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 also can simply 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, April 18, 2017

Pentecost Day A June 4, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"What is more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives."

Commentary, Elisabeth Johnson, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

"Sometimes I think we have more faith in our fears than we do in God, in the Risen Christ. Have you ever been locked in by your fears?"

"Locked In And Locked Out," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross

Christina Rossetti (AD 1830-1894)
Read more at: http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Pentecost.htm#ixzz1OuaDzu2R

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Our passage begins on the evening of the first day. Ignatius believed this was the moment when Christians began to associate Sunday morning worship with the resurrected Lord over and against the sabbath.  That the first day of the week was a day of work to begin with the work God has given us through the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, this is indeed what happens.  Jesus comes and in their midst.
Raymond Brown points out that this is typical of the Johannine resurrection pieces:
1. A bereft situation
2. The appearance
3. Greeting
4. Recognition
5. Command (John, Anchor Bible, 1028)

He tells his followers that he is sending them out and that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. The passing of the Holy Spirit over to the disciples is a giving of authority. They are representatives of the family of God in their proclamation, mission and service to others.

We spent time on this passage previously the Sunday following Easter and so I don't want to spend time on the resurrection appearance. I would rather focus on the powers given over to the disciples.

The Holy Spirit has been given to them directly from God.

Throughout the whole of John's Gospel he has refrained from talking about the disciples as apostles, in this passage he does this for the first time. (Brown, John, 1036)
We see that the grounding, the theology of the trinitarian community ad extra, serves as the grounding for the disciples being sent by Jesus.

They are holy, they are consecrated by the Spirit to bear the Gospel forward.  This breathing on them echoes the first breaths given to man in Genesis 2.7. This is a new creation that is being made.

We might remember our Holy Saturday Great Vigil and the words spoken in Ezekiel's prophecy (ch 37).  In it the "Son of Man" is told to prophesy to the dry bones: "Hear the word of the Lord...I will cause breath [spirit] to enter you, and you shall live." (1037)

I very much like how Raymond Brown speaks of this moment:
Now, another Son of Man, himself fresh from the tomb, speaks as the risen Lord and causes the breath of eternal life to enter those who hear his word.  In the secondary, baptismal symbolism of John 3.5 the readers of the Gospel are told that by water and Spirit they are begotten as God's children; the present scene serves as the Baptism of Jesus' immediate disciples and a pledge of divine begetting to all believers of a future period represented by the disciples. (Small wonder that the custom of breathing upon the subject to be baptized found its way into the baptismal ceremonial.)  Now they are truly Jesus' brothers and can call his Father their Father (20.17)  The gift of the Spirit is the "ultimate climax of the personal relations between Jesus and his disciples. (1037ff)
This Sunday we will all celebrate the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Some will call this the birthday of the church and many will wear read. It will be a festive and exciting time.

We must not loose site though that the gift of the spirit is a missionary gift. The recreation of humanity is not for the church alone but for the whole body of God's people around the world.

We should have a glorious celebration of the Church's new creation, but as the first fruits of the great community of God, the reign of God yet to be fulfilled; and the mission of God in which we have the privilege to participate.

A Sermon on Pentecost

Who are we? We are forgiveness bearers.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

There is this great scene in one of my favorite movies, Joe Vs. the Volcano; where Joe Banks (played by Tom Hanks) receives credit cards to help him begin a journey to the Volcano island Wapponi Whu (which means island with a big volcano). He is going to jump in the volcano because he has a “brain cloud;” and doesn’t have anything else to do with his last days. He hires a limousine and driver to take him out to buy things for his journey. The driver asks him where he wants to go. Joe replies, “Shopping for clothes.” The driver asks what kind of clothes and where would you like to go. Joe answers that he doesn’t know; and then asks the driver, “Where do you go for clothes?” To which the driver quickly pulls over the car and says. “You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you want to go. You don’t know what kind of clothes you want to buy. And that is a very personal thing. I believe clothes make the man. I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am, and I am tired. I certainly don’t know who you are.”

I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am.

I used to believe that I knew who I was and where I was going. But when I arrived at that destination I found that my vision wasn’t large enough to encompass who God was calling me to be.

I have spent my whole life trying to figure that out. I don’t believe we really know who we are.

If we spend our lives trying to figure out who we are then who has time to figure out who Jesus is. After all, like the limousine driver says: “I am tired.”

