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, December 7, 2017

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany B February 4, 2018


With a father's care and a mother's compassion, you embrace as your own, O good and loving god, the sufferings borne by the whole human race, and you join these to all that your Son endured in his Passover from death's bitter pain to risen life. In all our time of trial and testing, purify our hearts and fortify us deep within so that, bearing the light of unfailing trust in your power to heal and save, we may hasten to the support of our brothers and sisters as they face the mystery of illness and pain. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:29-39
"The healings and exorcisms reveal the effects of Jesus identity and divine power, but the good news is not reducible to them."

"The Secrets We Keep," Alyce McKenzie, Faith Forward, 2012.

"This passage is loaded with wonderful possibilities for the preacher."

Commentary, Mark 1:29-39, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"You could surmise that Mark is making a point here by having the kingdom start at home. That may not be in Mark?s intention, but its truth stands nevertheless."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Epiphany 5,William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

After reading and studying this passage I have these two questions for us preachers: Are we bringing people a glass of cold water on the battlefield of life? Or are we delivering them off the battlefield?

Jesus is here to teach (vs 38) and specifically to offer Good News. Joel Marcus points out that this is decidedly the most important message of the verses which follow the healing of Peter's mother-in-law.  (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 201ff)

Jesus is invited to come and heal Simon Peter's mother-in-law. He touches her hand and she is healed and is so revived that she begins to serve them. Jesus does many works of healing and casting out demons and these are important to show his power and his might over and against the strong man of this world. He is a doer of great deeds. Yet this is not the purpose of his coming (vs38).

Jesus does not come to heal us. He does not come to cast out the demons. He does do these things but they are specifically acts that show his strength and his power. And, in so doing draw us to his teaching and preaching. He has come to proclaim a gospel of Good News. As one scholar put it, to give us the good news from the battlefield. (M. E. Boring, Beginning, 56; see also Marcus, Mark, 146) This ties into Isaiah's prophetic voice of offering good news for the captives.

He has come to tell us the good news. And, that good news is accompanied with mighty acts that free people from their lives. Lives are changed, the world is different.

I wonder what battlefields will be brought into our churches this Sunday morning? What battlefields will you be bringing in with you? How easy it is to stay on the battlefield and to remain captive to our fear and anxiety. How easy it is to be imprisoned by our anger at someone. How immobilizing it is to be so angry that we might avoid our real work.

What about the battlefield where people are hungry, naked, and in prison? What about the battlefield of raising kids alone? Yes...there will be many battlefields carried laboriously into the church sanctuary this week. Can we let the mighty Jesus heal us as he heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law, so that we may hear the good news of deliverance, and serve him in mission?

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

"His evangelism is not a numbers game, but one of drawing people into a relationship with this God who loves, and produces in people the fruit of the Spirit, which is love."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Preach, or be damned - what would you choose?"

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Paul believed that he was called to be an apostle. He was called to be one who is sent - that is what apostle means. He believes that he was given a ministry. Yes he has a family and yes he needs the support of the church to do this work. But his family and receiving funds are not about him being an apostle. It is not why he does it.

He has done good work - he believes. People have been drawn to the living and loving God through him. Yet he will not count the numbers. He will not notch his belt for each person saved. Again, being an apostle is not about the numbers. It is not why he does it.

Being an apostle, a preacher, a teacher of the Good News of Salvation and God's love is about being authentically himself. God has given Paul a work to do. He is to carry out God in Christ Jesus' mission. 

This is who he is - an apostle of God. He is sent to people who do not know the living God and his work is to introduce that God to them.

Moreover, Paul says he will chose to do certain things and to not do certain things based upon the sharing of the Gospel. If he does things that keep others from hearing the Gospel he will refrain. For instance, he will not eat meat. Paul is a man who is clear about his ministry and the fact that God has given it to him - just as God called the others along the shore of Galilee and appointed them to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul believes this is his nature and at the core of his very being.

What is amazing is that Paul offers a vision of ministry which is so God centered. It is about God, what God is doing, how God is using him, and what God is doing through him. Sometimes I feel as though I am the one who has to do it, it is my burden to carry, I have to accomplish it, and if I don't then I am not worthy. The truth is that like Paul I am worthy. God loves me. I am worthy of that love because I am a creature of God's. I am also invited to stop hustling for God's love - as Brene Brown puts it. I am instead, through Paul's example, invited to do the work God is doing through me. I am invited to be a vessel of his grace and mercy and kindness to others. I am invited to share the God of love with other people who do not yet know this God. I am called to remove those obstacles that keep others from coming to this God. 

Finally, I am invited to remember it God doing the work not me...I am only a faithful apostle. I am sent. So... I go.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 40:21-31 

"So to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ's stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ's healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all."
"Waiting for Christ," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Sometimes, no matter how much we long to soar like an eagle, all we can do is barely manage to put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Maybe that is the pinnacle..."

"To be able to walk," Melissa Bane Sevier, Contemplative Viewfinder, 2015.

"When the calculations comparing our smallness with God’s greatness are finished, we can react to our position in the universe in several ways. We can slink away in despair and denial or we can crawl back into God’s big saving hands. Isaiah proclaimed, and the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus confirmed, that this God who knows all, creates all, controls all and plans all also loves all. God has no inconsequential creatures or untended corners of the universe. God tells us how precious we are in God’s sight."

40:21-31 - Isaiah is a master at putting God and humankind in perspective. by Mary W. Anderson January 26, 2000

Oremus Online NRSV Text

The first part of the book of Isaiah, as you may well know, is about Israel's grief. Here in this second part of the book we switch. Walter Brueggeman is famous for reminding us that what we learn from the Israelite experience is that we cannot get to comfort until we deal with the grief that is truly within us.

The God that the prophet is speaking for is a God that is greater than the lesser gods of the Babylonians, greater than their might and army, greater than the ties that are binding them and keeping them from their homeland. This is the God of history and the God of their ancestors - yes...but the God of all.

Moreover, this is a God who while incomparable to the lesser powers and principalities with their totems which attempt to rule this world, is also a God who cares for the least and the enslaved. This is a God who hears the cry of human beings. This is a God who is mighty to save.

This God is also a God who in incomparably merciful and gracious. This is a forgiving God and a God who is to free them.

It is this incomprehensibility of grace and mercy that is true about the revelation of this God's character from the very beginning of scripture and is truth throughout the arc of the New Testament.

