4:4 and Joel 2:22 where it is used as a sign of God’s blessing.

So we have a man who is coming regularly to his fig tree. He was a blessed man, but he comes out one day to find that there was no fruit on it. So, he says “cut it down now.” The vine dresser, the garden helper, says “please don’t. Let’s see if it will bear next year. It needs for the soil to be aerated and it needs fertilizer. Then we can see, then we can cut it down.”

So, we see hear that Jesus is teaching those who will listen that they must repent. They must repent because they do not know what may happen and death may come at any moment. They must all repent. No one has more or less sin than someone else. Repentance is the daily work of the follower of Jesus. It is important and key as a daily exercise not because it prepares you for death but because it aerates the soil and provides fertilizer like the fig tree. A daily diet of repentance provides room in one’s life for the following of Jesus and eventually bears fruit in the work with Jesus bringing forth the reign of God.

How is repentance something that bears fruit? Repentance is the act of bring the ego into alignment with the soul and the Holy Spirit of God. Repentance is the taking of a fearless inventory that helps one to understand what the individual’s role is in brokenness and dysfunction. Repentance helps us understand the individual acts we take or do not take that have affects on the wider community. How do my habits of consumption affect others? How do my wants and desires get bruised when I don’t get my way? How do I lash out and blame others when I am at fault? How do I seek to have others give me esteem so I feel good about myself instead of understanding that God esteems me and loves me?

When we as Christians seek to get things in a healthy frame of living we discover that we are bringing in the reign of God. When we change our habits we change the world in which we live.

Luke Timothy Johnson’s words resonate with me as I read and ponder the meaning of this passage. He writes in his commentary on this passage, “…Jesus respond[s] to these reports of death in the city in classic prophetic style: they are turned to warning examples for his listeners. The people who died were not more deserving of death than others. One cannot argue from sudden and violent death to the enormity of sin. Indeed, Jesus himself will suffer a death that appears to be as much a punishment for sin. But the prophet’s point is that death itself, with the judgment of God, are always so close. It can happen when engaged in ritual. It can happen standing under a wall. And when it happens so suddenly, there is no time to repent…The repentance called for by the prophet Jesus, of course, is not simply a turning from sin but an acceptance of the visitation of God in the proclamation of God’s kingdom.”

Luke Timothy Johnson continues regarding the fig tree parable: “…it is a parable that clearly has the function of interpreting this section of his narrative. The fig tree is not summarily cut down. It is allowed to have time; indeed, it has already had time to bear fruit. The comfort to Jesus’ listeners is that the Prophet is still on his way to the city; there is still time to respond.”

This is an important week to be preaching. This is an opportunity to tell about Jesus’ teaching on tragedy and death brought on by disaster. It is an opportunity to speak about the importance and ritual of repentance which is an ancient and essential practice of Christianity. And, it is also an opportunity to speak about how repentance bears fruit.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 10:1-17

So this week I have been trying to comprehend the intentions of Paul in this part of his first letter to the Corinthians.  Let us simply begin by saying that Paul is using the well known Exodus story as a instructive tale. He is saying that some of these people were idolaters and some were immoral. 

Paul is inviting the readers to compare themselves with these people, who were their ancestors. 

You cannot read this passage without the whole intention of the Corinthian problem in front of you.  One of the biggest issues is can you eat meat that was given as a sacrifice to idols.  Paul says it in a much more stark manner and warns that transgressions against God will end up with an avenging angel taking you to task.

The New Testament scholar J. Paul Sampley (Emeritus Professor at Boston University) writes:

"The gist of the account is clear: God's people - being chosen by God, being baptized, eating special food and drink - are accountable for their behavior.  Neither baptism nor special edibles and potables ensure against God's judgment if the chosen ones stray or fall.  And, there can be no mistake about it: God cannot be blamed for any falling because God never tests believers by one what they can bear; God always graciously provides a way out, an exodus."

Paul writes: "judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  We are all the same. We are all in need of saving.  We are all in need of reflection and repentance.  We can chose to live life as one of the faithful Exodus ancestor.  We can live differently and can be different.  This is God's expectation and it is our gift.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lent 2C February 21, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Part of the way in which Jesus spreads his wings over us is that in our work we, too, find our courage to stay and face ugly dangers, to let life bite deeply into our flesh and shelter those in our care even while Herod is menacing."
"That Fox," Nancy Rockwell, Bite in the Apple, 2013.

"The image we are give is of God/Jesus as a hen gathering a whole bunch of chickens under her wings. What might that imply about our relationship with those other chickens?"
Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"Jesus, let us note, employs a feminine image for himself and, to the degree that we confess Jesus reveals the essential character and disposition of the One who sent him, also for God."
"Re-Imagining God," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast. Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine. Make us your faithful stewards ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 13:31-35
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The passage today contains unique verses that are found only here in the Gospel of Luke.  The pericope or whole passage begins actually in verse 22 and while I don’t think that one should necessarily elongate the Gospel reading in the service, I do think that for the purposes of bible study and for sermon preparation it is important to read the whole section as one unit.