I really believe our lives are frustrated by the fact that we don’t really know who Jesus is either. As a Christian this poses an major identity crisis. Because I primarily understand myself in relationship to God above all other relationships and so when I don’t understand who God is and who this person of Jesus is; I am just a little confused. If I don’t understand who God and Jesus are, I really can’t understand myself.

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes:

As we sat there on the runway, the man with the book about the Apocalypse commented on the small gold cross I wear.

“Are you born again?” he asked, as we taxied down the runway. He was rather prim and tense, maybe a little like David Eisenhower with a spastic colon, I did not know hot to answer for a moment.

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that old Jonathan Miller routine, where he said, “I’m not really a Jew – I’m Jew-ish.” They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon-vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed.

So I told the truth: that I am a believer, a convert, I’m probably about three months away from slapping an aluminum Jesus-fish on the back of my car, although I first want to see if the application or stickum in any way interferes with my lease agreement.
That is kind of the way I approach my life. Before I decide I am anything I want to know how this impending choice is going to affect my lease agreement. How will this Jesus affect who I am? What will I be asked to do if I follow him?

I think that is why many churches don’t ask much of you; they keep Jesus just far enough away that you can’t get a good enough feeling about who this is. In this way our lives and choices are not complicated and a whole life of complicity can spread out before you.

The disciples were exactly the same way. They were in the midst of an identity crisis. Their leader, teacher, friend had led them into the city of Jerusalem and been crucified. Now he was no where to be found and they had locked themselves in a room for fear that they would be rounded up and caught and crucified.

Jesus comes and stand in their midst and they receive him. They know him. They recognize him. They are transformed by his presence in their lives.

His presence tells them who they are. They know him and they know themselves. He says to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

They find out they are forgiveness bearers. They find out that they are bearers of God’s peace to the world. Peace and forgiveness bearers that is their identity in the risen and transforming life of this “Resurrected Jesus.”

Now of course Thomas wasn’t there and he has to come along and see Jesus for himself. And, he does; and then he knows who he is. Thomas finds out he too, through his belief, is a peace and forgiveness bearer to the world. That is his identity.

What I love about the story is that the disciples and Thomas come to know the risen Jesus in two different ways. They require different manners of knowing. Both ways are all right, and both ways lead to understanding themselves. Their belief helps them to know who they are and what their purpose is.

Their experience informs their belief. Their belief transforms who they are.
Richard Rohr in Hope Against Darkness, writes:
Everybody looks at the world through their own lens, a matrix of culturally inherited qualities, family influences and other life experiences. This lens, or worldview, truly determines what you bring to every discussion. When Jesus spoke of the coming reign of God, he was trying to change people’s foundational worldview… When Americans speak of money as “the bottom line,” they are revealing more about their real worldview than they realize.

We would do well to get in touch with our won operative worldview. It is there anyway, so you might as well know what this highly influential window on reality is. It’s what really motivates you. Your de facto worldview determines what you pay attention to and what you don’t notice at all. It’s largely unconscious and it drives you to do this and not that. It is surely important to become conscious of such a primary lens, or we will never know what we don’t see and why we see other things out of all perspective.

Until we can allow the gospel to move into that deepest level of unconscious and touch our operative worldview nothing substantial is going to change.
What is your operating worldview?

What is your operating core?

What is your lens?

Is there room in the core of your being for God’s peace? Is there room in the heart of your heart for God’s forgiveness?

That seems to me to be the radical call of the Gospel: Peace and forgiveness. Supernatural grace: peace and forgiveness.

We say that we know and can see resurrection all around us. We see transformation in ourselves and in others. We know Easter is real. Easter has ontological value in our world. There is resurrection and transformation. There is peace and forgiveness.

But do we know this peace and forgiveness ourselves? Is it the lens that we view the world through?

When it becomes your lens, life changes for us. Gordon Cosby of the Church of Our Saviour in Washington, D.C. says:
“…We come to know that God’s grace is surrounding you and you rest back in it. You know you have been loved with this sort of love. And simply because you have entered into this love you are able to splash it around so that it touches anybody who comes close to you. For this is a supernatural grace and there are people who love in this way. I have seen them. I know them, and you recognize in them just enough of Jesus to make you uncomfortable.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” This is what it means to be a Christian. And if we do not love this way, we are not Christian.

