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.

Enjoy.

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Proper 6C / Ordinary 11C / Pentecost +4

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Let the candour with which our Lord accepted this invitation, and his gentleness and prudence at this ensnaring entertainment, teach us to mingle the wisdom of the serpent, with the innocence and sweetness of the dove. Let us neither absolutely refuse all favours, nor resent all neglects, from those whose friendship is at best very doubtful, and their intimacy by no means safe."

From Wesley's Notes. John Wesley (1703-1791).

"But is forgiveness really everything? Can it possibly be worth that much? Consider: forgiveness at heart is the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense. That's why the analogy to a debt works so well. Forgiveness cancels relational debt and opens up the future. Which is why it's so important, so valuable."

"Forgiveness and Gratitude," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Your mercies, O God, cannot be counted, nor do you tire of offering us forgiveness. Grant us, then, a heart both faithful and repentant, ready to respond to your great love, so that along all the pathways of life, and to everyone far and wide, we may be able to proclaim the gospel’s message of reconciliation and peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Luke 7:36-8:3

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This week we have a lesson that teaches us about hospitality and forgiveness in the reign of God.


We have a dinner party in the home of one of the Pharisees where guests are eating Hellenistic style -- laying back. One can imagine that they were probably laying back on pillows and or couches. Most likely, they would have been facing one another and the table with their feet tucked behind them, making them accessible to the woman. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 127)

The woman is obviously known as a sinner and her reason for being present is unknown. We might recall the anointing of Jesus in the readings prior to Easter. Here in Luke, this lesson carries none of the same imagery regarding the oil being similar to oils used at burial or that it is expensive oil. This is important so as not to confuse the two stories. Here, Jesus is teaching carefully about the everyday work of living in the reign of God.

I love the next verse. It is as if our narrator is playing or joking with us -- jabbing at the Pharisee. The Pharisee says, “If this fellow were a prophet he would know who and what kind of woman it is who touches him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus of course is a prophet; we have been reading about his prophetic powers in the chapters that precede this one. So we are on the inside and know the Pharisee is wrong. Moreover, we see that Jesus does know her heart and in fact also knows the Pharisee.

Jesus begins and he is quickly cut off by his host who jabs a little himself by cynically saying, “Teacher speak.” Jesus gives us a parable.

Jesus’ parable causes us and his host to think. Who loves the moneylender more? The one who is forgiven a little or a lot?

Luke Timothy Johnson points out that this is a gracious act and that the forgiveness of debt is seen as a gift. The word used for love means gratitude. So a debt is owed, a gift of forgiveness is made, and there is gratitude. (LTJ, Luke, 127)

Jesus then uses the opportunity, having revealed the woman’s gratefulness for her Lord’s forgiveness, to highlight the lack of hospitality by Simon. Yikes! 

Jesus uses the phrase, “you did not give to me,” each time he challenges Simon. Simon did not give water for cleansing, a kiss of greeting or oil for anointing. Johnson writes, “by the logic of the parable, the woman’s actions showed her state of forgiveness. Simon’s refusal, likewise, indicates a lack of forgiveness. There is the edge.” (127)

The woman has reacted with great gratitude because her sins were forgiven and the manner in which she illustrates her gratitude shows, not the reason for the forgiveness but, the level of the forgiveness that was received. God has forgiven her much. One can see this by her expression of faith and gratitude.

Jesus then says, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Johnson points out that this is the first time that faith and the act of saving have been put together. Peace comes to the one who lives in the reign of God, forgiven and free. (128)

Luke Timothy Johnson writes:

“In 7:29-30, the people were divided between sinners and tax-agents who accepted prophets and justified God, and the lawyers and the Pharisees who rejected prophets and also God’s plan. In 7:34, furthermore, Jesus was pilloried as a “friend of sinners” and one who “ate and drank.” Here we find him eating and drinking at table, showing himself a friend to a sinner, who in turn accepts him as a prophet, while the Pharisee rejects him. The ending of this story, in turn, prepares for the next development, in which Luke will show more fully how ‘faith saves.’”

As I sit and write and reflect on preaching this weekend, I wonder how I am in different situations, not unlike the different people in the Gospel story.

How often do I act like Simon, oblivious to my own behavior, while very clear and willing to speak out about another person’s behavior?

How often am I like or unlike Jesus, willing to stand up to the power in the room and offer kindness and hospitality to someone so clearly outside the normal social construct of our own time?