This is played out as the author of the gospel of Luke weaves the past to the present and sends it off into the future. As prophet himself, almost mimicing the prophet who wrote these words in Isaiah, he reminds us that this God is the one who saves through the work and mission of Jesus Christ.

Richard Hays, scholar, writes:

The most significant observation here is that in Luke 3:1-6, Luke has taken the keynote passage from Isaiah 40 that declares the salvific coming of Israel's God and worked it narratively into an announcement of the imminent coming of Jesus as the one who would bring "the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6; citing Isaiah 40:5). Considering the full content of Isaiah 40, this identification of Jesus as the one in whom "all flesh will see the salvation of God" is hermeneutically momentous, for it is precisely in Isaiah 40 that we find one of the most radical declarations in all of Scripture of the incomparability of God: To whom, then, will you compare me, or who is my equal? Says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:25). It is precisely because God alone possesses all sovereign power that the nations are "like a drop from a bucket" before him Isaiah 40:15). (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 248.)
Gods incarnation enters the world, the second person is birthed, and comes into being. All power of the God of Israel is contained in the person of Jesus. No nations will be victorious.

Not unlike the people who feared the gods, powers, wealth and armies of Babylon, so Luke reminds his readers that God in Christ Jesus is greater than the gods, powers, wealth, and armies of Rome. In this way the passage today is a reminder that the least, lost, oppressed and forgotten today must remember that they are chosen by God and that this God and this God's community shall be about the work of undoing the world's powerful enslavement.

Previous Sermons For This Set of Lessons

Healed to Serve

Sermon Preached at St. Christophers, Houston, Episphany 5.b. 2018.

Sermon preached at Christ the King Atascocita, Epiphany 5b, 2015, healing of Simon Peter's mother in law.

Superheroes: understanding the power of Jesus' message 

Sermon delivered at Epiphany Houston Texas 2012

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany B January 28, 2018


In Christ your Son, O God, you impart to us a new teaching from one who speaks with authority, for Jesus is the unique master of wisdom, and our only liberator from the forces of evil. Make us convinced and courageous in professing our faith, so that by word and deed we may proclaim the truth and bear witness to the happiness enjoyed by those who center their lives and put all their trust in you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:21-28

"The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be."

"First Thoughts on Passages from Mark in the Lectionary," Epiphany 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

A Byzantine church was built on top of a synagogue in Capern
"The law against working on the Sabbath is an example found in the Gospels. If it is a question of whether or not you should perform the work of healing people on the Sabbath, Jesus' answer is clear. Of course you should heal them is his answer."

"The Law of Love," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

What is unbound in us? This is the question that I am taking with me into the Gospel reading from Mark appointed for this Sunday.
This is a very dense and important passage. The author of the Gospel is very much laying a firm foundation upon which he is building his revelation of who Jesus was and the import of his mission in this world and in the world to come.

First, let me caution the reader and preacher against taking this simply as a story about healing. I think this is an important caution as there are people in our congregations who are prone to seizures and epilepsy. They, like their loved ones, are very wounded by preaching on this lesson that does not embody Good News for all people. We as pastors and leaders should not do anything in our teaching or in our preaching that implies that these people are filled with some demonic spirit when what we know is that they are ill. In point of fact to say that this story is solely about healing and the casting out of demons from a person is to miss a great deal of what is going on in the passage and in the entirety of the Gospel according to Mark.

Is this a story about healing? Yes, by all means it is. But what is it that we are being healed from? What is it that is being unbound in us? How and for what are we being freed? These are the questions that must be answered as you prepare your sermon for Sunday.

A couple of things to note: First is that this passage parallels the passage in Mark 5:1-20; wherein Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac. It parallels the passage EXACTLY. The difference is that this passage takes place in the midst of the Jewish community and the passage in chapter 5 takes place in the midst of the gentile community.

The second note is that the community of Mark was indeed a community oppressed on every side. Joel Marcus writes:

For Mark's community, which feels itself to be the focus of the hatred of the whole world because of its preaching of the good news about Jesus (13:9-13), this feature of the initial exorcism would function as a reassurance that eh world's reaction of convulsive hatred does not invalidate the community's claim that its preaching imparts God's eschatological message. (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 195)

In keeping with most of the scholarly perspectives around this passage, it is my opinion that Mark's community feels bombarded by hatred from both the religious leaders of the day and the political leaders of the day. As the passage in chapter 5 reflects the political attacks and adversity to the Jesus message; so here in our passage for this Sunday we can see the attack from the religious leaders of the day.

Let us look at the passage closely.We remember that John the Baptist is now faded to the background. Jesus is taking up his full teaching mission. He is calling people to follow him and he is proclaiming absolutely good news of God and the kingdom of God. We find ourselves then in this Sunday's passage following him into a major center of religious life - Capernaum. It is the sabbath and so he goes and he teaches in the synagogue.

They are astounded at his teaching in part because his teaching is good news but also because he teaches with authority. This kind of teaching is different than the leaders of religion that they normally hear from.

As if to sharpen the distinction between the different messages and preaching a force enters the synagogue. Characterized in a demon possessed man, this force challenges Jesus' teaching. This is essential. We can get caught up in the demon part and not realize that the dialogue here is of the utmost importance. The man says, in the midst of this religious center filled with people:

24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

We might remember that the earliest manuscripts had no punctuation so that these may not be questions at all. We might read this as: What are you doing. Why are you teaching here. This is not good. You have come to destroy us. And, yet too in the enmity cast on Jesus (and for Mark's community anyone who is proclaiming Jesus as Lord) we see a recognition and proclamation of Jesus as son of God - the Holy One of God. Let us also remember the rest of the story and how these same religious authorities will decry Jesus' ministry and that of his followers.

Jesus unbinds the man from his rejection of the Gospel and his preaching.

The response to this is that people are amazed. Amazed at the freedom to believe? Amazed at the revelation of Jesus as Holy One? Amazed at his power over and against the religious authorities? "Yes," I say. All of these and there is in verse 27 a recognition that this is a new teaching and one that comes from God. The response of the people is one that affirms Jesus as preacher and teacher of this new movement. He is bringing reform to an old way. He is in fact leading a new way of being disciples of God.

I am currently reading the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxis. In it the author makes a persuasive case that Bonhoeffer while on the one hand believed in the importance of Christian community he also recognized the reforming nature of Jesus' words and ministry upon a Christianity that was simply religious.