Who am I today? Who am I tomorrow? I am a bearer of Christ’s peace and forgiveness. That is how they will know I am Christian; that is how I know I am Christian.

Who are you today? Who are you going to be tomorrow?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:3-13


"I would have fit in well in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians' struggles, which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1?4, resemble my own: jealousy, striving, arrogance, and a propensity to measure one's worth through comparisons with other people."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"... [Paul] is thinking about people who make claims that their actions flow from the Spirit. In effect it is indeed possible to curse Christ by what we do and think, even when we are claim to be acting and speaking by the inspiration of the Spirit."

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


On this Pentecost we attach Paul's writing on the gifts of the spirit.  Of course Paul is writing because there is an argument over whose gifts are most important and who is more important and what gifts are acceptable...blah blah blah.  It is typical of Christian community to argue not only over who is in and who is out but also what the hierarchy is once you are part of the group.  I think this is not unique to Christian community but the problem with community in general.

While the community is focused on the spiritual gift of speech, Paul reorients them to understanding that there are many gifts.  Deep within the text is a bit of important trinitarian theology.  Paul writes: “same Spirit ... same Lord ... same God” The Spirit is a gift of the Father; Christ was to serve or minister; and the Father is the creator of all things. This is where and how the gift giving is rooted in God. Nothing is for personal use all of it builds up the kingdom, builds up the church, and does God's work in the world.

There is the speaking but also wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  We each receive gifts for this work - the work of the church.

Because baptism is through the Spirit these gifts are through the spirit as well. Everyone no matter what their background, family of origin, or place within the roman social hierarchy - all are given gifts for ministry.

I believe that the place where these sermons go wrong - including my own in the past - is when we narrowly define the purpose of the gifts.  I think we do a good job of telling people they have gifts, that God receives them all into his kingdom, and that they are each blessed and chosen by God for his work. We fall down on this message when we so narrowly focus the gifts so as to imply that their use is only within the four walls of a church building.  When we do this we create a separate world apart from the world that God came to save.

God does welcome us all into his family, regardless of who we are and where we have been, he radically forgives and welcomes the prodigals.  He does this so that the world may know him and be reconciled.  The work takes place out in the world. The kingdom gifts are given to each and every person so that in their families, in their work, and in their life - in general - they may be a witness.  God has not raised all of us up, gone through this extraordinary ordeal, sent his Holy Spirit so that we might figure out how to keep the lights on in an empty church.  Our gifts are give for evangelism - spreading the Good News of Salvation through the unique witness of God in Christ Jesus AND our gifts are given that we might serve our neighbor and in so doing serve the God who created and has made all things - who gives life and light and love.  That is a much more important mission and it is the mission for which these gifts have been given.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 7A May 28, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think
Jesus Prays in the Garden coloring page.

Whatever the relationship between Jesus and God entails, glorification is a substantial part of it. In 7:39 we learn that believers had not yet received the spirit because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Commentary, John 17:1-11, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008

"John helps us avoid the commodification of the gospel and invites to an understanding of being good news by being community in which love is lived out."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter 7," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 17:1-11
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This section of John's Gospel is often referred to as Jesus' high priestly prayer. It is Jesus' prayer for his followers; it is also considered by the church to be Jesus' prayer for all those who would come to believe and follow Jesus into all the ages.

He prays the prayer between the events surrounding the last supper and his crucifixion.

Most scholars break the text up into the following parts.
1. Jesus prays first for himself
2. Jesus prays for his disciples, left in the world after his ascension
3. Jesus prays for the Church universal.
Jesus, probably standing as was the tradition in most Jewish prayer, looks up to heaven. We here the echo of passages throughout Joh's Gospel as Jesus begins by affirming that the Father has given him all authority. (3:27, 35, 5:27; 10:18; 19:10-11)
Jesus says that he has finished the work he was given to do. This is clearly stated throughout the text as the work of Glorifying God. This is work that is his own and is deeply rooted in his shared will with God the Father, a comes from the mission of God designed before the time of creation. That work is specifically to glorify God in and through the created world drawing all creation to God. This is the culminating statement of Jesus' teaching, healing, and feeding mission aimed at instructing God's people. (See Verse 7: “‘everything you have given me’”.)