How often do I give back to God a level of gratitude commensurate with my feelings of grace and provision? In other words, do I return to God in keeping with my feelings of forgiveness by God? Or, do I give back based on what I feel I am able to give?

Lest we get to driven here with actions and rules let us go a bit deeper. Robert Farrar Capon, in Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, says that part of this is to understand that we do not deserve the gift of God's presence to begin with, it is gift. When it is given, along with grace and love, then we are to keep it circulating. We are to share it not hoard it or keep others out. We are not to keep our risk low or protect it. And, we are to understand that it isn't all in some way a reward for good and perfect behavior. (422)

Jesus in a very real way is saying to Simon, don't you see, you are a loser. You just don't know it. This woman knows it and is responding.There seem to be four pretty powerful themes this week: lostness, forgiveness, hospitality and stewardship. Each has the power to inspire for the community gathered in a counter-cultural way of responding and being in relationship with God.



Some Thoughts on Galatians 2:15-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Paul is getting into it this week!  Our lesson begins with Paul describing how he has entered the discourse with Cephas.  The argument is over eating with the Gentiles who are not circumcised.  Paul pointing out that this only became a problem after some false teaching made its way into the community.

Paul's believes that they are not acting "consistently with the gospel."  He points out their hypocrisy with this phrase: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul then reorients them to the Gospel:  justification by ourselves is not possible but it is possible in Christ.  Paul writes, "...yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."

We place our trust in Christ's faith.  It is God's act of rectification, God's love, God's mercy, God's faith upon which we place our trust.  Paul writes: "...the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God."

Paul challenges us to not make a new law.  He challenges the Galatians to not make a new low to build up where the old law was torn down by the cross and resurrection of God in Christ Jesus.

I wonder what kinds of laws we have created informally and formally within our church that keep out the sinners - the friends of Jesus?  We might well take Paul's challenging words to us as a question of what is essential to follow Jesus? Vs. What have we made essential to be a Christian?

Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 21:1-21

Oremus Online NRSV OT Text

Resources for Sunday's OT Lesson

The story this week is a story about how the central Southern Kingdom of Israel is being led by a murderous king and his wife. King Ahab who was a mighty king of Israel takes a vineyard he covets from Naboth. The story tells us of how Ahab and his wife Jezebel plot with leaders beneath Naboth to have him stoned. They do so after a letter writing campaign. Then Ahab takes over the vineyard.

Elijah is sent to him by God to tell him that because of this wickedness that he will die a horrible death. Which in fact he does according to historical records outside of the biblical text - thus bringing Elijah's prophecy to fruition.

One of the things the first hearers of this tale would have known is that this vineyard is located not simply next to a palace but next to Ahab's most powerful chariot/military installations. This is not simply a whim for a vineyard. This is an act of conspiracy aimed at a coup resulting in strengthening his military power at the cost of the death of a just man.

There are two things of interest here. The first is that the story is placed in the scripture itself because of the important role it plays in the overall history of the people of Israel. It is there because of the essential theological understanding that the kings of Israel are always given their power from God and that God will take away their power if they are not just. The question that is posed to Ahab in the scripture is wether or not he "fulfills or fails" his role. The redactor who placed these passages in the great story arc of Israel judge all the kings based upon the great king, in fact their king, David. Here then is Ahab's judgement. ( Van Rad, Old Testament, vol 1, 344)

There is a second underlying conversation going on though. One that may be particularly important for the reader of the gospels. The Sinai prophet tradition, in which Elijah is schooled, is one that is very clear that there is to be no other God but the God of Mount Sinai. The covenant that this God has with God's people is of the highest regard. Rather than the judgement of Ahab being wrote through the eyes of the Davidic kingdom and its authors/redactors, the judgement comes from Sinai.

Here what is essential to understand is the very rejection, in the Sinai tradition, of kingship. In the Sinai tradition there could be no suzerainty. Suzerainty is a political relationship by which the local people of a nation may have autonomy while remaining a part of the occupying power and subservient to it. The Sinai perspective was that the centralized power of both state and religion on Mount Zion was to set up a different king in the place of God, and to place a different set of disciplines around their inherited faith than that which was received in the desert. It is clear that this tradition continued. 