Yes, people who trust in Jesus do experience healing of life. I have seen it. I know it is true. But the passage for this Sunday is about the reform of religion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges all Christians and their communities to remember the Holy One of God and the Good News of Salvation at the core of its life. It challenges Christian communities to boldly proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It challenges Christian community hear the absolute and grace filled message of love.

I want to take a moment and ask you to think about your religion. Now I am not talking about your denomination. I am not talking about your church. I am talking about your personal religion? I am wondering if you might make a list of certain things that are required for you when you go to church. Only men as priests or women as priests, incense or no incense, lots of vestments or no vestments, Rite One language or Rite II language or non gender specific language, ancient hymnody in Latin or guitars... I can tell you these are not requirements of Jesus. None of these are mentioned in his teachings. Yet people are constantly at war over these or other lists of required religious iconography in order for the true gospel to be preached. The Gospel is there every Sunday and Jesus is present but I wonder what shackles we bring into church that keep us from hearing it and proclaiming it.

Let us think of our own church now. As a church embattled in structure and economy, in a church struggling with the different orders of ministry and asking questions about how we do our mission, we must hold the mirror of Mark's Gospel up and ask some serious questions about reform. Has the religion become more important than the message? Is the benefit of Christian community lost in the chaos of a faith at war with itself?

As Christians, as Episcopalians, we are imprisoned by our religion.

Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes right down into the center of every congregation this Sunday. He challenges us to teach our faith with authority. To boldly claim the Holy One of God as our own. To proclaim that God is love and that we are to love one another. We are challenged to teach our response to that love is mission.

Jesus comes in and this Sunday looks at our heart's religion and he seeks to free us from it. Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of our inherited religion, and challenges us to be at work in the mission field.

I am an Episcopalian and I love being an Episcopalian and I want other people to meet Jesus in our church and worship him as Episcopalians. To do that we must be freed from our heart's religion and our church's religion that says it is my way or the highway. We must be freed and unbound from those ties that bind us to a certain death that our faith and our communities may be part of the kingdom that is coming.

And, like the demoniac in that synagogue and the religious leaders of Jesus time you and I both know our religious heart and our puritanical faith rejects this invitation be to be free.

Jesus keeps coming though. Again and again he invites us along the way just like his disciples and those he first goes to in Capernaum. He invites us to allow those parts of ourselves that do not glorify God to fall to the wayside, and invites us to be freed for mission. We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed. He invites us most of all to change the nature of our dying religion, that all that are around us (in our neighborhoods and cities) might be amazed at our proclamation of freedom and our teaching with authority -- the unbounded love of Jesus and the freedom to lay our religious shackles down and follow him.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

"The message of Paul for the church of today is that one may well have freedom in Christ, but it must be used with discretion and, in particular, with care for the sake of the vulnerable."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"The issue is always relationships, seen in the context of God's will of wholeness for people. It can never just be about being right or about getting people by hook or crook to do things our way."

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

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We continue our reading this week in Corinthians. You might look at last week's Hitchhiking notes for context. One of the issues here is that the meat that is being sold in the market is left over from pagan festivals.  The issue has arisen as some thought that what they ate defiled their bodies and still others did not. We might remember that Jesus said that it is not what goes into the body that defiles but what comes out. (Matthew 15.11) Paul is of course in a like minded place - but with some reservation.

Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that it is not knowledge that builds up the body of Christ but rather love. Love is the vessel by which humanity knows one another and God truly.  

Paul then explains that there is only one God and that sacrificing to Roman Gods doesn't do anything. For those who do not know God or are not mature they believe that these Roman Gods have power and sacrificing to them has meaning and so eating this meat is bad for you.  Those who still are acculturated and immature believe then that eating this meat is some how doing something unfaithful.

Having dismantled the argument of the non-meat eaters Paul then turns his attention to the meat eaters and says you must be careful not to be so irreverent as to keep those immature Christians from making progress towards God. This is important because it is reminds the community that just because you are right your behavior may actually be a stumbling block for others. 

What seems important here is that Paul wants all of the Christians in Corinth to grow towards God in Christ Jesus and desires not to leave anyone behind. Therefore, he invites the community to stop shaming one another and to realize that as a community their love is a revelation of God's love. Their unity is a revelation of God's grace. Their common life together is where they will all find salvation.

How easy it would be to be on the winning side and to disregard that God invites all people (meat eaters and non meat eaters) into the kingdom of God. Those who believe they defile their body and faith in God by eating meat are invited into the kingdom just as those who agree with Jesus and Paul. 

I wonder what conflicts in your community and in mine are so easily won without consideration about how our winning and disregard for the "other" impedes their progress towards God. Victory may be fun but Victory with a disregard for those who loose is without honor and has no place in God's kingdom.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 18:15-20

"Prophets are a rather complicated gift."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Callie Plunket-Brewton, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The ethics of the 'jungle' vs. the ethics of the Torah."

"The Torah, Survival, and 'Survivor'," Torah Commentary by Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman. BeliefNet.
The scripture is a very radical document in the face of both the ancient and contemporary world. It offers a picture of the human place in the midst of creation and the cosmos as intentional. All of that which surrounds us is in the words of chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "neither hostile nor indifferent." We are here because God intends us to be, we are cared for, and God seeks our well being. (Ibid.) To this we are to respond chiefly by loving God - and giving thanks. To be grateful for what is given in the cosmic relationship. Secondly, we are to love others. Everything in the scripture points to the invitation to love God and love others. And, in the words of my friend and poet Malcolm Guite the whole of scripture draws us towards those goals - and if it doesn't we are not reading it correctly. Our place in creation and our call to be a place of orientation within the wider creation and cultures that surround us is unique. 

This God is, while greater than that which we can think or believe, stands outside our comprehension while at the same time continuously invites worship through the service of the other. How God treats us is the way we are to treat others. We are, Sacks says, "bidden to love the neighbour and the stranger, to engage in acts of kindness and compassion, and to build a society based on love... God created the world in love and forgiveness and asks us to love and forgive others... I believe that to be the most profound moral idea in human history." (Rabbi Sacks, "The Morality of Love.")

Our passage today captures this clearly in the discussion about prophecy. 
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty and awesome God who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. So you must love the stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10: 18-19) 
The mission to be a particular kind of community is not new, not given by Jesus, but instead highlighted by Jesus in and through his teaching. For the Christian we see in Jesus the manifestation of this God who loves without partiality and bribes. God's love as exemplified in the unique person of Jesus is not able to be purchased. Moreover, it is meant for the least and lost. It is a love that comes to the side of the fatherless and the widow. It is made real as it stands in solidarity with the stranger. Jesus offers us an image of God's love for those who are loveless and unloveable. God's grace is free and unbounded by the conventions of powers and philosophies, social norms and politics. And, the God who called the pilgrims at Moses' side invites us in the words and practices of Jesus to create a similar kind of peaceful loving community. The community of God is to be a blessing to the world and by this blessing the world itself will be judged. 