Jesus begins to pray for those to whom he has ministered.  In verse 6: “I have made your name known”.
J. N. Sanders summarizes well this statement in his textual criticism:

"The Greek verb ephanerosa is used of the manifestation of Jesus, or of his glory, or of God’s works, in 1:31; 2:11; 9:3; 21:1, 14. Here it is to those given to Jesus by the Father that Jesus, by his words and deeds, makes known God’s “name”, i.e. his character and person." [Sanders, J.N. The Gospel according to John; London: Black 1968]

The witness of the apostles and those who experienced Jesus bear testimony to Jesus' next words. It is their experience of the mission of God in Jesus, his teaching, his life, and his resurrection and ascension that confirm the Gospel Good News.

From verse 8: through "the words...they ... know in truth that I came from you”.

Clearly Jesus is praying his desire for his followers, he is praying on our behalf.

Verse 9: “‘I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me'".

Others are not capable, unless they come to faith in Jesus (see v. 20), of sharing in what the Father gives.

He knows the road will be difficult. He knows the world will seek to divide and to stop the witness of The Gospel; that it will try to subvert it.

He knows that worldly fights will divide it. All we have to do is read the Epistles of Paul to see how the world quickly divides along opinions and egos. Jesus prays therefore as he and the divine community are one, so may all those who proclaim his name be one. Sanders believes that the scripture and division Jesus may have in mind could be Psalm 41:9 "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.”

At a vestry and wardens conference some years ago I did a bible study on this passage and challenged the church to live out the high priestly prayer of Jesus. Here are some missionary thoughts to be considered as you prepare to preach or study this passage in your bible groups.

Some thoughts on John 17 and Church leadership

Jesus understands that his mission was to glorify God and make known the only true God.  [17.1]
Is the primary purpose of our congregations to glorify God and to make him known, and to make Jesus Christ known [17.3]?

Jesus says that he has glorified God by finishing the work he was given to do. [17.4]
How are we finishing the work you are given to do?

Jesus understood that the people he met… the people whose lives he touched…were each given to him by God. [17.6].

Do we treat the people in your congregation like they were given to you by God? Do we treat every newcomer that walks onto your campus like they were given to you by God?

Jesus understood everything he was given in this world was given to him by God? [17.7]
Do we act as though everything we have been given is given to us by God? Do we act as though the church (the buildings, community, and money) is given to us by God? Or do we treat it as our own personal property?

Jesus’ ministry was so focused that everyone knew he was given to them by God? [17.8]
Does the world look at us and know that the Episcopal Church is given to them by God?

Jesus asks the Father to make us one. [17.11]
Are we as leaders working for unity with Jesus’ prayer or division?  Are we capturing the excitement of support or feeding the virus of anxiety?

Jesus asks the Father to protect us. [17.15]
Do we minister out of the knowledge that God will provide for us? Do we engage in ministry and the challenges of ministry with the wisdom that God is watching over us? Or do we do our work out of a sense of solitude?  Are we the ONLY ones who fix these problems?

Jesus asks the Father to fill us with his joy. [17.14]
Are we filled with Jesus’ joy? Do we laugh at our meetings? Is there joy in our communities?

Jesus asks the Father to sanctify us through the word. [17.17]
Are we as leaders bathing our ministries in scripture?

Jesus sends us into the world. [17.19]
Our congregations are in the world geographically, but are they out in the world in ministry?  What would those who live two blocks away from our church say about our ministry?

Jesus is apart of us. [17.23]
What is the view of Jesus that people see when they look at our congregations?

Jesus hopes that his love is in us and in our relationships and in our communities [17.26]
Are our congregations places where Jesus’ love is felt throughout the leadership? …throughout the congregation?  Does Jesus’ love flow out into the world from our communities?

Jesus’ priestly prayer is a powerful prayer.  It is an amazing thing to think that Jesus was praying for his disciples and he is praying for us today.  Jesus’ prayer, captured here in John’s Gospel is a prayer for us, for our ministries of leadership, for our congregations.

John 17 holds within it the hope Jesus has for his mission, the mission that is our own.

