Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter 2C April 3, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Even though he said the greater blessing is for those who can believe without seeing, it's hard to imagine that there's a believer anywhere who wouldn't have traded places with Thomas, given the chance, and seen that face and heard that voice and touched those ruined hands."

"Thomas," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

" now I think it’s not so much that Jesus is rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us."

"The Never-Ending Story," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


On this Lord’s Day, we come together, O God, to proclaim the Living One, the First and the Last, who was dead, but now is forever alive. Open our hearts to the Spirit Jesus breathes on us. Help us, who have not seen, to believe; send us, as you have sent Jesus, to greet the world with the Easter word of peace and to share with all the Spirit’s new life of forgiveness. 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 John 20:19-31
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of our gatherings and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertaken on his behalf.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week” suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

Brown’s notes follow from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshippers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).

In the end Brown believes this is a secondary development, nevertheless one of interest.

So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday.

We begin with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cuing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. Just as God sent me I am sending you. We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes, “Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission.” (1040-1044) This is the recreation in action.

The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That is the point of the story.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

“Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (1046)

Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the original Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life.

Some Thoughts on Revelation 1:4-8

Here is what is about to happen: we are about to have a series of lessons from the Book of revelation.  This is it; there is nothing this long or this sequential at any other time in our preaching cycle. I am not yet sure I am brave enough to make it the topic of my preaching for the next couple of weeks but I am beginning to think it is worth it.  

The background is the tradition that this is written by John on Patmos and it is addressed to the "7 churches".  Of course this means that it is written to all churches (as he is at the time writing to all the churches).  A number of good commentaries will make this and other observations about the context.  

In the introductory verses we have a words quoted from Isaiah 44.6, "who is and who was and who is to come." This God is the Alpha and the Omega.  The seven spirits are from Isaiah 11.2ff.  The author bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead and ruler over all the earth.

Then there is the witness that Jesus loves us, that he frees us from sin, that we are made into a new community, and that we are (like priests) to serve him.  We are being, even now, drawn into a worshiping community which eventually will move from the world of time to everlasting glory forever and ever. 

These are the very themes of the whole text.  They make the mission of Jesus upon his return the event which will bring all of this to pass.  Upon his return all shall be transformed. "Amen.  Amen." This is the way it is going to be folks.  It reminds me of that Duck Dynasty picture I saw last week.

God is God and he has come, he is coming back, and he intends to bring about the recreation of the world.  

Walter Taylor, of Lutheran Seminary, writes:

"The Revelation lesson gives us an opening to talk about Christology in ways we may not have had on Easter. All or any one of the many titles of verse 5 could be explored. Taken together they outline a full Christology that includes life, death, resurrection, and present lordship. The Christological emphasis continues with the love of Christ and his freeing action by means of his death (verses 5b-6), and in verse 7 we look forward to the coming of Jesus as the final judge."

This is a great opportunity to think about with the congregation who this Christ is that we worship and what does he have to do with our living of lives in this particular world.

Luke in Acts is clear that he wants to show that the work of the apostles in the first generation were intent on keeping the mission of Jesus underway. They do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Luke is quick to show that they are the true inheritors of the religion of Zion.

So in this passage Peter and John have been arrested. They were preaching resurrection. The religious leaders of the day want to keep them quiet. Their plans to punish Peter and John are set aside for a while.

However, in the end the growth of the message and community dictates that action be taken. So it is that they are imprisoned for a short while until an angel sets them free. They go right back to preaching and teaching.

This preaching is clear that Jesus' mission and now the mission of the Holy Spirit is the same message as of old. This is the most recent work of the God of Israel. Luke adeptly puts words into the religious leader's mouths in order to reveal their culpability in Jesus' own death and to show that any oppression of this new message is more of the same.

I think there are a couple pitfalls here. First, do not scape goat the Jews. I have a long time ago tried to weed out this from my own teaching and instead talk about the religious leaders of the day. Second, you can easily fall into a missiology which says if you are faithful everything will be blessed by the Holy Spirit and your mission will grow. Some faithful missions grow some do not.

What I think is a powerful witness in this passage is that like Jesus the first followers attempt to reject power and authority of religion and instead focus on helping the poor. Sharing what they have. And, ministering to the community. This has real power in the midst of the community and is very much a part of what was so attractive to the original message of Jesus. Here we see a faithful continuity of a God who freed Egypt, freed Jesus, and brings freedom to the people even today. The Good News of the Gospel is not about something that happens in the life after this one. It is about a God who continues to act in the lives of people - transforming them and the community in which they live.

Lastly, notice that the religious leaders sit in council and people are brought to them. They are out of touch with their community. Notice instead where the apostles are. They are out in the world in relationship with people. They are in conversation and working with them to help serve the poor - the widows and orphans. They are not locked in an upper room, they are not sitting in a religious center of some kind, they are in relationship with real people, helping real people, and incarnating a community which is nothing less than a society of friends of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter C March 27, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

Are you God's friend and lover?
rejoice in this glorious feast of feasts!

Are you God's servant, knowing God's wishes?
be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing!
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
now is your payday!

Have you been working since early morning?
you will be paid fair and square.
Have you been here since the third hour?
you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
come up without fear, you will lose nothing.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
come forward without hesitation.
Even if you came at the eleventh hour?
have no fear; it is not too late.

God is a generous employer,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
God gives to the one and gives to the other:
honours the deed and praises the intention.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master's rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come now and collect your wages.
Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

 The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There's hospitality for all, and to spare. No more
apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the Master: but he has mastered death

Isaiah knew this would happen, and he cried:
"Death was angered when it met you in the pit."
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered, for it was bound in chains.

Death swallowed a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took what is seen and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Grave, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen and evil has fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life reigns.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.

Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
the first of all who had fallen asleep.

Glory and power to him for ever and ever!

St. Chrysostom

The death of Jesus is for us nothing if we have not died with him; the resurrection of our Lord is for us nothing if we have not been raised with him.