The passage begins with Jesus traveling. He is making his way to Jerusalem.  These passages are wonderful bits of narration by our author and show a skilled writer imparting and telling a story.  More than simply literary style the passage reminds us that our great prophet Jesus is making an exodus journey, prophetically teaching along the way, leading God’s people to ultimate deliverance from the bondage of sin.  This is part of the mosaic theme of this particular Gospel.

“How many will be saved?” a companion asks.  Interesting is Jesus’ response. He does not give a number but rather turns the question offering discipline instead of answers.  Jesus says to them that as followers we are to “act in such a way as to be one who is saved.” (LTJ, Luke, 216)

Notice if you put your finger in your bible and turn to Matthew 7:13, Matthew compares and contrasts a wide and a narrow door.  (LTJ, Luke, 216)  Luke’s emphasis is on the difficulty of being a disciple; he is focused on the hard work of following Jesus and a life lived in discipleship.

Luke has a strong sense of grace, but it is tempered always with service and discipleship.

Once you know the truth, you may not live your life as if you did not have grace.  You cannot in some way live life hoping in the last hour for grace at the doorstep of the master’s house.  In fact your entrance into the reign of God will be because you believed and because you worked with Jesus on behalf of the poor and those in need. 

In other words once one believes the second step is to serve others; because as Jesus welcomes the poor through the door you may by the grace of those who remember your service walk with them into the reign of God?  We are disciples (those who follow) but following is never the goal. The goal is always to formed into an apostle (one who is sent).  Christians are not followers only; they are those who go out as well.

Certainly this is present in the thoughts of St. Chrysostom as he writes the following words:
If you ever wish to associate with someone make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, in critical circumstances, who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation.  Put a high value on associating with these, for from them you shall receive much profit, and you will do all for the glory of God.  God himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows.[1]

This short quote does the work of N. T. Wright (a contemporary theologian) some injustice but I think it is important to mention here.  For a longer argument on this matter of balancing faith and works I encourage you to read Wright’s book entitled: Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 2009.  In this text Wright argues that the work of discipleship is essential within the framework of faith.   He writes the following as if to echo Jesus’ own essential teaching about the reign of God and the work of discipleship:

The linguistic point about Romans 5-8 (the absence of pistis [faith]) thus points to an underlying theological point of enormous significance for our whole topic.  Loose talk about “salvation by faith” (a phrase Paul never uses; the closest he gets, as we have seen is Ephesians 2:8, “by grace you have been saved through faith”) can seriously mislead people into supposing that you can construct an entire Pauline soteriology out of the sole elements of “faith” and “works” of any sort always being ruled out as damaging or compromising the purity of faith. (p. 239)

All that is to say that one must work hard, and that the primary focus is not simply about following Jesus, but that discipleship means acting like Jesus and helping God to restore the world.  It is within this context that we come to the passage for today; and without which our passage today makes little sense.

In our passage today some religious leaders come up to Jesus.  They are consistently throughout Luke recognized and described as opponents of the prophets.  So, here they come, and one must wonder if they have Jesus’ best interest at heart.  One might even go so far as to think that perhaps what they are saying is to stop this preaching, stop this teaching, get out of here and there won’t be trouble.  Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and I do not have the sense they want him to continue on his journey. This is certainly the way most scholars read this warning, not as a warning at all but rather a threat veiled in kindness.

They tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. (This is a very different word than the message being articulated to the reader by the narrator in Luke 9.9 and 23.8.  Herod simply wants to see Jesus and it isn't even Herod who puts him to death.  Herod sends him back to Pilate.)  This passage seems to amplify the desire by these individuals to have Jesus stop teaching about discipleship and the reign of God.

Jesus says to the messengers go back and tell that crafty person, that sly king, that fox that I continue on to my goal which is resurrection (the image here of the third day).  Chris Haslam points out that we may not wish to take this literally.  He writes, “Jesus did not mean “third” literally; rather, he means a short and limited time. The NRSV translates the Greek literally, but BlkLk translates it as day by day, and one day soon. He says that there is an Aramaic idiom behind the Greek which does not refer to two actual days but to an indefinite short period followed by a still indefinite, but certain, event. This idiom is also at work in Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”. 
Sometimes we can miss the point if we get stuck here. I believe the subject of Jesus’ words is the determination to go on to Jerusalem and that there he intends to die.  So it is that Jesus continues on to Jerusalem and the pharisees depart.

It is then that Jesus teaches about the prophets and how they have suffered under the stoning nature of God’s rulers and people.  Jesus’ message is clear; God wants to gather his persons like a hen gathers her brood. God wishes to offer care and protection, security and health.