While the vast majority of the scripture of the Old Testament reveals a strong and powerful Sinai tradition, it is also clear that the redactors have attempted to answer the Sinai concerns. They allow for the kinship and suzerainty of a Davidic monarchy under the power of god. But we see when we look close in Deuteronomy 17-18 that the Mosaic covenant, the Sinai prophetic tradition, and the rule of God will continue. The redactors hold that the king will be accountable to God, to Sinai, and to Sinai's prophets. They write in Deuteronomy 18.15ff, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: 'If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.' Then the Lord replied to me: 'They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable." The prophets Elijah and Elisha turned their gaze to exactly this work. ( Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion, 191.) 

I say all of this because what seems very essential to understand is that from Elijah's perspective Ahab is no representative of Israel. The nation state can never supplant the relationship of God and humanity. Power will always be judged as oppressive and a culture of death. Over and against this is the story of God's work with the widow for instance, or any of the ways in which God serves and cares for the poor, the lost, and the least. 

It is typical for us to simply say, "Ahab was a bad king." This is in fact what the powers so very focused on the reign of David want us to see. But what Elijah is really saying is power is corrupt and Ahab, like all other powers of this world is corrupt and will in the end use death as its leverage for more power and authority.
   

Monday, May 30, 2016

Proper 5C / Ordinary 10C / Pentecost +3

Quotes That Make Me Think

"And as Luke systematically connects the church's ministry to Jesus' own mission, we have the evangelist's mandate to exhort our churches to embrace compassionate ministry to the poor in Jesus' name."

Commentary, Luke 7:11-17, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013

"Jesus isn't so easily boiled down. You can't take the breadth, length, height, and depth of the power that created the earth and everything in it, and the love that suffered death on the cross, and capture it in a tagline or a bumper sticker."

"No Formulas," Rick Morley, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
Lord God, ever attentive to the cry of the lowly, you sent Jesus among us as the prophet of your compassion, with healing in his touch and power in his word.  Raised up by this Savior from the death of our sins, may we glorify you and share with all your gift of life restored.  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 7:11-17

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Our passage this Sunday follows the passage of Jesus and the Centurion; and the healing of the Centurion's slave.  Not unlike the the passage last week, this too is focused on the prophetic ministry of Jesus.  In fact in reading them they should most often be taken together.

This week we take the raising of the son of a widow from the dead as proof of Jesus' prophetic powers.  It reminds us of the miracle of Elijah in 1 Kings 17.  Jesus raises this young man right out of the coffin.  And...he begins to speak.  Perhaps a foretaste of the work of proclamation for those who receive the blessings of God and the coming tongues of fire.

Jesus is proclaiming good news and restoration. This story like the one before shows that Jesus is more than a man of words.  He also one of action. Indeed we see this in the words of the people:  "A prophet has been raised up among us!... God has visited his people!"

After a generation of prophecy by the Church I am interested in the fact that the people around us do not respond to our efforts with shouts of acclamation.  "Look the church has been raised up among us!  God has visited his people through the church!"   Instead there is rejection.

I ask are we perhaps missing the work or prophecy?  Prophecy is not an angry voice or a raised fist against the machine.  Prophecy in Luke is about offering in word the Good News of Salvation to the people (spiritual and physical food for the hungry) and by actually giving them something to eat. It is to say that those who mourn will find joy in the morning and then to actually raise a widow's son from the dead.

Prophecy as a gospel act is to raise the dead, spend time with those society sees as of no value, and to feed the hungry with good things. This is a prophecy which does such good works that the society is then judged by the works themselves and not the voice of an angry people who echo the culture's means of toppling power.


Some Thoughts on Galatians 1:11-24


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


As we well know the Galatian communion has some trouble. It has some competition regarding who to believe and what is true.

Paul wants them to believe again as when they first received the Gospel. He wants them to realize that regardless of their divisions there is hope in the Gospel and mission work to do. In order to inspire them he tells his own story of conversion. He tells them of how he was changed and transformed. I cannot believe that he does this for any other reason than to inspire the Galatians to remember when they first heard the Gospel for the first time.

Paul says to them see this God whom I believe in is on the side of Jesus. This God chooses the law condemned Jesus and so he is the Christ of God, the Messiah of the one true God. This is the revelation that has come to him. And, it is a revelation that holds within itself the truth of grace for all those who are condemned by the very same law.