Those who live differently, chose to live in the world of judgment, isolation, and greed are judged by their own actions and words.

Our passage today reads:

15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This 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.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I 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.19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
The prophet of yesterday and the prophet today are prophets of a particular kind of kingdom. There are many kingdoms and many powers and principalities who also have their prophets. The prophetic voice of the reign of God is one that reminds us who our God is and what we are made so to do.

It is true that John's Gospel is clear that Jesus is not another Moses or prophet. However, the Gospel of Luke clearly places the The New Testament story within the communal trajectory of the Old Testament captured in this lesson from Deuteronomy. Luke sees the ecclesia (the band of Jesus followers, their life together, and mission) as a part of the arc of God's blessed community of Shalom. The prophets pointed in the past to the future community which follows Christ - in as much as that community resembles the community imagined in Deuteronomy. It is to be a community of prophecy. Prophesy that is lived out and prophesy that is spoken. Prophesy oriented around the divine loving creator and prophesy that gets its hands dirty serving the people of God. 

The Rt. Rev. John Hines, leaning on this notion, preached, “[T]he Body of Christ must be prepared to offer itself up for the sake of the healing and the solidarity of the whole human family, whatever its religious or racial identities. Especially must the Body of Christ risk its own life in bearing and sharing the burdens of those who are being exploited, humiliated, and disinherited! " (John Hines—The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice".) 

The world is to be, IS, turned upside down by the ecclesia. (And, I would add: if this is not at least half of the consequence of the church's existence then we are probably not doing something quite right.) 

The people who present themselves as Godly and righteous will only be accounted as such in as much they mimic the God who hears the cries of the prisoner, the slave, the orphan, the widow, the poor man crying at the gate.

The scripture is clear that the work of empire and power in that such principalities offer a claim that an economic exchange of difference and bribes will bring peace and prosperity - this is a lie. Just as the Pax Romana was no peace at all but a violent oppressive power. Power is exchanged for its promises of individual allegiance. In God we trust is a radical statement. But when the god we are speaking about is synonymous to the power of a state or nation we are dealing with something quite different than the God of Deuteronomy and the Gospels. Luke's message, which is the same as on that day recorded in Deuteronomy, a radical message of grace and mercy for the least, the lost, the sinful and sin sick soul. The community that proclaims that it is God's, is a community that feeds, houses, and heals the poor, widow, and orphan. A nation that forgets this whether it is Israel (as in Deuteronomy) or the United States is no nation under God. The prophets are clear - let the people hear.

To be chosen by God to be a particular kind of people, unified in a particular kind of community, meant for a particular purpose is a complicated gift indeed. It is a responsibility not simply to worship a god of our own making but to worship a God who expects that the first neighbors on our mind will be the lowliest ones in our community and country.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany B January 21, 2018

Quotes That Make Me Think

"How ready are we to encouter people, share our truth and then instead of manipulating, cajoling and trapping them, allow them the freedom to re-enter the waters of life and make up their own minds about the truth we have shared?"

"Hooking up with Jesus," Peter Woods, I Am Listening, 2012.

"What would make you drop everything and pursue an entirely new life?"

"The Call of the Disciples and the Decline of the Church," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"People in the New Community would derive their identity not from their present economic condition or their past familial relationships, but rather be given a new identity as followers of the 'way' of the 'kingdom of God' as taught and lived by their leader, Jesus of Galilee."

Lectionary Blogging, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

In your Son, O God, you have given us your word in all its fullness and the greatest of all your gifts. Rouse our hearts to grasp the urgent need of conversion, and stir up our souls with longing to embrace your gospel. May our lives proclaim to those far away from you and to those filled with doubt that the one Savior of us all is your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:14-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin this passage as Mark clearly breaks from the testimony of John the Baptist and focuses directly on the work of Jesus. Jesus is now the focal point of the Gospel and of Mark's witness.

A second theme emerges directly as Galilee. We are beginning to read Mark more regularly in this year's cycle of Gospel readings. In Mark's Gospel Galilee is the "land of salvation" while it is contrasted throughout the story with Jerusalem; which is the place of rejection. (This was pointed out by such great New Testament scholars as Lohmeyer and Lightfoot; and has been repeated throughout most Markan commentaries.) In Galilee great and miraculous things happen. Healings, exorcisms, teaching, and the growth of the Jesus movement all hallmark Galilee as the place of salvation. Mark as a Gospel author so focuses on this theme that it is the primary and driving force behind his confused geography. For the Gospel author the story and miraculous works are more important than factual place.

In our passage, John is handed over, Jesus comes from Galilee, and he proclaims "good news." I love Mark's Gospel and I have studied it quite a bit. What stood out for me in this reading is Joel Marcus' point that this is "good news" really stood out. In his exegesis of the text (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 171) Marcus points out that the word "God" and "kingdom of God" were later added and not necessarily part of the early Christian witness to Jesus' ministry. Marcus even reminds us that John's Gospel does not even use the term "euangelion," or Good News. This is Good News! It is not good news +; or good news but. The early Christian testimony preserved in Mark's account is that what we have is Good News.

Then Jesus teaches our response. Our response to the Good News that God is near, that God claims us, that God reinserts himself into the world, that God invites our relationship is to discover that we are in a new age of God; we are now in an age of the kingdom or dominion of God...our response is repentance and belief.

What seems very inspiring here is the notion that this is not a one time event. We are not to repent and believe; but rather we are to live a life of repenting and believing. These words of good news and repenting/believing are words that would have resounded in the ears of the newly baptized Christian. They are words deeply connected with the earliest Christian tradition. We are a people who recognize our relationship with God; we celebrate the grace of God and the goodness of God. We then are constantly responding attempting to glorify God in this world by moving our lives closer and closer to the life of God.

We are a people who are not satisfied with the old age or the past; we are a people who want to come ever closer to God's kingdom. We are a people not satisfied with the world as we experience it for we know that when we try and work and repent and move ever closer God's love and grace transforms us and the world around us. It does this through kindness, charity, and good works. This is the center of living a life virtuously. The virtuous life is one that is constantly trying to remove the old and dead life; letting it fall away. And, consequently attempting to live a life where belief matters and affects how I am going to act in the next moment.