Jesus says your “house” will not be untouched. Some scholars believe this has to do with the sacking and destruction of the Temple.  It is more likely that Jesus is referring to God’s people being left, as it were, like sheep without a shepherd, chicks without a mother hen. (LTJ, Luke, 219)  Haslam also points out the following, “Verse 35: “your house”: The Old Testament background seems to be Jeremiah 22:1-9 where house means the king’s household of leaders. [NJBC]  I like both ideas very much.  And we might be wise to remember Jesus in his own family’s synagogue and how he was received. 

There are in these thoughts the continuing theme of each Gospel proclamation that Jesus and God are calling people out of their comfortable religion into a discipleship of faith along the way and always proclaiming the reign of God and its bounty.

We conclude this passage with “Blessed is the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.”  This looks forward to Jesus’ own triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It also is a prophecy regarding Jesus’ return.  The parallels are found in Matthew 21:9, Psalm 117:26.  It is important I think to note that the psalm is referring to “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Christians have always understood this to mean Jesus.

So we end with the understanding, I think, that one of the chief reasons that Jesus is crucified is because of his teachings about the reign of God and discipleship.  Jesus also understands clearly that his death in Jerusalem is only part of reaching the third day and resurrection which is a primary goal of his ministry.  I believe truly that Jesus understood his death as essential to the working out of salvation history and that he was following a long line of prophetic witnesses.  He could not be stopped in his work and his drive to enter Jerusalem, which meant for him certain death on the one hand, but also the salvific event needed to gather God’s people under his wing.  Indeed, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

[1]Psalm 67:6, John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions, 6.12 (Paulist Press, 1963)  I chose this quote after hearing Diana Butler Bass giver her plenary as I thought it was a nice tie-in. I did have the following quote from Giovanni Battista Franzoni the former abbot of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, “In the sixth century, Saint Benedict abandoned the worldly city and took refuge in the mountains so as to be able to find a favorable environment in which to seek God and live the Gospel.  This led him to create a community of men who lived the same life as the “poor of the earth.”  Today, perhaps, St. Benedict would abandon the countryside and the mountains, now covered with gracious and comfortable villas.  Perhaps he would abandon all those places where the rich and powerful have chosen to live and would go live among the dependent and exploited masses of the city in search of the “right place” to reread the Gospel. From The Earth is Gods, 1978, Italian News Agency.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:14-4:1

Paul offers in this passage the notion that the little laws of this world (by which we abide or chafe against) do not bring about the kingdom.  We obey and foolishly we think in our obedience we are like God.  Paul reminds the Philippians that Jesus Christ calls us to faith and not to law.

Paul is not saying don't follow the laws of this world.  His statements are not contrarian.  Paul is saying that there is a higher standard though.  That standard is the standard of faith which is given in Christ's suffering and resurrection.  In this work of God the world is claimed by God, he claims the church, and he claims you and me.

Therefore, this historical event brings about a higher principle.  These principles are lived out as individuals and among the community that follows Christ.

Faith for the Christian, in Paul's way of thinking, is not a passport - a ticket - into the kingdom of God.  Faith is the indwelling of Christ's spirit in the heart of the believer.  Faith is the growing principle and quality that believers have.  It affects us.  And, it is the faith which grows in us as we continually try and lead a life worthy of Christ's gift.

When we hold fast to what has been given by Christ we are formed.  Between our faith and our human will there is a rub and that rub itself is forming.  For the Christian it is the work of living this faith that creates our return again and again to God.  It is as if like a pot being formed by the potter we push against his hands.  It is in this friction that the Christian lives - between human life lived in a world of human law and the a life lived in the hands of a loving God.

It is furthermore this work of living faithfully that binds us into community with others trying to do the same thing.  We are joined together trying to imitate the apostles and Christ.  Our citizenship is in a heavenly bond of faith, bound by the saving Grace of God.

This life is not always easy. It is hard in community and it is even harder in a life lived alone.  So, Paul encourages us to be bound together.  Christ in his love binds us together already and we all recognize that we all fall short in the face of such love.  In our citizenship is the constant work of living in community (despite our variation in personal narrative and sin).

All the while God is forming us and conforming us into his body.

In the end if the clay being formed into a pot has its way it will naturally rebel against the potters hand simply by force and dessolve into a wet mound which is formless.  This is true of Christian life as well.  It is easier to call oneself a Christian, to claim the kingdom by our own proclamation of faith, and then to live outside of community and the higher principles of faith.  It is. It is our nature.  Paul has hope though.  Paul ends by reminding the Philippians that it is easier to live apart, to be divided, and to shrink from the higher formation. Yet this is not God's mind.  Instead God intends a unified community being formed into a mature faith by the Christ's spirit.  So, Paul encourages his little community at Philippi to not give up and to continue to stand firm in their faith.  He says, you are the ones "whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent 1 Year C, February 14, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I don’t think that a sermon on temptation needs to be either titillating or boring to be helpful. Rather, I think it needs to be both honest and realistic. In fact, I think that kind of sermon on temptation might be just the thing a lot of our people need and want to hear."