This is not a condemnation of the past or of his inherited faith but rather it is a celebration of the new thing that God is doing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul wants those who call the Galatian church their spiritual home to see that it was this powerful message of Grace that first inspired them. It was this message of God in Christ Jesus that drew them together and drew them into relationship with Paul himself.

Moreover, that as in Judea, the faith of Paul itself is a miraculous sign of the change that even now has hold of creation. Paul a servant of the law is transformed into the servant of grace.

I think what I love the most about this passage is the manner in which Paul is urging faith and belief by sharing his own experience of faith. This is a good model of evangelism. Paul shares his story of faith and transformation as a sign of the Gospel itself. It encourages those who chose to follow this Christ to share not rational arguments, or beat people over the head with the bible, but instead to realize that the most powerful tool of evangelism is simply telling the story of grace and how it has changed our life.

Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 17:8-24


Resources for Sunday's OT Lesson



This is the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. Elijah comes to the widow to stay there. He is commanded to go by God. While staying in her home there is not enough food. But Elijah tells her to have faith and the food they have is multiplied. While there the widow's son dies. Elijah prays over the son and he lives. 

In both cases the woman is upset because she has not enough. She is upset because having such a great prophet in her house has arisen her understanding of her own low station. This again comes out as the boy dies. She tells him that her sins have brought this upon her. Furthermore, she is a widow. This means she has no station and more than likely she is completely dependent upon the people of the area, the tribal leaders. 

To make this more interesting, the land of Zarephath was north of where the tribe of Asher settled and east of where the tribe of Dan. It was a land predominately made up of Phoenicians and Canaanites. So like Jesus who flees to Egypt, or spends 40 days in the desert, or the mission to the Gentiles our story has a particular flair for taking place in an uncharted territory where the people of Israel are not present. In other words God and God's deliverance and power comes to rest on people who are foreigners to Israel. And, in doing so one of God's own, Elijah, is cared for as well. He must depend upon the kindness of God and of this widow.

This is a gospel story. She, like so many widows in the scripture, is one of the least of God's people. She is considered of no value. Not only because she is widow, but most likely not of Israel. So she is an extreme outsider. Yet it is exactly to them that God comes, in this story in the presence of one of the greatest prophets of Israel. God comes and provides. God comes and raises the dead.

The God of Israel is a God of the widow and the child, of those who have none, and those who are not worthy. It is exactly to the lost and the least (Robert Farrar Capon's term from Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement) that this God comes. 

And, though the least of God's people have nothing, and are lost in suffering and death, this God is present and acts. This is the God who freed the people of Israel out of bondage. In the book of Kings this God continues to act in the affairs of mortals - acting exactly for the those who are imprisoned by loss, hunger, scarcity, brokenness, and are of no value to society.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Proper 4C / Ordinary 9C / Pentecost +2

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Like the people of Nazareth who respond to the story of Elisha and Naaman with anger and rage (4:28), people might respond less than positively if we preach that Jesus cares about, ministers to, and wants to bless our enemies."

Commentary, Luke 7:1-10, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Have your needs been carried to jesus by your friends?"

"The Centurion's Friends," Lauren Winner, The Hardest Question, 2013.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
To you no one is a stranger, God of all peoples and nations, for your saving love knows no boundaries, and your compassion extends to all.  In Jesus, you have come under our roof to speak but a word, and we are healed.  May we, in turn, never set boundaries to your grace, but gladly offer the embrace of your peace to all without difference or discrimination.  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 7:1-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The Centurion
As we begin our season of ordinary time following the great Eastertide, we return to Luke who will be our primary companion over these next months of preaching and teaching.

In this passage Jesus heals the centurion's slave.  In the passage we have emerging the themes of the prophet king who is powerful and does acts of power.

In the healing we see the generosity of God to the gentiles. We also see God's power reaching down to earth in love. We see the living out and practice of the words that Jesus spoke to the crowd as he taught.  It is a revelation that Jesus is like the prophets who did such work in the ancient days of Israel.  here again is a great prophet.

All of this is very important in the Lukan narrative as it prepares for the prophecy of Jesus' own death and rising to life again and mission to be fulfilled; and for the gospel message to be proclaimed throughout the world to become a reality.

This passage has in it some interesting themes for our church today.  These are well worth a moment before you pen those final words to your sermon text.

Let us for a moment take the model of this passage as a mission strategy for the proclamation of the reign of God and its transformative potential.