Emil Brunner

"The doctrine is clear. To the children of God, lost Christ is their Christ when all is done."

The Weeping Mary at the Sepulchre, Samuel Rutherford, 1640.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


This is the day, Lord God, that you have made!  Raising Christ from the dead, and raising us with Christ, you have fashioned for yourself a new people, washed in the flood of baptism, sealed with gift of the Spirit, invited to the banquet of the Lamb!  In the beauty of this Easter morning, set our minds on the new life to which you have called us; place on our lips the words of witness for which you have anointed us; and ready our hearts to celebrate the festival, with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 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 John 20:1-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
We begin with  Mary discovering that the body is not there and reporting it to the disciples.  There is the famous disciple race.  The beloved disciple loves Jesus more and so he arrives at the tomb first before Peter; this is the intent of the story teller at least.  When he arrives he sees the burial clothes and he believes. He sees, he experiences, the resurrection and he believes.

Mary Magdalene then experiences the risen Jesus.  She has been searching for him; she sees him but does not immediately know him.  In fact she does not know him until her name is called.  Raymond Brown points out a number of reasons for this in John, vol 2, 1008ff.  Playing out the reality of Jesus' own words in John 10.3:  "The sheep hear his voice as he calls by name those that belong to him."  "I know my sheep and my sheep know me."  Her response is to announce to the disciples that she has "seen the Lord."

Two different experiences of the risen Christ from two loving followers are what we have to preach on this Easter.  They give us a sense that the risen Lord is known in many ways and experienced in many ways.  While true belief will come with the Holy Spirit, we are given here in John's resurrection account the beginning of the new creation story. 

The Victory has been won on the cross. The chasm that separated the earth and the heaven is no breached.  The disciples begin to experience a new order and a new creation. They begin to understand the things which have been told them. 

In these resurrection accounts we have the beginning of faith which comes from experiencing the risen Lord.  Their faith will grow even as Jesus continues to make his journey to the father. He remarks that we are not to cling to tightly to these experiences for the unity if fulfilled in the ascension which is soon to come.  Jesus is even now, as he stands before Mary, making his way to the Father.  Then, and only then, will the comforter and Holy Spirit be unleashed in the world.  Then, and only then, will the disciples come to a fullness of belief.

John's Gospel tells us clearly that resurrection is not simply a bodily, this world, experience but it is a resurrection into unity with God.  Only when Jesus is resurrected and unified will the new creation truly spring forth.  So now...on Easter we read John's Gospel we prepare and raise our heads for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of creation which is even now upon us.

"The first ones ever, oh, ever to know of the rising of Jesus, his glory to be, were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they are they who see.  Oh blessed are they who see the Lord, oh, blessed are they who see." (Hymnal 1982, 673)

Some Thoughts on Luke 24:1-12

What becomes clear in comparing the two options for preaching on Easter Sunday is that Luke's version and intent is somewhat different than John's.  However, what they have in common is worth a brief note.

In all the accounts (different from the other Hellenistic accounts of the day) Jesus is VERY present. He is not a ghost. He is not an apparition. Jesus is very real and very present. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 389)  The second detail is that the resurrection accounts do something.  They make real the covenant community of the disciples.  They are about to be sent; they are about to become apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The disciple community is formed.  One might even say is birthed and bound together by the experience of this very real present Jesus. (390)

In Luke's Gospel we have an empty tomb account; which is the reading appointed.  However, this is always in context with the Road to Emmaeus, the appearance to the disciples, the ascension and Luke's nod to the many other resurrection accounts. 

In our Gospel lesson Jesus is very real and very present.  He is clear that we are to remain attentive to the work that is about to happen in Jerusalem (note he has changed Mark's "Galilee").  We are clear that the death and resurrection of the prophet king has now fulfilled the prophecies.  The prophetic tale of suffering and death has come true.  The whole of the scriptural witness (in that time the Old Testament - and specifically the Torah) is towards this moment of a new covenant and a new thing.  It is now the time of an apostolic age; wherein the first followers are sent out to do the work that Jesus has given them to do. 

Most of all we see in this moment a community being formed and being empowered to make their own prophetic witness.  (391) 

The last very important motif which Luke' carefully crafts as he tells the story of the resurrection is the crowd.  Jesus' resurrection involves many people.  Many people will experience his resurrection.  They are to tell many people.  It is important in Luke to remember the story of the prophet king Jesus, and how all that he said came true, and how he suffered, died, and was resurrected.  More importantly though is that "remembering" is for the sole purpose of telling. 

This is the evangelist's resurrection account.  God and tell...go and tell....go and tell.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

The passage chosen for Easter from Corinthians does and interesting thing by combining two pieces of a whole section.  In the much larger piece of chapter 15 Paul is speaking to the church at Corinth about the reality that the key belief in the resurrection of the dead for the the saints is to be found in the sacred story of Jesus' own resurrection. 

Not unlike many non church goers, Paul faced a wide community of belief in a marginal kind of afterlife.  He is sure that there is more to life than what we experience here on this earth and he truly believed that for the Christian who believed there would be the inheritance of eternal life with God.  We share with Jesus the nature of life in this world and so we will share with Jesus in his resurrection.

Jesus is the first fruits of the holy community of saints who will be raised.  He then makes his case that humanity is doomed to death if left to their own devices.  Only Christ and Christ's resurrection will bring resurrected life to those who believe.  Christ is, even now, bringing about the ultimate victory of death and will (as promised in John's Gospel) draw all things to himself.  In the end death and all shall be conquered.

This passage so linked places before the reader and the preacher the witness of the first Christian community: 

A)  Those who follow Jesus and believe in his resurrection will be united with God and the saints in light.
B)  Jesus is the only one who can triumph over the permanence of death itself; only the new Adam brings deliverance.
C)  Not only is  a way into full life with God made possible and the kingdoms of heaven and earth forever linked; but this work of Christ's resurrection will be the death of death.
D)  Finally, this is part of the ultimate embrace of God for his creation.  What has begun in God will end in God for God is the Alpha and the Omega.