"Trust and Temptation," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

"Wilderness was the wild place, the waiting place, the place of preparation. It also connected then, as it does now, to very basic spirituality: a place to grapple with God, a place to learn dependence on nature and its provisions, a place of extremes or contrasts, of wild beasts and desert. It is the Lenten space par excellence."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Through all their desert wanderings, O Lord our God, you led our ancestors from toil and oppression to a land of milk and honey.  Through forty days in the wilderness, the Spirit led your Son from the devil’s testing to victory as your servant.  Lead us through these forty days of Lent and make that victory of Christ’s our own, till at the font of living water the elect find new birth, the penitent find pardon, and all rejoice to serve you alone. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 4:1-3
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

On the first Sunday of Lent we return to chapters which came before our Epiphany readings.  This Sunday we go back in time to the chapter just following the Baptism when Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. This pattern of reading the Gospel works well for our liturgical year, and helps to bring the modern Christian journey through Lent into perspective alongside the journey of Jesus in the desert.  Sometimes it isn't very helpful as far as the narrative is concerned.

In Luke's Gospel we are clear that it is the Holy Spirit who is the one who is leading Jesus from the moment of baptism throughout his ministry. Jesus is God’s son specifically and this “’sonship’ is mediated by the Holy Spirit.” (LTJ, Luke, 72)

Jesus is led then as God’s son into the desert, full of the Holy Spirit. He is led there specifically to be tested.  In the desert we find that it is Job’s tester who comes to Jesus, a little different personality than in the other two Gospels. This devil will offer much in a land without much. The idea is that here the devil is offering a different world to Jesus, a different reign. This reign is one filled with demons and minions. To many the “wilderness” is a place full of demons.  The reign the devil offers is not only contrary to but working against the reign of God. The testing begins long after Jesus becomes hungry. He is dwelling within this counter kingdom where scarcity rules.

He dwells there for forty days which is a holy number.  In Exodus 34:38, Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days; In 1 Kings 19:8, Elijah spent forty days on the journey to Mount Horeb. According to the northern tradition (in Deuteronomy 9) , Moses received the Law there, rather than on Mount Sinai, the location in the southern tradition. In Deuteronomy 9:9, Moses says “I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water.” “Forty days” appears many times in the Old Testament meaning a significant period of time. Recall also that Jonah predicted that Nineveh would be destroyed after “forty days” if the citizens did not repent.

This is an interesting tie-in for the discipleship journey. We, as disciples, live in a world tempted daily by the demons and minions of this counter-kingdom. When we live in the world we are hungry and find little sustenance. When we leave the life lived within the reign of God we will be tempted and it will be like a desert with living water ever more scarce and our own thirst and hunger increasing.

Jesus is first tempted to turn stones to bread. I am reminded first of all of John the Baptist’s words that God can raise up sons and daughters of Abraham from these stones, stones may be living, stones may gush forth with water. But Jesus is tempted here with the opportunity to use his “sonship” powers to try and sustain life in the “counter-kingdom.” (LTJ, Luke, 74)

Jesus responds by reminding the devil and us who are traveling along this desert journey with him that we do not live on bread alone. (Deuteronomy 8:3.) The message Jesus offers in not unique and yet it is always timely. We enter into this time of year to help us intentionally remember that we depend upon the bounty and grace of God for all that we have. This was the lesson taught to Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to all the prophets, kings, and holy people of God. As humans it is so very easy to believe that if we just have this or if we simply could have that our lives would be so much better off than they are today. We so easily forget in our hunger brought about in a world of scarcity that God’s love and providence is already there to be consumed.

The devil then shows Jesus all of the kingdoms throughout the empire and says that he can have them if he will but prostrate himself. In Luke’s Gospel this is more than bowing before the devil, acknowledging his power and reign over the counter-kingdom. It is worship he desires.

As I reflect on this passage it reminds me of all the false hopes of prosperity that are offered on late night infomercials. The promise looks good and it is inviting. The promise of the counter-kingdom is subtle and you and I buy into it pretty easily. “If I just had this or that,” we might say to ourselves. Just recently I read an article talking about the unfulfilled hope promised by technology. Jesus’ response is to reorient the conversation towards God. Jesus reminds the devil of the words of the Sh’ma: there is only one God of Israel and him we shall worship.

The first two temptations not having worked, the devil takes Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The devil offers a few quotes and invites Jesus to test his father. Surely the angels would save Jesus from stubbing his toe. Jesus of course “exhausts” the devil with his focus on the reign of God and his unbending mission to bring it to fruition. At the end of the day it is the tester of Job and Jesus who looses faith and withdraws.

Luke includes this phrase, “withdrew from him for a time.” The tempter will play an important role towards the end of Jesus’ mission. While the ruler of the counter-kingdom is quiet for most of the Lukan gospel, his minions are not. Luke Timothy Johnson tells us we should not pretend that the clash of the reign of God and the counter-kingdom of the world is over by any stretch of the imagination.