1.  Like Jesus the church is in the world engaging with people who do not belong - the Gentile Centurion.
2.  Like Jesus, the church engages not by blaming the world but by coming into the life of the world - Jesus goes to the centurion's home.
3.  Like Jesus, the church listens to what is needed - healing.
4.  Like Jesus, the church discovers in the world faith, and proclaims that it is there - Jesus proclaims the faith of the centurion.  This faith is foreign to the faith of the church and is exhibited by humility, desire, and seeking.
5.  Like Jesus, the church works to heal what is in need of healing.

The prophecy model here is one where in Jesus proclaims that God loves people... and wants the very best for them... and then meets people.. and then points out their faith... and then helps them.  I wonder is this the kind of prophecy the church is engaging?

I wonder as we look across our congregations this Sunday and think about our ministry as a preacher, teacher, bishop, priest, deacon or lay person...does what we do as church fit this particular model of ministry?

Some Thoughts on Galatians 1:1-12


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

There is a great deal in this passage!  It contains particular words which tie into the discussion about Paul's own authority.  It contains pieces that are believed to be part of ancient liturgies.  It is theological in its understanding of God's redeeming work.  There is much here to intrigue the student and reader to be sure. Indeed the themes in this first passage are the themes of the whole text.

I want to focus on the work of the church.  I am most interested in how Paul communicates his understanding of the ministry of Christian Community.

Rooted deeply in his understanding of the Godhead and in human nature Paul makes a particular argument.  This argument is meant to counter those arguments that the Galatians are making within a very divided community.

Individuals commit and will continue to commit sin.  For Paul the solution or "antidote" is not forgiveness for the particular sin. It is instead that God is God and is even now overcoming through the work of Jesus the power of sin.  (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, 97)  God is working his purposes out and God's work is grounded in the incarnation.  Paul writes:  "Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father".

Paul believes firmly that God has called the church into being.  God has created it.  It participates in the new creation - the reign of God.

As one person recently challenged - the church is a principality of this world and we should not forget that as such it is part of those principalities which the devil has oversight.  I understand the point.  The church is made up of sinful broken human beings in need of redemption and as such is not perfect to be sure! Sometimes the church does really horrific things; history tells us this truth to be sure.  But there is much good in her too.  And, Paul sees this good and is very intent on focusing our attention on it.

The church even in its brokenness even now participates in the good and heavenly work of the reign of God.  It does this in spite of our human tendencies to harm others and to sin.

For Paul one of the things the church does is to deal with instances of sin.  If it forgives the sins of any they are forgiven and if it binds the sins of any they are bound.

More importantly though is this notion that it is in community that people are able to be at their best.  It is in the Christian Community of the faithful, where the good news is offered, that we outperform the norm of a society that is fallen and "evil" in Paul's words.


Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 18:20-39


Resources for Sunday's First Lesson


The story of 1 Kings is a story of prophecy by Elijah. This is a Sinai prophecy, it is not oriented at the Temple mount, but from the wilderness rooted in the first covenant with God on the mountaintop.  

While this is often correlated with the ministry of John the Baptist, and the later desert fathers, what we see here is that the work of the Sinai prophet is to be responsive to God's love and to enact in life a response. In this we see that Elijah and his story and prophetic work is about life lived in the wake of God's action. 

In this passage Elijah is calling the people back to God. He is reminding them of God's action and how they are to be in response to this delivering God. 

Unlike the church which seems to cower inside over and against the silence of the world around it, Elijah's response to the people is not to resent them or to be moved to inaction. Instead, Elijah calls the people together, he repairs the altar, and makes a sacrificial offering. In doing this he restores the Sinai site to its rightful holy place. It is this re-newing of the temple that prepares him for the contest agains the prophets. 

What seems important here is the reality that instead of allowing the temple to continue to be used for the secular he renews it for the sake of evangelization of the community around it. It is the renewing of the Sinai worship site that brings about the renewal of the people. Elijah calls the people to action, and after the renewing of the site, they obey and do as he commands.

Then Elijah calls upon God:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Then God acts:
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
Then the people respond:
When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
God is acting, and God will act in the world. However, in order to encounter the world we must renew ourselves, renew our altars, call upon God, and faithfully respond to the God who freed the Israelites and has made a covenant with them. In this then we may reenter the world and respond to God's work and acts.