For the reader in Corinth and for the reader in the 21st century, we are given a vision of hope that all that we experience in this world is not all that it seems; and that God in fact intends so much more.  For us who remain along the pilgrim way we are given an opportunity to see that even now all things are being drawn towards him who loves us and desires to gather us beneath his wings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Good Friday, Holy Week, Year ABC March 25, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Today the Master of the creation and the Lord of Glory is nailed to the cross and his side is pierced; and he who is the sweetness of the church tastes gall and vinegar."

Byzantine Liturgy, Triduum, (LTP, 1996)

Sunset to sunrise changes now,
For God creates the world anew;
On the Redeemer's thorn-crowned brow
The wonders of that dawn we view.
Although the sun withholds its light
Yet a more heavenly lamp shines here; and from the cross on Calv'ry's height
Gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o'erwhelming final strife
the Lord of life has victory;
And sin is slain, and death brings life,
And earth inherits heaven's key.

Clement of Alexandria

"In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard nearby mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, of course, because Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth."

Commentary, John 18:33-37, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Prostrate on the ground, your Son prayed, O God, that this hour might pass, this cup be taken away.  But then he rose to do your will, to stretch out his arms on the cross, to be lifted up from the earth an to be glorified by you.  Prostrate before you, O God, we ponder the mystery of your saving will.  In this hour of Christ's exaltation, we beg you: Open our hearts to hear the story of our salvation, to stretch out our hands in prayer, to venerate the cross by which the whole world is lifted up to salvation, life and resurrection.  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 John 18:1 - 19:42
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

Raymond Brown writes:  "The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. but the Fourth Gospel localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself: When the side of Jesus is pierced, there comes forth blood and later. In 7:38-39 we heard: "From within him shall flow rivers of living water," with the explanation that the water symbolized the Spirit which would be given when Jesus had bee glorified. That is now fulfilled, but the admixture of blood to the water is the sign that Jesus has passed from this world to the Father and has been glorified. It is not impossible that the fourth evangelist intends here a reference not only to the gift of the Spirit but also to the two channels (baptism and the Eucharist) through which the Spirit had been communicated to the believers of his won community, with water signifying baptism, and blood the Eucharist."

One of my mentors once remarked of how careful one must be when dealing in sermons preached in the midst of the great liturgies of the church. I have come to understand and to agree. When we address the text that is before us we quickly realize that the text itself, and the reading of it in publicworship, is carries a weight which can barely be matched by a few meager words from the pulpit.

The piece that I find the most interesting is the uniqueness of John's Gospel and in particular the last words of Jesus. There is a tremendous feeling of agony and suffering in the last words of the synoptics: "My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?" John's words echo Luke's in their triumphant nature and give us a sense that in this moment we have victory.

Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's plan to unite the world (its earthiness and creatureliness) with the Godhead. The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.  It relishes the death of death, the finality of sin, as the falling cross bridges the gap once for all between heaven and earth.

Psalm 22 gives us this victory song:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The Psalm captures both the defeat and the ultimate victory which is God's. It is John's Gospel thought that is most like the end. The words, "It is finished." are a victory cry and not some pitiful words from a dying prisoner!

Raymond Brown explains it this way, "In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is similar to "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final blow of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished." (John, vol II, Anchor Bible, 931)

If we combine this then with the images of Brown's above, Psalm 22, we see that the piercing then is the handing over of the sacramental life of the Godly community into the hands of those who will come after. The Spirit which is about to be poured out in chapter 20 is already here prefigured. Be cautious not to move into Pentecost too soon. However, I do think it is important to understand that the work of Jesus on the cross is the culmination of his earthly mission and for John it is the final death blow to the ruler of this world.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:16-25

Resources for Epistle

Paul has been teaching the Hebrews that the Holy Spirit has brought them to faith, and that it is the same Spirit which speaks to them in scripture.  As an example he pulls from a passage that I spoke about in the Maundy Thursday meditation and that is the passage from Jeremiah chapter 31.  
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The passage speaks of God's promise for a new covenant.  Paul says that the promise itself is that God's action on the cross, takes away the sins of the past and moves the follower of Jesus towards a sinless life. Craig Koester (Hebrews, Yale Bible, 441), Luther Seminary professor of New Testament, writes that Paul offers to his readers the notion that "God creates a situation in which he does not allow past or present sins to define his relationship with people."  God wills that such a divide is bridged by the cross.

There is justification and reconciliation between God and humanity.  The work on the cross is complete and final.  This is a unique Christian thought.  There is no need for a temple or Colosseum where sacrifices need to be made in order to create a renewed relationship between humanity and the gods.  There is no long list of law that is to be followed in order to fulfill the requirement to bridge the gulf.   God's action upon the cross is what puts and end to remembering the human disobedience.

We are boldly given permission to be in God's presence.  The sacrifice of Jesus, freely given for the sake of his friends and on behalf of sinners is what provides the release. This is new and it is a way of living.  Paul says the sacrifice is made and the curtain removed.

New life is given through the opportunity of putting behind us anxiety, fear, death, and impurity. (Koester, 444).  Instead we are given the opportunity as Christians to live a new life, to participate in the new covenant.  The Holy Spirit gathers us in and sends us out. We are purified by Christ's action and with the character of boldness and hope we are sent out to confess and make known our faith.  We are to "provoke" one another.  [Paul here uses a negative work in a positive sense. (445)  We are to encourage a new life of witness in one another.  Furthermore, this new life is to look like love and good works.

Craig Koester writes, "Love is not simply an emotion, but entails care for others, including strangers and the afflicted.  Love is congruent with righteousness and can be expressed in parental instruction.  Good works of love are the opposite of the 'dead works' of sin....they are the saving work of Christ in the believer's actions. (445)

The Hebrews text gives us both a theological underpinning to the Johannine Gospel of victory.  It defines what that victory is and it offers a vision of what the Christian is to do with their new freedom.