As we come to the end of this passage and I reflect on possible messages for the first Sunday in Lent, there are the obvious themes of desert and testing. There also emerges a theme on the faithfulness of Jesus to bring in the reign of God. Perhaps in our beginning of Lent we might not simply see our journey with Jesus in a desert or wilderness as a time to grow close to God, but rather a time to test our faith in God by stepping boldly forward into ministry and mission. Can we be driven into Lent by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the reign of God and see what it is that we discover along our own journey to Jerusalem? Can we fast, and pray, and be reconciled to the lordship of Christ in our lives?

Some Thoughts on Romans 10:8-13

In this lesson Paul substitutes the word for Torah with the word Christ.  Therefore what we are presented with is the transformation of living the law transformed into the Gospel of living out the Christ like heart.

We have a unique proclamation of Good News about Salvation and of Christ and his resurrection.  We cannot underestimate the reality that Paul's view that God's grace, mercy, and salvation preceded virtue was a radical notion.  The reversal of the economic nature of faith was powerful to the first century ears.  Today, most of us still live within a predominately exchange based faith practice; though a more subtle one.  We trade on "right belief" today or "right worship."  Paul's message is very important for us to hear.

Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is working God's purpose out in the world.  God as Holy Spirit is a spirit of love and grace which is breathing life into people.  They are receiving grace and this grace brings with it a deliverance from the old ways.  Shame is not God's way, though it was the way of the law.  We are freed now into a new life which makes all things and all people new.

This God is a generous God and Christ sees no distinction in the human family when he looks upon us with the eyes of grace.  Paul says it is no longer about marking the boxes and checking off your list of achievements.  Instead God has saved us.   Paul writes:

For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This is good news indeed and having heard it, we proclaim it, and we choose to live and be differently. We choose then to live out of our freedom and liberty a grace filled and virtuous life.  This is the new economy of faith, traded on grace and forgiveness from God to us and to all others.  Moreover, an opportunity to live life empowered by the Holy Spirit to give thanks for this salvation and to offer it to others; all the wile attempting a virtuous life of love.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

February 8, 2016, Last Epiphany/The Transfiguration

Quotes That Make Me Think

"God promises us that through Scripture we will meet God, and our identities as individuals and a community of faith will be formed and transformed."

"Transforming Transfiguation," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

"The Transfiguration is an apt Preface to Lent and Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, because what lies ahead is both a confrontation between the non-violent justice of the Kingdom of God and the violent injustice of the Roman Empire; as well as the non-violent way of the Beloved versus the hoped-for victory by the Messiah."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 9:28-36, (37-43), David Ewart, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


O god, whose Son, your Beloved, was transfigured in dazzling light, with reverent awe we enter your holy presence.  Your presence cannot be contained in tents our hands have made but must be sought in your creatures and all that your hands have fashioned.  Lead us from the high mountain to seek you in the lowly of the earth, serving them, after Christ’s example, in peace and sacrificial love.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 9:28-36(37-43)
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Epiphany begins with the visitation of the wise men, contains the prophesy of Simeon at the presentation, moves to the baptism of Jesus by John, then moved through several lessons in Luke’s Gospel which outline the mission of Jesus and what kind of Messiah he is to be for the people of Israel and for the Gentiles.  We conclude Epiphany with the transfiguration.  As Luke Timothy Johnson calls the passage “Recognizing Jesus,” we are then not surprised that this season of revelation and light ends on the mountain top.
If you are interested in how the other texts tell the story of the transfiguration you can find the parallels for today’s Gospel reading here:
vv. 28-36
vv. 37-43a
One of the things I want to draw our attention to as we begin to survey this Gospel reading is that the lectionary has divided it in an odd place. I very much like the division of the passage as 9:18-36.  Here we have a complicated disagreement between the New Testament scholar and the Liturgist.  Overlooking that, we see plainly as we open up our Bibles that Luke intends to begin the account by transitioning from the miracle of loaves and fishes to a private time of prayer between teacher and disciples. 

In the previous passage the miracle of multiplication and abundance concludes as we see the ochlos (mentioned above as "the crowd") transformed in the new nation of God’s people – the laos.  The revelation of the reign of God’s breaking into the world is then immediately followed by a time of prayer.  Jesus asks them in this time away from the others, who am I?  From Peter we receive the revelation “Messiah of God,” or as almost all scholars recognize: “God’s Anointed.”  While Jesus tells them to keep this quiet he also charges them to follow, deny themselves, and to die daily to self – living for Christ and for others along the journey of discipleship.

As before we see the revelation, and then a response of discipleship offered.  So we come to verse 28 and the test. Just how are our disciples doing? We might remember Simon’s response last week of humble repentance. What happens this Sunday?  Are we there yet?