This opening reading from Mark's Gospel would have reminded the first hearers of the first moments when they followed Jesus. (Marcus, 176) As we read it today and think about our words for Sunday morning we must recognize that we have the opportunity to stir up and reinvigorate our discipleship. We have the opportunity to see again for the fist time what it means to turn and follow Jesus.

Good News of our salvation and the unique proclamation of God's kingdom and our invitation to be a part is good news indeed!

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Paul's word may jolt us into asking whether we have in the process lost God and lost ourselves - let alone the real interests of others."

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

"And so, the challenge for us today who are in the world is not merely to divorce ourselves from it. And I use the word “merely” intentionally here."

Changing the Form of the World, Amy Allen, Political Theology, 2012.

"In the end, the primary message of this text is that nothing in this world can compare to the eternal fellowship we have with God and Christ."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Almost all of our historical understanding of Corinth points to the fact that it was a major port during Jesus' time. Because of the Peloponnesus peninsula it also was an essential land route. It was a commercial center, a center for the arts, and the crafts of shipbuilding, and trade.

Into this cultural mix we know that the church there has asked for help and is having some troup. So it is that Paul sits down to write.

The point of the passage seems to be at first glance centered on the relationships between husbands and wives.  Marriage is important and somehow their faith is causing problems within families. Based on my own experience my feeling is that people are in each other's business and have asked Paul to intervene. Paul has done so BUT he is desperately trying to redirect their attention from what he believes are cursory matters.

Corinth is caught up in issue conversations. They are important but for Paul they are not as important as the mission.

So it is that Paul reminds them they are living in an in between time. They are waiting for Christ who is to return. Their work is clear - the few Christians in Corinth are to work hard together to share the Gospel and teach others about Christ. They are to bring people into the family. They are to work with God to bring salvation to as many people as possible.

Paul certainly believed this was all going to be over before he himself died.

How often we look at and focus upon those things which really are the things of this world and issues of our time, instead of being attentive to God's reconciling love and his ministry of grace.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Second Sunday after the Epiphany B January 14, 2018

"I believe the keys in understanding this passage are, on the one hand, to NOT treat it as simply a story of how Nathaniel met Jesus; nor, on the other hand, to get all mystical and obscure. John wants us to SEE Jesus, to COME to him, and thereby to receive LIFE in its abundance."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 1:43-51, David Ewart, 2012.


O God, you reveal the signs of your presence among us in the church, in the liturgy and in our brothers and sisters.  Let no word of yours ever fall by the wayside or be rendered ineffective through our indifference or neglect.  Rather, make us quick to recognize your saving plan whenever we encounter it, and keep us ready always to serve as prophets and apostles of your kingdom.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 1:43-51
This week we shift across to one of our Johanine readings for the year.  The passages in John's Gospel, according to most scholars, follow a carefully crafted narrative that steers people away from the proclamation of John the Baptist and towards the revelation of Jesus. 
The passage also refers to the calling of the two disciples.  In reading the whole account you can see that they bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah - the "Son of Man."  In this theme we have the notion of the promised king of Israel being presented in the holy titles being used.  At the same time the competing notion that such a vision of Jesus' ministry is all too narrow.

Another theme has to do with the calling of the disciples.  The image of Philip and Nathaniel who being seen by Jesus, were called by him, and then the blessings of life as they do so.  Moreover, their own witness to Jesus as the "Son of Man."  Seeing and proclaiming who he is and revealing to the world that this is the one to come and see.

Now what has most intrigued me about this passage comes from Raymond Brown's text on John (vol 1, 59ff). And that is the images that are being linked to this story from ancient Israel's story.  Brown illustrates well, I think, that Jesus in the story is connected to the image of Jacob's ladder (shekinah), the image of the divine chariot (merkabah) of Ezekiel, Bethel itself, or the rock (the first rock God created upon which Jacob laid his head).  What a wonderful set of traditions; none of which in and of themselves are completely convincing scholastically.  Nevertheless, I love them!

What really resonates with me as I hold in tension the symbols floating in the text and the movement away from John the Baptist combined with the "seeing" imagery of Philip and Nathaniel is that we have quite a wonderful passage about Jesus as the center of Christian life and discipleship.  Jesus is central and he is out in the world for us to see.

What I thought is that we preachers spend a lot of time telling folks we don't see Jesus.  Think about that for a moment. We tell them we don't see Jesus in their actions, in their spending, in their lives. We don't see Jesus in the church. We don't see Jesus in the world. We don't see Jesus here and we don't see Jesus there. Think about the last 10 sermons you gave and I wonder how many of them spent time telling people how we don't see Jesus.

In fact I wonder if the amount of preaching about not seeing Jesus in people's lives has to do with the numbers of people who don't want to listen to us preach about not seeing Jesus and so don't come to church.

What if this Sunday we actually told our Episcopalians and those who might be visiting with us that we see Jesus? We see Jesus in them. We see Jesus in their lives and in their stories. We see Jesus out in the world. What if we made a concerted effort this Sunday to not give "Bad News" and we tried to avoid telling people how we don't see Jesus?  What if this Sunday we gave them "Good News?"

What if this Sunday we preachers were solidly about seeing Jesus Christ out in the world?  If we like Philip and Nathaniel were able to tell our neighbors, brothers, sisters, and fellow church goers that we see Jesus and we want them to see Jesus too?

It would be news if we and our church goers left our churches and went looking for Jesus out in the world and found him in places, images, and things like rocks and said, "Look here is God out in the world. Here is how God connects us. We call this connection to the most high God - Jesus."  Generous and holy naming would become our work out in the world and people would hear from us a new story; perhaps a story they have been longing to hear.   

Our work as evangelists is not sitting around waiting for people to come into our churches and ask us to show them Jesus; then in some theological discourse of via negativa telling them where we don't see Jesus.  Or even worse, preaching to them about how they aren't doing it right and how we don't see Jesus at all in their lives and in the world. 

Our work is to go out and generously listen, generously name Jesus in the lives of others, and generously invite people to come and see the good news as proclaimed in our Episcopal Church. 

I wonder if we might together, as preachers and parishioners, promise that for the next month we are going to take on as our Epiphany discipline the work of seeing and announcing Jesus to those around us; and that we would do that with positive and affirming statements.

A Little Bit for Everyone

John 1:43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Baptism of Christ B January 7, 2018

Chinese artist He Qi depicts the baptism of Jesus.