Good Friday Meditation: Boxes
Sometime in the early 1970’s the pop artist Andy Warhol moved from his studio at 33 Union Square West to a larger one at 860 Broadway.

As he looked at the acquired, comic, sentimental artifacts of culture that he had collected from both personal life and business affairs, he came up with a “crack pot filing system.”

Warhol from the time he was 11 had been fascinated with the 1939 time capsule buried at the New York World’s fair. This would be his idea; he would create time capsules.

So, he began to stuff time capsules with the artifacts of his life. Some required no more thought than emptying the entire contents of his desk drawer. Another devoted entirely to his mother contains articles of her clothing as well as correspondence. There is one which contains the contents collected on a Concorde flight in 1978. Still others contain taxi receipts, wig tape, invoices, a slice of Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake, a 17th century German book on wrestling, a letter from Dennis Hopper, a valentine from the poet Allen Ginsberg, an invitation to the Vice-President’s house warming party, and an angry letter from his florist regarding an overdue account.

By the time he died in 1987 Andy Warhol had filled 612 boxes with the memories, art, artifacts and refuse of his life.[1]

How many boxes have you and I filled? What are in our boxes?

I imagine lives lived and boxes filled with joyful memories, happy times, blessed moments and hope for a future yet to be filed away.

Then I imagine there are lives lived and boxes filled with unexpressed pain, hidden suffering, wounds inflicted, wounds acquired, abuse of body and the bodies of others, and pointed words which can never return.

Sin and brokenness openly and secretly engaged are then hidden away. Late nights, trips, parties, pornography, alcohol, food, and over indulgence purchased with our lives on credit hoping the creditor never knocks on the door.

Boxes more subtly filled. Scarcity of food and resources globally stored by others on our behalf… boxes of wasted consumption. Boxes and bins filled with the refuse of a green planet now in decay.

Lives lived and boxes filled with vivid moving pictures and recorded sound of events played over and over again paralyzing our lives, relationships, and ministries.

Lives lived and boxes filled with a past we store away, peaking at in darkest hours then locking away again the world only seeing what we want to be seen.

Lives lived, boxes filled, -- stumbling blocks each – stumbling stones in our relationships and in our relationship with God … scattered throughout a life’s journey.

The joyous moments we discover will never be enough. The hope not quite what we thought it would be. The highest moments never quite high enough.

How many boxes? How many shelves of boxes? How many storage units of boxes?

Jesus’ journey into darkness carries with it a mass of boxes, each box, one by one, step by step is carried to Golgotha.

Jesus’ binding and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane binds our boxes of violence, betrayal, and darkest fears to the heart of Jesus.

Jesus’ trial before the high priest puts on trial our boxes filled with religious intolerance, religious abuse of power, religious abuse of authority, our tendencies towards conservative and liberal fundamentalisms, and our willingness to diminish faith into meaningless platitudes of inaction masquerading as concern for our common man.

The handing over to Pilate of Jesus opens for scrutiny our boxes of idolatry, scapegoating, our lack of honor, honesty, and onus. We see in Pilate’s courtyard our own willingness to allow others to sin on our behalf, abuse on our behalf, and falsely accuse and punish that our own consciences may be relieved of any wrongdoing and our feasts not spoiled by the true cost of our wealth.

The mocking of Jesus mocks our boxes filled with just enough faith to be respectable. Instead of the crown of our heart we give Jesus a thorny crown of false adoration. Instead of the throne of our souls we wrap Jesus in a purple robe to hide the wounds and lashings of an inactive faith that fails to make our relationships healthy and whole, the wounds of failed family and friendships, the scars of a faith that leaves people hungry and without shelter.

So painful is the work of Jesus, the picking up and opening of our boxes, one by one, humiliation by humiliation, pain by pain, sin by sin, scar by scar that when forced to look upon him we see all that we keep secret. And we do what we must in order to escape the truth -- we reject him.

When Jesus stands before the seat of judgment, upon the stone pavement, our boxes laid open around him, contents spilled and mingled, we are so ashamed that we must turn from him, we cannot bear our countenance, we cannot bear our humaneness bent down and taken upon him our God and our King.

So we say what we must…hoping to close our tiny boxes…hoping to hide again…we say: crucify him. Crucify him.

Lives lived and boxes locked away into the darkest recesses of our hearts cannot be hid before the suffering of Jesus. They are here and now brought out into the open and picked up and carried by Jesus to Golgotha.

It is so easy not to look now though. As he walks to the place of the skull it is so easy to turn away. Much better not to look at our lives carried up that hill. Perhaps the grey sky and the rain will hide what was once hidden. Maybe the mud will cover the remains of our life laid before him on the cobbled streets of Jesus’ walk to the cross. But they are not.

And so when we dare to look at his walking his caring we see that the weight of the cross is the weight of our lives and our boxes, our memories, art, artifacts and refuse. The weight is of those things done and those things left undone and those things done on our behalf.

Each step, then each nail, is a memory now of our pain, and sin, and brokenness.

For those who look now see something different than the death of a criminal. For those who look now see more than the death of a prophet or a wise man. For those who look now see more than just a man on a cross.

For those who dare to look with Mary and Peter and the few gathered we see the death of all that we have believed keeps us from the love of God. We see the death of every event, every word, and every action taken that has kept us from our God’s embrace.

We see the death of our sin.

We see the death of our hypocrisy.

We see the death of our consumption and the death of our indulgence.
And here we see the commingling of Jesus’ suffering with our suffering.

Here at the cross, with Jesus’ body almost lifeless, the pain a pain we wish not to imagine, the last boxes of lives lived are opened. Here are broken open the boxes filled with our pain inflicted by others. Here are our boxes of suffering from illnesses our bodies cannot fight alone. Here are the boxes of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by others on our lives.

And, here are the boxes filled with the pain we carry in our hearts for the death of our loved ones. Boxes filled with photographs of those lost at war, those lost from disease, those lost in tragedy, those lost with lives before them, and those lost after long lives lived.