We begin with these words, “as he was praying.” Many scholars focus in on the changes that Luke makes to the end time predictions of Mark and the imagery of Christ’s second coming and the number of days from the revelation of Jesus as Messiah (Mark’s 6 to Luke’s 8). 

What strikes me and seems so very profound is that the transfiguration occurs in the midst of prayer.  Specifically, while Jesus is praying the transfiguration takes place.  We have not ventured too far from Jesus’ baptism so we can remember that the moment of recognition of Jesus as God’s beloved came during prayer as well.  Again here we see the reality that the Holy Spirit comes in prayer; it comes when we present ourselves to God.  It comes in words and it comes in silence.

Jesus is praying.  As he prays his appearance is altered and his clothes become dazzlingly white.  Two men were seen speaking to him: Moses and Elijah.  They too are witnessed to be in glory.  And they were talking about the death and resurrection and events about to take place in Jerusalem. This account is one filled with images and words that would have resonated with the first Christians. They are images to be repeated by the Godly work of resurrection and in Luke’s account of the events that followed.

I believe the importance of this moment is highlighted by the very particular words used by Luke to describe the transfiguration.  The word for departure is a direct translation of exodus.  Jesus is God’s glory; he is the Messiah to lead the new nation out of bondage.  Jesus is like Moses and Elijah, he is a great prophet. But he is also God’s Glory, the revelation of the Godhead. Jesus is also the one through whom all nations shall become inheritors of Abraham’s covenant.

The disciples are asleep and miss most of the action.  Perhaps in their confusion, perhaps in that same way they did not want to go into the deep water, here they offer to build tents.  This of course is a tie to the feast of Booths.  However, we are told that Peter doesn't really know what he is saying. We have the answer to the question in Stephen’s witness (Acts 7:48-50), “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.”  So, quite frankly, this is a silly idea.

Furthermore, Peter is wrong. By offering three tents he misses the point. He has placed Jesus merely on a parallel prophetic course as Moses and Elijah. Clearly more is desired by God. (Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, 156).

So often our excuses and our ideas about why the reign of God must follow our desires are just silly.  They are foolish. I imagine like Peter, it is hard to see. I know for me it is difficult to see just how foolish they really are until I have some distance and can look back and see exactly what Jesus was doing.

God then proclaims that this is indeed his Glory, the one who has been selected, the one who is his beloved, and God instructs those who witness this event to do as Jesus asks.

Imagine in this moment the fear of witnessing such an event. Certainly the disciples are afraid as they are engulfed in this cloud and bear witness to a truly divine interaction.  Their response is silence, silent contemplation.

Luke gives us a very clear sense of the essential ingredient in ministry and how so very much hinges upon prayer:  prayer before the action of following Jesus; prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit; prayer in which God will speak; prayer that is revelatory; prayer that knocks you to your knees; prayer that gives you ministry; prayer is where you will hear the voice of God speaking and calling to you.

This makes me wonder.  When people come to our churches do they experience the transfiguration?  We have certainly built booths.  And, we work hard to keep God imprisoned there.  We try not to live into Jesus’ teaching much more than those of Moses or Elijah’s.  We aren't that different from Peter.  Such a message is important to contemplate on the eve of Lent.

What would it be like if when people left our worship services they felt as though they had been apart of witnessing the transfiguration?  What would it be like, Sunday after Sunday, if they left worship forever changed?  They left in quiet contemplation waiting to hear where Jesus was calling them to serve. They left the mountain top to experience Jesus in the world? 

I am not advocating a worship that is either charismatic, renewal oriented, modern, post-modern, or traditional. To believe there is only one style of worship that is missional or where God can be experienced is to participate in booth building.  But when we celebrate do we believe what we are saying? Are we in the moment praying or simply saying the words? How do we prepare ourselves to lead this kind of worship?  How do we prepare our laity to be leaders in this same way? How do we get out of the way and truly become vessels of the Most High God so that those who seek him find him, and don’t discover a tired worn out congregation?

As a leader of worship I wonder am I in tune with the sacred things being undertaken in this moment; or is this just another Sunday to get through so I can go on to the next thing?

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

In our passage from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians we have an argument being made about the law of Moses and the law of Christ.  Paul is using the word "glory" here to refer to the fact that when Moses went up to the Lord and received the Torah his face shined; so he veiled it.  Paul in the first words for this passage is saying literally that Moses face shines less now that the old law is passing away and the new law of Christ has been revealed.  

He then argues that to continue to spend a lifetime attempting to live out the old covenant will be a life wasted indeed because the law of Moses is unable to help humans see God's true and intended desire for creation.  Paul is arguing that when we try to make the law of Moses our guiding principle it is like we have a veil over our own faces and we are unable to see our created purpose.

However, those who chose to follow Jesus who brings with him the law of love will have the "veil removed."  In receiving the Holy Spirit (which is God's perfect love) we are able to look upon the Lord and discover that God intended humanity and all creation to be free.  We see, "with unveiled faces", in the face of God in Christ Jesus our true intended reflection.  The face of God in Christ, revealed by God's love in the Holy Spirit, shows us our "dispensation", our release, from the law of "stone" to a law of love.