When we stay huddled in our broken down and decaying buildings it is very difficult to remember the mighty hand of God at work in the world. Elijah calls us to renew our faith, to get busy, to make sacrifices, to clean up, and to renew our faith that we might receive God's fire.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Trinity Sunday C May 22, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...we need to hear this brief section from Chapter 16, not as Jesus giving a lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity, but as a personally intense commitment of abiding, continuing, present love / loyalty / protection / guidance / bonding with his followers then - and now - and always." 

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 16:12-15, David Ewart, 2013.

"There is always a degree of finagling that goes on when any biblical text is called upon to support a doctrine or understanding of the church..." 

Commentary, John 16:12-15, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"Not everything which masquerades in garments of light brings light. To affirm this Spirit, this Christ of John, is to deny counterfeits and to encounter popular spiritualities inside and outside the church critically."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
We glorify you, O God, and ponder the mystery of the wisdom by which you created the world in wondrous beauty and order.  We, your church, your new creation, reconciled in your Son and sanctified by your Spirit, ask you to lead us through endurance into hope and from hope to full knowledge of you, who are love itself, fullness of truth and undying life.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 16:12-15

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


It is interesting that this passage is part of Year B's Pentecost readings.  This year it becomes our reading for Trinity Sunday.

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

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

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

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

We listen to the personal stories of life lived with Jesus.  We also are aware of God's fatherliness as creator and provider.

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

May we perhaps this Sunday discover that the life lived in a trinitarian community is a life lived out in the world.  Where in the context and community in which we find our churches is an essential ingredient of the Holy Spirit's ingathering.

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

Some Thoughts on Romans 5:1-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

We live in a culture which is based upon the exchange of capital.  This economic equation that makes the world go round is very often applied to the life and community of faith.  We will say things like: if I am better at this or that I will somehow have more God in my life.  How often have I myself used the phrase, "If I would just...." How many times collectively have we as preachers spoken to our congregations about how if they would only: love the poor, give more money, ask for forgiveness, come to church more often, attend bible study, do more social justice, or any one of the myriad things we believe are necessary for the Christian life.  We all too often preach and live our own lives of faith (me included) out of a sense of capital exchange.  If I am a better Christians, a better Episcopalian, God will love me more.

This world of capital exchange and economic transactions are not the world of the Gospel.  They are not the world of Pauline Christianity. They are not the world of Episcopal theology.  No, the spiritual economy of God is one where God chooses us first. God reaches out to us.  God saves us out of his love for us and the world while we are sinful broken people.  Paul writes in verse 9:  "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."  And, in verse 2: "...through [Jesus Christ] we have obtained access to [God's] grace."  We are chosen, we are selected, we are loved by God first.

Our redemption, our forgiveness, our reconciliation with God is not dependent upon anything we can or ought to do.  Paul is clear in verse 11 that it is "through [God] we have now received reconciliation." The embrace of the Father (as in the prodigal son) is not dependent upon a return to him as a perfected human being.  We are embraced by God as the broken individual who is even now wasting our inheritance of God's grace away; and still God chooses us.  

I believe that in the Christian Church the thing we most often neglect and forget is the message of Grace.  Instead we supplement grace with a "but" or a "try harder" sermon.  God is clear in the person of Jesus - it is the sinner who God is most interested in finding and making his friend.

I do believe that life is hard and it is difficult. There is no question that the message if accepted that we follow a God who is not interested in the righteous or people pleasing followers is one that will haunt anyone who is determined to figure out the exchange rate for God's love.  It is for us, the sinful and broken, the struggling and the people pleasers, the poor and the rich, the perfect wanna be's and the imperfect that "...God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit."

Perhaps this week we might try putting down the God exchange rate and try accepting a bit of grace.

Some Thoughts on Proverbs 8: 1-31


Resources for Sunday's First Lesson

Christians read this particular text as the Holy Spirit speaking. In the stanzas presented the Spirit is personified as a woman. We are told that she is calling out to us all - especially the youth. She is speaking truth and wisdom and she is the one upon whom we are to depend. 

You must open your self up to her and to her good advice, sound wisdom, insight, and strength. She is the one who will guide us in justice and righteousness. The more that we enter into her words the more we will discover God's love for us through the Spirit, through her.
Wisdom comes from God and has flowed through the beginning of creation. The Spirit moved with God in creation. She was a master worker who helped God to bring forth all things. 