We see today, again, perhaps for the first time, the bearing of our sins, pain and our own suffering here in this place.

We see our lives laid bare before us and before Jesus and his cross.

We mourn and we weep for Jesus and we mourn and weep for ourselves.

We must let this Jesus go. We must let him go and carry our lives with him into death. We must let him die and the brokenness of this world and of our lives die with him. We must let him and all of our hidden lives be buried in the tomb. We must let him be buried beneath the earthworks of our sin.

That is all, there isn't anymore today. We couldn't bear to see anymore.

So we watch and we listen. We listen for our cue.

And, we hear Jesus say, “It is finished.”

And it is. It is finished.

[1] Box Pop, author unknown, The World of Interior, December 2008, n 12, p 172.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Liturgy of the Palms C March 20, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a colt through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle hardened Roman soldiers."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 13:1-9, David Ewart, 2013.

"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he did so as a king, but his royalty was not pomp and power but humble obedience. Thus, he entered the city to make peace with the offering of his own life."
"Season's Greetings," Thomas G. Long, The Christian Century, 2001. Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


You Servant, Lord our God, speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us close to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits. 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 19:28-40

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. We are tempted to preach on the passion reading. I have always struggled with this ancient tradition as in our culture I often find that it excuses people from coming to the services on Good Friday. Moreover, it clouds and complicates the wonderful readings we have in our Gospel for the day.

I would go so far as to say that we should only do the liturgy of the palms and the eucharist; it is heresy I know.  Preach the moment...let the week unfold in liturgy...don't run to crucify our Lord just yet! 

We are given for our lesson in year C the passage from Luke 19, beginning at the 28th verse. This passage is reaching towards the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and is often referred to as the prophet’s entry into Jerusalem. Here in this moment we see all of Jesus’ followers hoping for something new, more than likely a return to Davidic rule…meanwhile the prophetic mission of Jesus is unraveling before them and revealing quite a different mystery to behold.

We begin in the first verse with the narrator telling us that Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem. This very first verse is intimately connected with the parable that directly precedes our text today. Neither Luke 19:11-27 or our passage for this Sunday, Luke 19:28-40, can be read alone. Here is the parable Jesus tells before his entry:

12So [Jesus] said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ 15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25(And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

As we read this passage we see that Jesus is teaching that indeed he is the one who has the authority, he will exercise it, and he will give it away. As we project this forward we can easily recognize that the great prophet’s entry into Jerusalem will be messianic and kingly. We can imagine that he will soon and very soon give authority to his followers. He will even grant entrance into the kingdom to a thief. This exercise of authority and power will continue to be handed down through the apostles. So we look and see as he enters Jerusalem he is himself entering the distant country, where he will receive from God and claim as his own the rightful place as ruler in the reign of God. He is prepared for his death and to give away the authority to heal and reconcile the world to his followers. As we gather with Jesus on the hilltop, on the Mount of Olives, are we ready to receive the authority given to us? Are we ready to follow Jesus into Jerusalem? Are we ready to faithfully walk with him all the way to his cross and then to Easter morning?

The ancient pilgrim tales from Egeria recalls centuries of Christian practice on this palm day of rehearsing, re-imagining, and re-enacting Jesus’ entry. You can read more about this here:

We are reminded of Zechariah 9.9 with the colt which is sent for by Jesus and retrieved by his disciples. Again, a simple prophecy but one characteristic of Luke’s writings, reminding us of the power this particular king lords over all.

Jesus then begins to make his way into the city riding the colt, as people throw their garments down before him. Each of us may remember any number of movie portrayals of this image or re-enactments at church or summer camp, in these reenactments and films we are touched in our heart with the true sense of wonderment at participation with Christ in this moment of triumphal entry. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven! Glory in highest heaven!.” We are here connected to the kingship parable. The crowd is rejoicing in the presence of the visitation of God in Jesus.

[A brief footnote:  While in Canterbury there was more than one discussion about the lessons before us and the liturgy of the palms.  Interesting notes here brought back memories of seminary studies worth a thought on this Sunday.  Key to the reality is that in the front of Jerusalem Pilate who is entering, enters with palm leaves (also on the emperor's coin) a sign of the royal office he represents.  In Luke we have very little pomp...clothes....  The synoptics tell us of branches being placed on the ground.  The branches would have been olive branches...signs of peace, reminders of the deliverance through the storm and voyage of the arch.  Only in John do we get the movement to compare Jesus' entry with that of Pilate's.  The image that I bring home with me from Canterbury then is an image of deliverance, peace, a new time...a different time.  This is the image for every Christian traveling the pilgrim way this Holy Week.  This is a time of transformation and renewal.  It is a time to claim our difference in the world by following the pauper king with his images of healing, love, and peace.  This is the God I believe the world is looking for; this God does not need to compete with worldly power or authority.  This is our God and we are richly blessed by his coming.]
As we reenact this event Sunday I will be thinking not of doing something that was done long ago but rather my own celebration of Christ’s eternal presence with us. Christ is with us this week. Christ has been with us through Lent. Christ is present in the life of the church. Christ is known to us and before us. Our Lenten journey is almost fulfilled and thanks to the presence of the risen Christ we may walk with Jesus into the last days of his life, his trial, and his crucifixion.

The Pharisees call out and rebuke the crowd. They even tell Jesus that he is to silence the people. They are objecting to the cry that Jesus is king. As Luke Timothy Johnson points out, that this shows us clearly that they are the ones from the parable “who would not have him rule over them.”

Jesus retorts that even if they were silenced the stones would cry out. He is the king and nothing and no silence will make it different. We may remember God’s promise on the plain to Abraham that the children of God will be raised up from these stones. For more on this please refer to the following passages in Luke’s Gospel: 19.44; 20.17,18; 21:5-6; 24:2 and Acts 4:11. Furthermore, Luke Timothy Johnson continues the exegesis of this passage bring to life more fully the kingdom parable on pages 298 and following in his text Luke.