"Baptize me, who am destined to baptize those who believe on me with water, and with the Spirit, and with fire: with water, capable of washing away the defilement of sins; with the Spirit, capable of making the earthly spiritual; with fire, naturally fitted to consume the thorns of transgressions. On hearing these words, the Baptist directed his mind to the object of the salvation, and comprehended the mystery which he had received, and discharged the divine command; for he was at once pious and ready to obey."

"On the Holy Theophany Or On Christ's Baptism," (4th of Four Homilies) by Gregory Thaumaturgus (3rd century).


Lord our God, O Holy One of Israel, to the waters you call all those who thirst, to the feast of your covenant you invite all the nations.  As once at the Jordan your Spirit tore open the heavens, and your voice proclaimed Jesus your well-beloved sons and daughters; lead us by your Spirit through the water and the blood, that our love for you may strengthen us to obey your commandments, and our love for one another be the victory that forever conquers the world.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:4-11
We are now heading into the season which follows the Episcopal Church's celebration of Epiphany.  The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally the Baptism of our Lord, and the reading is taken from the Gospel for that year. As such then we see that the baptism narrative is taken from the Gospel of Mark. It actually has three parts to it. The first part is the preaching of John.  The second part is the baptism itself. The third portion is Jesus' vision.

The beginning of our reading today falls in the very earliest of passages in Mark's Gospel and it includes the tail end of John's preaching and flows easily into the baptism of Jesus.  John the Baptist is preaching that the "strong man" is coming.  The combination of Greek words and how Mark opens his narrative make it unmistakeably clear that Jesus is the eschatological (end time) figure that Israel has been waiting to arrive. John's ministry has been to prepare the people and to be a moniker of the signalling the Lord's arrival.  In language and clothing he appears as a voice heralding a new time and a new mission. (You might refer to the post for the second Sunday of Advent to read more about this part of our passage.  You may also want to read Joel Marcus' work on Mark, page 163, specifically.)

The baptism of Jesus implies that perhaps Jesus was a follower of John the baptist. Such ideas and wrestlings with who baptizes who are age old and should not take away from the idea that the incarnation, God in human form, comes and is present with us and that he himself is baptized.  I find myself drawn less to the idea of authority and whose student was whose and ever more closely invited to see that as John proclaimed there is a new Way being formed. There is a new structure to the world being made.  Jesus and his baptism, like our own baptism is a part of that structure.

The action takes place on the edges of society, in the wilderness, not in the safety of sacred space. And, the act itself challenges us to ask were are we as a church doing the work of baptism?  Where are we doing the work of heralding a new structure and a new Way to the world? Are we locked away where only a few can hear or are we out in the world, on the edges, inviting and encouraging people to see that there is a different way a new and every revealed way of being the kingdom of God?

The third part of the narrative today, following the proclamation and baptism, is the vision.  Reading through the scriptures we might remember or rediscover Isaiah 64:1-2:

Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down
to make known your name to your enemies,
and make the nations tremble at your presence,
working unexpected miracles
such as no one has ever heard before.
The images that are before us also remind us (I think intentionally) of the deliverance of Israel from the army of Pharaoh through the waters of the Red Sea.  Certainly, this is part of our own baptismal liturgy.  But we know what is coming next... Jesus is to go into the desert wilderness for a time of temptation. 

The baptism is the launching of Jesus' ministry. It is the first corner stone of the new structure. It is the first step along the way for every Christian.  It is a movement through the waters from sin and imprisonment to freedom and life eternal.  There is another image here which is rooted in scripture and repeated in our baptismal formula and that is the death of Jesus on the cross.
Like bookends the beginning of the Gospel offers a vision of the end, wherein here at the baptism the heavens are ripped apart, the spirit descends, and God pronounces that this is his Son.  We can compare this to the temple curtain which is ripped apart, Jesus breathing his spirit out, and the centurion making his proclamation. (Donald Juel, Mark, 34-35)  Just as Jesus is baptized here in the waters of the Jordan so does every Christian man, woman and child find their baptism at the cross of Christ.
Today as you look out over your congregation you will see a group of people who more than likely believe that the government is not way it was meant to work, that power rests in the hands of the most wealthy people in the country, and that the current state of politics promises no change. They sit there also with the knowledge that they work hard and help their community and their neighbors; as do most Christians which Pew research says make up the majority of those who give time and treasure for this work.  They are also worried about their future economically and they are concerned about who will take care of them. The holidays are over.  Many have returned from vacation needing a vacation and the promises of what the shopping season promised are not what they expected.

It is a lie to pretend that our world mirrors the wilderness world in which John made his proclamation or Jesus was baptized.  We live lives in the Episcopal Church that are foreign to most of the people in the rest of the world.  It seems to me there are two very real places though in this gospel that hit right in the heart of where most folks are.  The Gospel today recognizes that the world is not the kingdom of God and a new time is before us in this instance to turn, change, and make things different.  We are the inheritors of God's vision and we are the ones who by walking the Way of Jesus make so transform the world around us that we shall in the days to come experience something new and different.  We are a part of this building, Jesus is the cornerstone and we are the living stones being built up into the kingdom of God.

The second thing is this. In a world where not belonging is the norm and secret boundaries divide people clarity about living in the family of God and how you become a member is Good News.  Most places you will not be told how to belong. Most places you will not have the opportunity to be invited to be a part.  The "in" crowd is small and not many people are sharing the secret entrance rites.  But in the family of God everyone is a member.  In fact the moment a person recognizes the Grace of God moving in their lives they are "in."  Baptism is the public rite of initiation which reminds them and the church that they are already God's sacred possession. They are God's sons or daughters, they are God's beloved, they are the ones upon whom Jesus breathed the breath of life and for whom Jesus died on the cross.  Baptism is the clear sign that reminds us (not God) that we are his people and the sheep of his hand.

That my friend in the wilderness of this world is VERY Good News.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas 1 B, December 31, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

(Simeon nimmt Christus in seine Arme, Quelle:  
 "Notice, Simeon wasn?t looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"

"The Consolation of Israel," Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach. "Focus on scripture from a justice perspective." Exegesis, study, and teen study and activities.

"Jesus will be the cause of many rising and falling in Israel -- he will be both the stone upon which some stumble and the stone of salvation (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6-8). In any case, Luke's account certainly gives credence to Paul's claim. The dedication of Jesus to God at the temple sets Jesus on the way to his work of redemption."