This is God's mercy, that Christ has come as has our salvation, we are free.  When we live into our true being and when we love and become like Christ other behaviors fall away.  Paul is saying the opposite of everything his readers have been taught and we have been taught.  We typically believe if we will but do the law then freedom and love will come; then salvation will come. Paul has again turned this on its head.  Our freedom in Christ and through Christ brings love.  When we love, and follow this law of Christ, and see ourselves as beloved - as God sees us - we then behave differently.  When we love shameful things are renounced, when we love cunning falls away as useless.  When we love a truth is spoken more powerful than false teachings.  When we love we are vulnerable; but we are who God intended us to be.  We are who God sees and hopes we are.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ash Wednesday February

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In Jesus' prayer we are connected and bonded with each other. We find our health, our integrity, and our righteousness; that is true piety."

"Preaching on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-8)," Irving J. Arnquist and Louis R. Flessner, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1990.

"What are we praying for when we pray for God's kingdom to come?"

"Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord's Prayer," N.T. Wright, The Christian Century, 1997.

"That piety should be a private matter is a radical not to say revolutionary idea. It goes totally against the cultural grain. For traditional piety is something performed for others to see. In Roman culture, pietas referred to the public veneration of the gods. Without such a display from prominent citizens, what would happen to the traditional values that were associated with the gods? Pietas was the cultural glue, holding all things in place. How could there be law and order without it?"

"The Call to Secret Service (Matthew 6:1-18)," John C. Purdy. Chapter 4 inReturning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


At this, the acceptable time, O God so rich in mercy, we gather in solemn assembly to receive the announcement of the Lenten spring, and the ashes of mortality and repentance.  Let the elect, exulting, to the waters of salvation; guide the penitent, rejoicing, to the healing river; carry us all to the streams of renewal.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

If we were reading along in the scripture and we arrived at our passage for this Ash Wednesday we would see the continued conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.  The religious hierarchy have set themselves above the faith and have become, if you will, arbiters of piety. They are the intermediaries between God and God's people.

Jesus has been expanding and expounding on the nature of the law revealed by the messiah and now he turns to talk a little about how Christians should live with one another.  What we have in our passage are the characteristics of a Christian community according to Jesus; and they are contrasted with the practices of these other religious leaders.   Of course we are doomed to exhibit the same tendencies at our very worst but we have here some outlined behaviors that should at least set our trajectory.

Don't get in other people's faces about how you are better than them when it comes to prayer, believing, and the rest of it.  After all, living a Christian life benefits God and others.  Here are a couple of examples of what not to do...

  • Example One: Just be a good steward and don't brag about it.
  • Example Two: Don't be verbose in your praying.  It is a real turn off to God an others.
  • Example Three: Please pray privately and sincerely.
  • Example Four: God knows what you need so you don't have to always be telling God out loud.
  • Example Five:  Don't look dismal and sad.  Look happy and enjoy your relationship with God.
  • Example Six: Remember that what matters is the love of God, the love of neighbor - these are the treasures worth having.
All of this is because good works are done for God and on behalf of others.  This service is purely for the reward of doing what is good and well in the eyes of God and not for a community's lauds or glory.

What we have in our reading today is very good and it is the parenthesis between Matthew's teaching on the Lord's prayers.

I say this because in my mind it helps to frame what Jesus is teaching about prayer.  The reality is that Jesus' prayer is very powerful when seen through the eyes of the overall passage and its meaning is much greater than the by rote version we say without thought most Sundays. So, here is a meditation on Jesus' Prayer with an eye to Matthew's Gospel and to the passage for Ash Wednesday.