From this triumphal entry Jesus is making his way to the Temple where he will claim in, cleaning it out, and make it the seat of his prophetic Word. The prophet king has come to claim his people and to offer to them a place in the reign of God.#



Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 5C March 13, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I know, on the narrative level Jesus is talking to Judas, both reprimanding him as well as interpreting Mary’s gift. But given my own strong reaction both to the cost of Mary’s gift and the intimacy with which she gives it – washing his feet with her hair? really? – I wonder if Jesus is not also addressing himself to me and perhaps to all of us who shrink back from such unconventional and excessive outpourings of faith, love, and service."

"Questions about Discipleship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

"And so the hardest question for me becomes, how do we preach the love of Christ, who fed and healed people, in the light of Jesus saying, 'The poor will always be with us?'"

"The Poor Will Always Be With You," Carol Howard Merrit, The Hardest Question, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Infinite is your compassion, O God, and gracious the pardon that Jesus, the Teacher, offers to every sinner who stands before him. Gladden our hearts at the word that sends us on our way in peace; and grant that we, who have been forgiven so much, may embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us at this feast of forgiveness. 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 John 12:1-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We take a break from the Lukan journey to the cross this week in Lent as we pause for special material out of the Johannine chronicle of Jesus’ last days. Here we have a meal; probably Saturday evening after the Sabbath has ended (as in John’s Gospel that is from Friday to Saturday). It could in fact be the traditional meal to end Sabbath – the Habdalah. Furthermore, we are told the meal is taking place in the town of Bethany identified with the raising of Lazarus.
Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet by Frank Wesley

Following the meal something crazy happens: "Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

This is what I found out about this particular and costly perfume. The perfume is myron which is a generic form made from nard rather than from myrrh. Nard is mixed with oil from the storax shrub to create an ointment. This is not the kind of perfume the Magi brought with them but it is nothing less than a kings fortune to obtain it. Judas points this out.

Judas is identified in scripture as the son of Simon. A little family tree from the New Testament scholar J. N. Sanders places Jesus in the house of Simon the leper. Simon the leper is father to his eldest son Judas Iscarot, Lazarus whom Jesus raised, and then Mary and Martha. Sanders describes Judas as a “masculine Martha gone wrong!” (As quoted in Raymond Browne, Anchor Bible, v 29, p 448) Judas is then a brother of Mary, and the rest.

Judas is not happy and says, “'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)"

If we remember that one denarri was a day’s wage. We then can do a little biblical math to understand that 300 silver pieces or denarri is indeed a great sum. This means that we have a lot of money being spent on the anointing. As Browne puts it, “this was a pound of expensive perfume indeed.” (448) It is fascinating to think about the amount of bread this could really have purchased. Interesting comparisons on the amount can be found here: It would be like a minimum wage employee going out and spending $18,000 on perfume.

Jesus then weighs in, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial."

(Just as an aside there is some debate about this piece of scripture as Mary has no role in the embalming of Jesus. So, it doesn't make much sense.)

Jesus then says something even more unexpected, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” We are then told, "When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."

This is of course a quote from scripture, a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land”.

So what do we make of the passage? Certainly John is leaning on a synoptic tradition that many scholars believe he had some access to, specifically Mark’s Gospel.  I think you are liable to miss the point by focusing your attention on whether John and the synoptics are describing the same scene.  John seems to have a unique message. 

It is my belief that we have here THE anointing for his burial in John's Gospel. That the tender moment described, and completely missed by Judas and so many of us on our first reading, is that this is in fact Jesus’ anointing and preparation for death. This is happening at this moment at Simon’s house where his children, raised from the dead, the doers, the prayers, and the rebels all gather together for a meal. All nature of follower of Jesus is here and they are all witnessing a most powerful and incredibly intimate moment. This is as Raymond Browne writes, “the culminating expression of loving faith.”

I am always moved by this story when we reach this moment in our Lenten journey. In part because I find my senses have been tuned to a great devotion of our Lord, and so I am truly touched and begin to prepare myself for Holy Week and the veneration of the glorious cross; not out of a sense of rehearsing the past but out of a truly contrite heart’s desire to give thanks for the grace and love Jesus expresses for us.

The moment of anointing stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of a Gospel very rarely focused on Jesus. 

In John’s Gospel we are constantly being reminded that all of this is for us and for the Glory of God. His goal is the restoration of creation. His work is to reorient our eyes upon God and to direct our prayers to his father who is in heaven. So here in this moment is John and the synoptics giving us a glimpse into what our glorious and venerable worship of Jesus might indeed be like were we to observe it with the faith of Mary.

Let us not forget Judas though; it is as he points out an extravagant moment when tremendous amounts of wealth are being literally poured upon a man’s feet. But let us take a few steps back theologically and look at the whole testimony of scripture. We must remember Jesus’ connection of himself with the poor from the Gospel of Matthew, 25.31ff:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

We are then tempted to mix the two passages and be reminded that Jesus is with us always in the poor. And that we have an opportunity to anoint the poor with service in such an extravagant manner, not unlike Mary in the anointing of Jesus. How would our towns and cities be changed if we through our great devotion to Jesus Christ, anointed the poor with fine oil?

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14

We switch from Paul's focus on the Corinthians (who are having all kinds of trouble) to his letter addressed to the emerging church in Philippi.  

Just before this passage he has been speaking of how Jesus is the example of servanthood and in the most recent passages from this letter Paul has been warning that some Christian traditions will try and make you follow the Jewish law.  Circumcision is only one item, but the the issue is that Paul believes the new tradition is different from the old.  I believe Paul is saying we are not simply Jews with Jesus; this is a greater revelation.  Our relationship with the law has changed because of the ministry of Jesus.  Paul turns this religious law on its head and says: true circumcision is of the heart – and not of the “flesh”.

As an example of the need to circumcise the heart Paul speaks of his own experience.  He speaks from his own experience as a good and religious Jew.  He was circumcised and he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  I love how he describes this, he was "a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless".  He even was a persecutor of the Christians who he thought were lawless!  