Pentecost C May 15, 2016

Holy Spirit Window, Rome
Quotes That Make Me Think

…Tens of thousands of Christians who aren't waiting for denominational leaders to fix things. They're just getting on with it.

Brian McLaren


"Finally, Jesus challenged them to love him and to keep his commandments. I suspect everyone seated in that room nodded their head and thought, 'I do love you and of course I will keep your commandments.' But in a few short hours their teacher would be arrested and tried. In a few short hours his life would be ended and their lives filled with fear that the same thing would happened to them. Would they still love him? Could they keep his commandments?"

Commentary, John 14:8-17, 25-27, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Whether in the company of Jesus or, in his absence, in the company of the Spirit, what ultimately matters is recognizing God's action and becoming part of it. All else is subordinate to that."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

O God of the covenant, you revealed yourself on the holy mountain in fire and on Pentecost in the flame of the Holy Spirit, Let your mighty fire burn away our pride, consume our hatreds, annihilate the armaments of death, and kindle instead, within the whole human family, the welcome fire of your 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 John 14:23-29

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


In this the last of Jesus’ teachings to his disciples the topics focus upon the issues of leadership that will be present upon his leaving.

Jesus is concerned pastorally for his followers. In part because his followers can only understand death’s victory. We must remember at this time there is NO victory over death. They look at the oncoming trial and sure death sentence at the end. They perhaps see it as the end of the movement, the end of the work towards the kingdom, the end of their own ministries, the end of a friend’s life, the end of (dare we say) hope.

In the immortal words of Jim Morrison and the Doors:
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

This is a really creepy song but it captures and tells of the reality that life’s pleasures will not keep death from its work. So Jesus is combating the very real understanding of death’s finality. Jesus offers them this understanding, He “demands that they have faith in him” and that this is more than a request but a necessary piece of participation in the victory over death that is to come. (R. Brown, John, Anchor Bible, vol II, 624)

Jesus is saying, have faith in me. This is a very real living faith that unites them with God. In the victory of resurrection they will come through death’s door to dwell with God and with Son.  And, to do this, to make their journey, they must be prepared. Just as Jesus goes to prepare a place, the follower must be prepared too. (625)

They are to be prepared by doing the same work as Jesus, even greater works. Jesus tells them to ask for great things and he will on their behalf. God will be glorified in this relationship, this conversation between worlds. It seems then that part of the work, part of the preparation is prayer ad continued relationship with Jesus even after his death. The disciple must trust and engage in work, and do so in prayer conversation with Jesus.

The work they are to do is to follow Jesus’ commandments and love him. The commandments are simply to love one another, to love God above all else, and to love Jesus. This is the Maundy, the commandment of love within the apostolic community. A love for one another that mirrors the love of God. Love for one another that spins out action in the world at the same time as it draws others into community. The work of the disciple is to work and to work out of the empowering relationship of love with God - the Trinitarian community.

The family of God metaphor is revealed again in the paradigm of children of God who are united to the community of God when Jesus promises not to leave them orphaned. Jesus reflects that he is going away, but within this apostolic community he will never be far away and in fact will be one with those who participate in the commandment to love. Moreover, Jesus himself and God will be glorified and revealed in the uniting spirit of this community, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the perfect love of Father for Son, and Son for Father.

Raymond Brown writes so much better than I:

Jesus emphasizes that divine indwelling flows from the Father’s love for the disciples of His Son. In 3.16 we heard that God loved the world so much that He gave the only Son – if the incarnation (and death) of the Son was an act of the Father’s love for the world, the post-resurrectional indwelling is a special act of love for the Christian. In 2 we found the word “dwelling place” used for the heavenly abode with the Father to which Jesus would take his disciples; here [at the end of the lesson] it is used for the indwelling of the Father and the Son with the believer…in Johannine thought this was now the hour when men would worship the Father neither on Mount Gerizim nor in the Jerusalem Temple, but in Spirit and truth. (648)
Some Thoughts on Romans 8:14-17


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


This week we shift to Paul's letter to the Romans.  He is teaching about the Holy Spirit and how it participates in Christian life.  Paul believes that the Spirit works in two ways. The first is to draw people into the family of God so that we become children of God.  The second is to help individuals live a life following Jesus.

Those who follow this God through Jesus Christ are a new people.  Like Israel we are claimed and rescued by God. We are set apart in the midst of the world.  God is our Father, God is 'abba'.  This is the very strong theme of this portion of Romans.