Jesus’ Prayer
In the Episcopal Church, the Lord’s Prayer--the prayer Jesus taught his disciples--is central to our common life of prayer. It is present in all of our private and corporate services of worship, and is often the first prayer children learn. With the simplest of words, Jesus teaches those who follow him all they need to know about prayer, as they say:
“Our Father”: Our Father, because we are to seek as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did. We are can develop this intimate love with God, recognizing we are children of God and members of the family of God.
“Who art in heaven”: We are reminded of our created nature as a gift from heaven. Life is given to us from God, who is quite beyond us. We recognize in this short phrase that we are not God. Rather, the God we proclaim is a God who makes all things and breathes life into all things.
“Hallowed be thy name”: In response to the grace of being welcomed into God’s community, bowing humbly and acknowledging our created nature, we recognize the holiness of God. We proclaim that God’s name is hallowed.
“Thy kingdom come”: We ask and seek God’s kingdom. The words of Jesus remind us that, like the disciples’ own desires to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, this is not our kingdom. The reign of God is not what you and I have in mind. We beg, “God, by your power bring your kingdom into this world. Help us to beat our swords into ploughshares that we might feed the world. Give us strength to commit as your partners in the restoration of creation, not how we imagine it, but in the way you imagine it.”
“Thy will be done”: We bend our wills to God’s, following the living example of Jesus Christ. We ask for grace to constantly set aside our desires and take on the love of God’s reign. We pray, “Let our hands and hearts build not powers and principalities but the rule of love and care for all sorts and conditions of humanity. Let us have a measure of wisdom to tear down our self-imposed walls and embrace one another, as the lion and the lamb lay down together in the kingdom of God.”
“On earth as it is in heaven”: We ask God to give us eyes to see this kingdom vision, and then we ask for courage and power to make heaven a reality in this world. We pray to God, “Create in us a will to be helping hands and loving hearts for those who are weary and need to rest in you. May our homes, our churches, and our communities be a sanctuary for the hurting world to find shelter, to find some small experience of heaven.”
“Give us this day our daily bread”: In prayer we come to understand that we are consumers. We need, desire, and just want many things. In Christ, we are reminded that all we need is our daily bread. So we pray, “O God, help us to be mindful that you provide for the lilies of the field and you provide for us. As we surrender our desires, help us to provide daily bread for those who have none today.”
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”: Sanity and restoration are possible only because God forgives us. Because of that sacrificial forgiveness--made real in the life and death of Jesus--we can see and then share mercy and forgiveness. Then we can pray, “God, may I understand your call to me personally to offer sacrificial forgiveness to all those I feel have wronged me. I want to know and see my own fault in those broken relationships. May I be the sacrament of your grace and forgiveness to others.”
“Lead us not into temptation”: As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and replaced God with their own understanding of reality, we need help turning away from our own earthly and political desires and turning toward the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. So we ask, “We are so tempted to go the easy way, to believe our desires are God’s desires. We have the audacity to assume we can know God’s mind. Show us your way and help us to trust it.”
“And deliver us from evil”: Only God can deliver us from evil. There is darkness in the world around us. We know this darkness feeds on our deepest desire: to be God ourselves. That deceptive voice affirms everything we do and justifies our actions, even when they compromise other people’s dignity. It whispers and tells us we possess God’s truth and no one else does. We must pray, “God, deliver us from the evil that inhabits this world, the weakness of our hearts, and the darkness of our lives, that we might walk in the light of your Son.”
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”: Without God, we are powerless. So we devote our lives to God, resting in the power of God’s deliverance. We humbly ask, “Help us to see your glory and beauty in the world, this day and every day. Amen.”

Using prayers like this one, Jesus modeled a life of prayer as work, and work as prayer. The apostles and all those who have since followed him have sought a life of prayer. They have engaged in prayer that discerns Jesus’ teachings and then molded their lives into the shape of his life. We can take up the same vocation and become people whose lives are characterized by daily and fervent prayer. Indeed we reflect and acknowledge the centrality of prayer and work in our own commitment to God when we say, “I will, with God’s help, continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”  [This is an excerpt from Unabashedly Episcopalian.]

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

One of the things that has happened to us in our culture is that we think not about whom we represent.  Yet, we represent (as Christians) Jesus Christ to the world.  This lack of mindfulness is complex; yet for the world in many respects God in Christ Jesus is not the problem for Christianity but rather it is his followers that create the stumbling block.  This passage is about the life of Grace which transforms the Christian first.

We are ambassadors for Christ.  In Paul's setting this would have meant that we are the oldest and wisest of Christ's children.  We represent Christ but not in the worst way but on behalf of him in the very best of manners.  This is difficult to do if we are always at war with ourselves.  It is hard to be Christ's representative if we can't represent Christ to one another; which means forgiving one another and offering Grace.  We are the great law givers rather than the donors of grace.  So what do we do?  How do we get there? How do we make room for the other?

We like Christ must give grace, make room for grace, and offer grace.  However, before we can do this we must receive Grace.  This is easier said than done.  We must really and truly receive the saving Grace of Christ; this means allowing God to love and save us in our mess and not waiting for perfection.  We are truly saved and perfected through the grace we receive. We are made a new creation by God if we will but let him.  Instead of performing for God or hoping that God will deliver us out of our "labors and sleepless nights" we are invited instead to live under the umbrella of God's Grace; within the saving embrace of God.  When we do this Paul believes the other things will fall into place.

We don't become the new creation and then we get grace.  Instead we allow ourselves to receive God's Grace and we become new.  We don't live and so we don't die.  We die to our desire to be perfect and so we live in the Grace of God who takes us just as we are.  It is this reversal of the world's economy of salvation that enables us to be alive, joyful, satisfied, and content.

When life is lived with the mantle of God's Grace upon our shoulders then we are beautiful and resplendent ambassadors of Christ to the world.  When we live in Grace we give grace freely, we share life freely, we embrace the other freely, we see there is enough and offer plenty of good things freely.  This is the life lived as a new creation, this is the life of Grace. This is the life of ambassadorship.