Yet, through knowing Christ he has come to understand that when you follow the law you lose.  The law itself obstructs God's love.  If you believe that you are saved or special because you are following the law and being religious then you are engaging in what he calls "rubbish".

The obverse is true.  Christ chooses us. Christ loves us.  Christ suffers under the law so that we do not need to suffer.  We are redeemed and we live anew because of his resurrection.  Our faith in Christ, not godly law abiding citizenship in accordance with legal precepts, is what brings righteousness.  He writes that he, "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."

This confession of faith begins the work of transformation.  It bears fruit but the confession itself cannot turn into some new way of doing the work.  We are being transformed from within.  We are, through the power of his resurrection being made new.  Our understanding of life following Christ is our response to this love.  Our Christ like life is our response to God making us his own.  

Paul leaves us with this:  "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

It reminds me of Paul's words from Ephesians 3: God's "power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine"

Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys. Mary Magdalene. ca. 1860.

Carlo Dolci Magdalena

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lent 4C March 6, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is in the present day quite fashionable for everybody to lie against what he believes, and to say he is a sinner, even when he believes himself to be a very respectable, well-to-do man, and does not conceive that he ever did anything very amiss in his life."

"An Appeal to Sinners: Luke 15:2," Charles H. Spurgeon, 1856.

"The parable leaves two themes in tension. On the one hand, Jesus illustrates the love of God that is beyond human love as commonly understood and practiced, for no typical father would act as this father does in the parable. On the other hand, Jesus addresses the parable against his critics, vindicating his message and ministry, by which he consorted with the outcast. His critics are illustrated by the behavior of the elder brother, who cannot join in the rejoicing over the lost being found."

Commentary, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Arland J. Hultgren, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Forsaking your embrace, O good and gracious God, we have wandered far from you and squandered the inheritance of our baptism… Restore us now with the embrace of your compassion, and grant that we who have been found by your grace may gladly welcome to the table of your family all who long to find their way home. 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 15:1-3, 11b-32
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Is this the prodigal son? Or is it the good son? Both seem so
alone but are in such need of the other.
We begin with the reality that tax collectors and sinners are coming to listen, to hear, Jesus.  If we look at the previous chapter we see this is in direct response to the words “let the one with ears to hear listen.”  What follows is a complaint from those having a difficult time hearing, the Pharisees.  They are complaining that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  It is to these accusations that Jesus offers us a parable; and without this focus we loose a good portion of the parable's meaning.  I have a friend who believes that it is their charge that he ate with sinners which ultimately brought about Jesus’ death.

There are many factors which contributed to Jesus’ death; Raymond Brown’s treatment of the texts in his book The Death of the Messiah seems an important resource on this topic.  Nevertheless, I believe most will say that this action of hospitality was one of the most serious and perhaps inflammatory actions undertaken by the Son of God; made all the more scurrilous by the growing popularity of the his prophetic teaching and works of miraculous grace.

In this season of Lent one may very well be led by meditations to ask, “Who is this Messiah who stoops to choose me?”  The answer is that it is exactly this Lord that we proclaim.  And so we turn to the parable to better understand the meaning of this profound gesture.

I would note first that this is the first of three parables on the topic of those who cannot hear what God is doing in the reign of God. The next one is the parable of the shepherd with the one lost sheep and the third is the parable of the woman with the lost coin.  While we cannot take them together; surely they are pieces of a whole.  And, they are worth a nod here.

So we have the wayward sheep first.  The shepherd leaves all his sheep to find the one.  He puts the lamb on his shoulders thereby insuring work for Tiffany stained glass manufactures for decades. Actually, most people may remember that first year bible class or the History Channel’s explanation of this very ancient connection to the shepherd Hermes.  Regardless of the historical birth of the image it is a powerful one of our theology of redemption and works deep on our mind and hearts as we think of our own lost selves and the good shepherd seeking after us. What is miraculous is that any good shepherd would actually, pragmatically, leave the rest for the one.  I think this taps deeply into the real time imagery Jesus is offering his listeners.  Were the religious leaders of the day, the people of Israel themselves, not of enough value to the shepherd? Why wouldn't the shepherd be satisfied with the sacrifices and faithful people so very focused on the Temple worship?  The parable though puts an explanation point on the words of Jesus, “I have come to gather up the lost sheep of Israel.”  Jesus is in fact illustrating his mission and our own.  We are to be like Jesus more concerned with those outside of our safe pasture.  Who are those in need?

We can easily echo Jesus’ mission to the poor, the oppressed, and the captives.  Here is an example of how God is concerned and we are to be concerned, so concerned that we reach out and find the lost sheep.  How often do we come to worship to receive?  What would it be like to turn our gaze outward and seek the lost?  How might this change our ministry concerns?  What will it take for us to truly go out and find them?

Before Jesus moves to the next parable he teaches those who are listening, “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven at one sinner’s repentance that at ninety-nine righteous people who do not need repentance.”  The structure of the second parable of the woman and the lost coin is the same as the first parable.  It expands the theme.  The invitation to rejoice accentuates the celebration of the work of our woman and her found drachma.  It isn't really very much money, but read what she had to do to find it: she had to light a lamp, and sweep the house.  That is a lot of work for a coin that might have been sowed to your wedding garment!  It is a great search for something so little.  Is it its meaning? Is its tie to the wedding day?  Regardless, it is precious and a great celebration is had after much work is done to find just such a little thing.

It is then at this point in the narrative that we arrive at the story of the man who had two sons. We commonly call this the story of the prodigal son, but this means we are too easily focused on one and not the other. I have often wondered if the more interesting story isn't the part hardly ever spoken about: what the faithful son does and says.  After all, as a full member of the body of Christ, a faithful servant, I am much more like the insider in this story than the outsider. What would it be like to engage in preaching and teaching that focused the church’s attention on the “good son?”  Most everyone likes to be the good guy, the one with the white hat in the old westerns, the savior, and the best man.  When it comes to bible stories we like to be the bad guy, the outlaw, the outcast, and the last man.  When we, the corporate we, do this as the church I think we may miss the better half of Jesus’ point.