What is so very challenging to us today is the very radical notion that we are not the one's being spoken to in Paul's letter.  We are today the ones who reside in the Temple. We are the ones who have already been chosen.  Like ancient Israel we are the ones who inherit participation in the family through the Holy Spirit.

But God is doing something even greater. Today the Holy Spirit pours out beyond the walls of the Christian Church just as it poured out beyond the Temple walls.  Jesus followers abound and God is working in their lives as they try and make their pilgrim journey.  We need to hear the words of Romans not as the newly invited follower of Jesus but as the stayed community who is not yet ready for the new interlopers.

What would it be like to open our eyes and see upon whom the Holy Spirit falls today? Who is it that cries out 'abba' but has not home?  Can we open our hearts and doors to welcome the sojourner in?

Even now the Holy Spirit is making new members of the family of God.  May the Episcopal Church open its arms to welcome brothers and sisters who are new and different.


Some Thoughts on Acts 2:1-21



This is the text that most people think about when they think about the story of Pentecost. Though is is important to remind the congregation there are different stories. Here in this text Luke weaves the time. The time is a particular time of God's acting. As in the incarnation or the crucifixion - this is God's day and God's time. The coming of the Holy Spirit arrives in the appointed time.

The Holy Spirit comes in wind and and tongues of fire. 

What we have here is the inauguration of the next phase of Salvation history for our author. Remember that Luke is telling a story that leads to our personal receiving of the faith of God in Christ Jesus. This final act of the creative God is an act of recreation - for Luke similar to the wind over the waters in Genesis. It is the inauguration of Christ's promise to with us to the end of the ages. It is the inauguration of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham.

It is the beginning, the creation story, of the mission of God through the apostles. Those who had been followers (disciples) now become (apostles) and are sent out to renew the face of the earth. The Holy Spirit is the empowering agent of God moving through out all the nations of the world. 

Many congregations will read out this passage in different languages - reminding the people that the mission is for all people. Unfortunately, this often stops there. 

The truth is that the church today is invited to share in the apostolic mission, to do great deeds of power by the influence of the Holy Spirit in the world. God is waiting for the church and its people to accept the spirit already poured out upon them. To go out of the doors of the church and out into the world. 

It is humorous that on this day where the spirit of God is so clear, that God will not be locked away behind religious closed doors....that literally thousands and thousands of Christians will hear this in churches across the world in huddled mass away from the world. 

The story of Acts inaugurates great stories of going out: 

In Acts 2 the apostles go out and 3,000 discover the Gospel. In Acts 8 Philip goes out to a city in Samaria and many Samaritans come to the Gospel. In Acts 8 Philip is take to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch who needs someone to help him understand the Gospel and he comes to know Christ. In Acts 22 Annanias helps Paul with his conversion by God - by going out to find Paul. In Acts 10 Peter goes out and bears witness to the Gospel and Cornelius comes to believe. AND the church is transformed and broken open for the gentiles regarding circumcision. In Acts 13 the Proconsul in Seleucia has the Gospel confirmed by Paul and Barnabas and is transformed by the Good News; as are many other gentiles soon after. There is Lydia the merchant who, along with her whole household, is baptized by Paul because he went you to the city of Thyatira and met her outside the gate. Later imprisoned there because of a healing the jailer would come to know God in Christ Jesus by their witness. Cionysius and Damaris come to know Christ by meeting Paul in his travels - Acts 17. In 18th chapter of Acts Crispus and his household come to believe in God through Christ Jesus along with other Corinthians because of Paul's witness. Priscilla and Aquila explain the Good News of God to Apollos and he comes to Christ in chapter 18 of Acts. In the next chapter 25 of the disciples of John are told about the Holy Spirit by Paul and come to believe and are baptized. 

Not one, not one of these, happens in a religious setting or behind the closed doors of a church. The witness of the Holy Spirit is that the apostles are sent out and in being sent out come into contact with others and through their conversations and witness people are moved to be baptized because they desire to participate in the Good News of God through Jesus Christ. 

Imagine the names that heard the news but where never confirmed. Imagine the names of those who heard the news and came to believe later outside of the narrative. What is clear is that the Holy Spirit sends people out. 

So on this day of Pentecost as we imagine what God was doing, let us be clear that God was not imagining that we would be sitting in church with the doors closed to the outside world.