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Stephen Hultgren, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God of the covenant, looking graciously upon their faith, you brought Abraham joy and Sarah laughter int he birth of the their child and in the beginning s of a family countless as the stars of heaven. With Simeon and Anna, with Mary and Joseph, our eyes have seen your salvation, and we hold it in our hands.  Fill us with wisdom to trust your promises, and let your gracious favor rest on this family you have gathered.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:22-40

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This day brings our holiday season to an end. The most brave of all will come out on Sunday, January 1st, to celebrate the new year in church. Perhaps this will be a double low church whammy. It is both the Sunday after Christmas and it is also New Years Day.

In contrast to Mary in the Gospel written by Luke we have Simeon who is a faithful, righteous, and patient man. A pious man he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died.

Mary and Joseph bring their son to the Temple for circumcision as per their custom.

It is in the midst of this familial tradition that we see another revelation of who Jesus is and is to be.

In this moment Jesus is the Messiah for Simeon. He proclaims him so. Going on to reveal that he is the the one he has been waiting for, but that he is also the savior of Israel and of all the peoples of the earth.

In the back of our minds we must be aware of how Luke tells the story. At once we know he is to be rejected in this first volume; while accepted in Acts. Likewise within the Gospel narrative we see that some people will accept and welcome him others will reject him. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 57)

Simeon and Anna are people who welcome the savior.

One week has past. A season is over and a new one is beginning. As we make our way through the Christmas lessons and then the Epiphany lessons I believe that we have an opportunity to refocus ourselves on living out the Gospel.

On this day perhaps it would be good for us to consider how we are welcoming God into our midst. How are we welcoming God into the midst of our lives? Are we making room for him? How are we welcoming others into our communities? Are we making room to see the face of Christ in others? Are we doing this in the church and on the streets? I love Goebel's quote above; a very good internalization of this morning's Gospel:
"Notice, Simeon wasn't looking 'in the church' for the Savior; he was looking 'on the street.' Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our churches in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?"
On a day when we begin our New Year's resolution it is a good time for us to rethink our work as individuals who make room for Jesus Christ in our lives and in our communities. What would happen if we as clergy made a resolution for our selves. What would happen if we encouraged others to do so? What if our church's made resolutions? What would they be? To be more like Simeon, Anna, the faithful family? To wirte a rule of life? To launch an intentional ministry of welcoming? To redouble our study and engagement with the bible?

In such rules of life, and resolutions, perhaps we will in the end find some liberation - some freedom. In living a life that proclaims and lives out the promise of Jesus as Messiah perhaps in fact the whole world might experience what it means to come within the reach of his saving embrace. Just maybe if we were to keep our resolutions, just maybe, people around us might have the same expeience as Simeon.

Some Thoughts on Galatians 4:4-7

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"So insidious is Sin that even the good gifts of God, like the Law (Galations 3:21) or even the gospel, can be easily misused."

Commentary, Galatians 4:4-7, Erik Heen, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"The Spirit that God pours into all our hearts is a Spirit of compassion. It is a Spirit that embraces us and makes us a part of a family defined by God's love. It is that compassion that gives us our meaning and purpose in this life."

"Love Came Down," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.

The theologian Robert Farrar Capon in his book on parables (Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, 2002) offers that God in Christ comes to us in the incarnation as both our savior and judge. But his action of redemption and reconciliation is one of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. He judges with love and so we are presented to God through the eyes of our beloved Jesus. It is the eyes of his heart which redeem us.  

Capon though also says that it is our renunciation and rejection of this coming which judges us guilty. It is our rejection of the spirit of God in our hearts, it is our rejection of our forgiveness, and the rejection of Jesus AND our focus upon the law which in the end finds us guilty. 

Paul in Galatians is offering a vision of God who comes and blesses and redeems us. Jesus undoes the power of the law over us. Jesus enables us to be God's children. We are no longer slaves to the law. This is our new reality.

However, the truth is the longer we live focusing upon the law and our own failure and the failure of others - the longer we struggle outside the family. Our message is clear God loves. God forgives. God invites us. In this season of incarnation may we offer a message that does the same and enables us to live in the grace which has come into the world. 

Our deliverance is real. May we live it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Christmas Day B, December 25, 2017

"The fourth gospel is all about the community indwelling with each other and with God. It is not about the individual's appropriation of Jesus, but rather God's appropriation of humanity through Christ and how God lives in the greatest intimacy with his followers. All through the gospel the words are plural, not singular."
Lectionary Blogging, John 1:1-18, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2010.


In this most gentle dawn, O good and most gracious God, we have hastened to behold the wonder that has taken place, for the goodness and loving kindness of our Savior has appeared.  Give us words inspired enough to make known the mercy that has touched our lives, deeds loving enough to bear witness to the treasure you have bestowed, and hearts simple enough to ponder the mystery of your gracious and abiding love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. 

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

Some Thoughts on John 1:1-18

Christmas morning this year falls on a Sunday. The brave and faithful will sneak out of their homes before gifts, some with children in hand, to hear the story of how God became man.

I like how Raymond E. Brown approaches this text offering a vision that if John is the most beautiful of New Testament texts then the prologue must assuredly be the pearl within the Gospel.  This is the reading for Christmas day.

Brown is clear...there is first the relationship between the Word that is with God (vs 1-2). The opening verses of this Christ hymn used to frame an entrance into the Johannine Gospel is brief and it is completely, or I should say “seemingly”, uninterested in a metaphysical conversation about the nature of God. It is however very clear that Salvation history begins with the relationship between God, revealed through the living Word, and Man. Quite simply God reveals God's-self to us in the work of creation – and by John’s usage here; creation also reveals something about the salvation of man as well. Creation is by its very nature a revealing act. (John, vol. 1, 23, 24)

Secondly we have in the prologue the relationship between the Word and Creation. “All creation bears the stamp of God’s Word,” Brown writes. (Brown, 25) Here we see the author of John reflecting and re-imagining the opening lines of Genesis. We can see that what is clearly of importance is that creation itself existed primarily for the glory of God and the revelation of who God is. The problem is that the creation is broken; it does not fulfill its purpose as God intended. It is not a sustainable creation. Instead it is one where there is a constant battle to supplant the power and revelation of God. We can return to the creation story in Genesis to see this played out as an eternal truth, certainly this seems on John's mind. However, it is not really that hard or difficult to see and imagine as we read the paper or watch television how humanity has created a non-sustainable kingdom for ourselves, and that we wrestle for power with God placing our needs above creations explicit purpose to glorify God.