So, let’s lean into this parable.  We have two sons, one of them asks for a share of the property.  He is of course asking for an early share in the inheritance.  If interested you may wish to look at Leviticus 27:8-11.  He receives it and goes off to a foreign land.  He certainly squanders his share, living without control.  However, there is no suggestion of sexual excess.  He literally scattered his wealth.

Then there is a famine.  Our bad son ends up tending the pigs.  This is really bad.  Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
“Not eating pork becomes a test of fidelity to Torah in the time of the Maccabees.  To tend the pigs of a Gentile is about as alienated as a Jew could imagine being.  In the Mishnah, raising pigs is forbidden to Jews.  The attitude toward Samaritans and pigs alike is captured by the saying of Eliezar, ‘He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.’  One rabbi, at least, considered the craft of shepherding to be equivalent to the ‘craft of robbers.’” (LTJ, Luke, 237)

Well, after being filled with enough corn husks, he comes to his senses and decides to return to his father and tell him how wrong he was.  He has sinned against God and he will only ask for work, like one of the fieldworkers.  Interesting though that even though he requests menial work he addresses the head of the house as father.  All he wants is his daily bread.  All he wants from the father who is connected to heaven is a small apportionment of bread.

When the father sees him, he runs, hugs, and kisses his son.  Now we have extravagant gestures being offered.  He doesn’t even have the opportunity to pray and ask to be treated as a daily worker.  Let’s have the fatted calf and a robe for this celebratory return.

The son was lost but now found, dead but now alive.  Here the son reflects the story of Jesus as a child found in the temple, he reflects Jesus after his resurrection.  Today, like the past, those who have been lost resonate with this moment.

But while you and I may have indeed had moments of being lost, and will surely have plenty more moments of being lost in our future…we must recognize today we are listening as one who is found.  So, it is our story which comes next.  Some days we are like the tax collector and the sinner in the beginning of the story, most days we are like the Pharisees and the good son. 

It is this good son who is so angry he cannot even go into the feast he is so angry. Notice here the similarity to the other son.  He does not come in, but is out on the roadside. The father runs out to meet him as well. He comes out and he comforts him.  He feels compassion and pleads with him to enter, this is the meaning of the Greek in this instance (LTJ, Luke, 238).

Here comes the comparison.  The good son wastes not a minute in telling father of how he has been mistreated. He feels a sense of injustice and resents being treated like a slave.  He has been bound to his father with no freedom.  He has played by the rules.  And, they never even killed a goat for him.  Then he does something interesting, the good son says that the bad son has been about sexual immorality.  It seems important that the son supplies something of his brother’s story not supplied by the narrator - Jesus.  The good son is quick to show how the bad son is completely unlike him and should not be here at all.  Here is the parabolic twist for the Pharisee who is complaining that Jesus is eating with sinners.

Here again are the words of compassion equally given to both sons.  The elder son is friend and companion who have shared everything in a community of possessions.  Not unlike Luke’s Book of Acts where the community of faithful followers of Jesus share everything in common with one another.

So we hear the final teaching of Jesus in the mouth of the father: we must celebrate the lost who are found and the dead who are alive.

I quote from Luke Timothy Johnson’s conclusion here:

“If the first part of the story is pure gospel – the lost are being found, the dead rising, and sinners are repenting because of the call of the prophet – then the last part of the story is a sad commentary on the Pharissaic refusal out of envy and resentment to accept this good news extended to the outcast.  The allegorical level of meaning is irresistible:  they, like the elder son, had stayed within covenant and had not wandered off; they had never broken any of the commandments.  But (the story suggests) they regarded themselves not as sons so much as slaves.  And they resented others being allowed into the people without cost.  The son refusing to come into the house of singing and rejoicing is exactly like those who stand outside the heavenly banquet while many others enter in (13:28-30).  And if this all were not obvious from the wording of the final scene, then Luke’s compositional frame makes it unmistakable: he told these stories to righteous ones who complained about the prophet accepting sinners. (15:1-2)” (LTJ, Luke, 242)

The son requires great suffering from his lost brother than he himself is willing to provide.

Are we ready for the banquet? Are we ready to rejoice with those who are found today? Are we facing inward looking at the party or outward like Jesus and the Father and welcoming people in?  Are we more ready to make up stories about how others can’t possibly be part of us? Or, are we more ready to greet them, clothe them, and feed them?

This is a powerful message for the institutional church considering mission and ministry outside of its walls.  This is a powerful message for the institutional church seeking to understand its work of welcoming the stranger.

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

In this section of Paul's letter to the Corinthians he is reflecting upon his own ministry. It is truly one of his great passages.

God has decidedly taken action on our behalf and in so doing our vision is transformed and transfixed upon his mission.

We are truly made new.  We are recreated as the whole of creation is now being recreated by God's regenesis action.  God has, through the death and resurrection of Christ, reconciled us. He has remade us through his own efforts - not our own.  And, we (like God) have been given a ministry of reconciliation.  Indeed, Paul is saying, this is his ministry as well.  

God has chosen to not count the trespasses against us, but instead to draw us close; and bring us near.

If we are to be ambassadors of Christ we must also be about this work. We must be reconciled to the fact that God has not counted our trespasses, nor the trespasses of the world, against them.  We are to be reconciled to the notion that we are to offer this good news of salvation to the world - in word and in action.

How often do we, out of our own feelings of not being forgiven, chose to not forgive others? How often do we, out of feelings of not being loved, chose to not love others?  How often do we, out of feelings of God counting our EVERY trespass, count the trespasses of our brothers and sisters?  To me, to us, Paul speaks over the ages of grace, love, and mercy.  He reminds us of our own forgiveness and how our response to God's work on our behalf is to take up the cause of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love!  There is no greater task; and in fact it is what we have been made for.