We might even reflect on how quickly all of the Christmas season's preparations are quickly consumed! How many minutes did it take?

The third portion of our Gospel selection is the portion where we are re-introduced to John the Baptist. I say reintroduced, because we spend several Sunday’s reading passages from Mark and John recently that dealt with him and his ministry. Yet here we get a slightly different attempt to speak about how John responded to the living Word, the Light in the world. How he was clearly not the one everybody was looking for, but how he dutifully gave witness to the revelation of God. Moreover, that John the Baptist called everyone to a time of preparation and repentance for the light itself, the living Word was entering the world.

We come to the final and fourth portion of our reading and we return to the relationship between God and humanity; specifically in how the community of God (God’s people) respond to the living Word. God is dwelling with his people. He has made a “tent”, he is incarnated, and he is present within the community. (Brown, 35) The images here in this last section return not to Genesis but play on our remembrances of the Exodus and the idea that God came and dwelt among the people as they made their way in the wilderness.  I am reminded of Habakuk who mans his station in order to have a vision of God, or Naham who retells the story of how God dwelled with Abraham, and now dwells in the Temple.  God has returned over and over again to be with his people. Now in the story of Mary we discover that God has come not only to dwell with his people, but to dwell as a person.

 Here is an expressed intimacy between God and people. God is not simply outside, having wound the clock tight and is now letting it run. On the contrary just as God was intimately involved with creation and the people of Israel, God also is involved in the new community post resurrection. God has come and is dwelling with the people in wisdom and in truth. God in the living Word is making community within God’s tent and is revealing himself and the purpose of creation to all those who would call him by name: Jesus.

I have found over the years that the Christmas morning service is perhaps one of the most intimate of services in the christian year.  Holy, and present is the living Word. I hope you as you preach and offer a vision of Sunday worship post our evening celebrations of God incarnate remind people of the incredibly intimate God we worship and how the God news of God dwelling with us is truly Good News. News that all creation is groaning to comprehend and embrace.  As Christians and as Episcopalians gathered together in the early morning hours of Christmas day, it is a message of comfort and joy that draws us closer to God and closer to one another.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Christmas Eve December 24, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

"This holiday familiarity is a particular problem for preachers. We must keep in mind that for some, the Christmas story has been regularly heard since childhood. And yet, these annual rehearsals have failed to reveal to contemporary audiences the jarring display of ancient culture the episode describes."

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

"In moments of our own deeper truth we can also find ourselves facing our raw humanity, facing our own poverty, stripped of our shining garments and clad in just the basics. Then the angels are there for us."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Shaped by your hand, O God of all the generations we are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem, a land you marry and a people in whom you delight.  With Sarah and Tamar, with Rahab and Ruth, with all of our ancestors, sinners and saints, from Abraham and David to Joseph and Mary, we praise your steadfast Love and sing your faithful covenant.  make us a people firm to trust in your promises and quick to do your will.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:1-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Across the world on Christmas Eve and Day we shall sit huddled shoulder to shoulder singing carols and Hymns to God. Our children will be eager for gift-giving and sweets; all the while learning the enduring quality of patience. Adults will be gathered, filled with memories and hope for what might be. In the midst of messy family lives and longing for salvation, we shall gather. What I know is that on Christmas when our voices are united in praise of a God who chooses us, regardless of our circumstance, our hearts will be warmed.

We shall gather and we shall retell our sacred Christmas story in which God chooses Mary and Joseph. They were two homeless and poor individuals, forced to wander far from home because of an authority whose rule controlled their lives. With children and parents gathered around we tell the story that Jesus was brought into the world in a manger; in the midst of shepherds. All of this we remind ourselves foreshadows his inheritance to live among the poor and have no place for his head.

Yet it is neither his surroundings nor his lot in life as the son of a poor carpenter that makes our Christmas story special. On the contrary, we speak an ancient and holy truth: Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel, Lord, and Messiah. It is the angel’s words proclaimed to the shepherds that we ourselves echo on this holy of holy days.

We celebrate a living Word birthed into a particularly difficult and hard world. We celebrate light birthed into darkness. We proclaim wisdom birthed into longing. We proclaim glory in the mundane.

It is true that we will all come together as a Christian family celebrating in our own ways the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. We will find him in the midst of our holy worship. However, the Christmas message is clear, the incarnation of God is more than likely best experienced in the world around us.

“Let us go and see” is the shepherd’s cry. So let us, like them, leave our hallowed service and go and see the Christ Child present in the lives of families and friends. May we be buoyed by our mutual joy and hope. Let us with confidence proclaim that God has chosen us, his lowly people, in which to be seen and discovered.

May this season move us to realize the opportunity we have to witness to the Christ Child in the world. Let us offer hope where there is despair, faith where there is doubt, pardon where there is injury, and joy where there is sadness. Let us give food to those who hunger and warmth to those who are cold. Let us love the world into a just society. And let us redefine our neighbor as our family.

My hope for you and your family is a blessed and Holy Christmas. I wish you the greatest measure of peace and joy in the company of friends. May we with one united voice proclaim God in Christ Jesus to a world that even still groans with a longing heart for a savior. Merry Christmas.

Some Thoughts on Titus 2:11-14

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Living zealously, wisely, righteously, godly, and expectantly may, in some situations, appear as gentleness and align with the general mores of the wider society. At other times, however, that way of life may manifest as boldness and challenge to the narrative of the good life the present culture embraces."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Our gift back to God is an expression of our distinctive character as individuals located in a particular time and place. Drawing upon the best we have to offer, we live a new world into being."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

The pastoral letters, of which Titus is one, are encouraging notes which help us to ponder the life lived as Christians. This is has been their use for many ages and is still true today. 

God comes into the world in order to enable us to live not to ourselves but to God. We are redirected by the incarnation to work and be at work on God's behalf in the world. As Jesus came to glorify God and to do so through the work of reconciliation - we too then are called to glorify God through the work of reconciliation brought about by living a life of grace. 

The letter to Titus calls us to look away from the values of culture and to find our direction and life in the work of God and God's hope. 

Just as God has given himself to us we are to, in-turn, give ourselves to God.

On this high holy Christmas day we should be mindful that the incarnation itself is this act of giving and the invitation is not only to receive the gift but to return the gift. 

I recently came across this poem/prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson for saying on Christmas Day. It is on my mind as I think of the encouragement and invitation to respond found in Titus. It is worth repeating here: 

"Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"