What would it be like to finish your term on the vestry or on your bishop’s committee, in Sunday school or by helping serve at the altar, and be able to say to yourself and to your God:

We were faithful.  We were faithful as a congregation in making God and Jesus known to our members and to the community around us. 
We glorified God with our very best.  And, while the mission isn’t fulfilled, we made headway on the goals and objectives we knew would make a difference.
Today we are better at treating people in our congregation as God given and beloved people of God. 
We were good stewards of what has been given and we did not bury it in the ground but were like the sower of seeds and scattered our gifts increasing 10, 20, 40 fold what we received.
Today I hear people freely talk about our church and its ministries and people as gifts from God in their life. 
We are more unified around our mission and we have a great feeling that God is watching over us and protecting us and providing for us. Even when things were tough we ventured out in faith because we knew God was with us.
What if you could say, “I had a great time serving on the vestry”? We laughed and I feel really close to those folks.  Church is a fun place to be.  We enjoy being together.
I know more about the bible today and how it affects leadership than I did when I first began serving.  I am hungry to know more.
I was wearing a church T-shirt the other day and someone came up to me and said, isn’t your church that church that makes a difference? It made a difference in my neighbor’s life.
Jesus is really alive to me.  I know he loves me and that was revealed to me through my work with these leaders.  In fact people in our church today feel a lot of love and talk about Jesus’ love more today than they did.
The reality is that all of these things are possible.  You are the leaders of our church.  Together you affect the ministry more than any other group in the church, any other group in the Diocese of Texas.

Will you take an honest and fearless inventory of the work that is before you?  Will you take and honest and fearless inventory of the way you live out your ministries?  Only you know the answers to Jesus’ questions of you.  Only you know the gap that exists between where you, your leadership, and your congregation is on the path to the vision Jesus has set for you.

Only you can bring the gifts of ministry to the altar of God and to bear upon the challenges before you.

Will you choose to be better leaders tomorrow than you are today?  Will you choose to be a better congregation than you are today?  Will you choose to increase your impact on the world around you?

Will you through your leadership and your ministry and your congregation make the world a better place?

Only you the leaders of this church, the people of the Diocese of Texas, can answer these questions.

Let me tell you what I believe.

I believe that Jesus expects the people and congregations of the Diocese of Texas to change the world in which we live.

I believe that Jesus calls us to build up the kingdom of God, not tear it down.

I believe that Jesus calls us to make God known and to grow and expand our ministry in the Diocese of Texas.

I believe that Jesus calls us to partner with people, share our stories, and help in the work of transformation.

I believe that Jesus expects us to love and care for the world around us and to help with its healing.

I believe Jesus calls us to be the resource filled diocese we are and not minister out of scarcity but an understanding that God has given us all that we need to grow and make a difference.

Jesus expects nothing less than that we glorify God by our work, and God deserves the very best.


"1 Peter reminds us that what is at stake in the sufferings of Christ-believers is not so much what they believed but what they did. Because they believed that Christ was Lord, and not Caesar, they strived to establish communities marked by love and solidarity rather than by hierarchy and a system of patronage and debt."

Commentary, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (Easter 7A), Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

I was enjoying preaching and thinking about Peter but today I am having a tough time. This is a difficult text because I think it is hard for us to understand the context as western people of global power whose suffering can often times be limited to cell phone outages and coffee shortages. Yet...lets have a go at it again.

The author continues to "exhort" his readers to be hopeful in their "ordeal". And, here is perhaps the important and revelatory preaching hermeneutical key for today....Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our suffering, Jesus promises to be with us, Jesus is with us.  Even when we may not think Jesus is with us he is. God is present.  It is not a matter of us suffering like Jesus so we can be with Jesus but that Jesus is with us by virtue of his promise, his suffering, and his resurrection.  

Moreover, this presence is a preparation, a foretaste, of the unity which we will experience in the world that is yet to come.  

We experience God's presence in our suffering and in our joy.  Sometimes we think God is only with us when everything is good and happy - going our way.  God is here, and perhaps even more visible, through our experiences of suffering.  We are keenly aware of him in both the good and the bad times.

Then our author turns to the leaders - the elders - of the community and charges them to behave and care for the faithful.  They are to be about the nurturing and pastoring of their flock.  They are to make sure that they share the truth of the gospel with everyone in the community.  They are to help all members understand what it means to follow Jesus.  They are to be examples of disciples themselves.

In this there will be humility for the whole community of Jesus followers.  In this they will be alert.  In these things they will be with God - even in their suffering.  In these things they will participate now in the kingdom that is to come.

The Ascension of Our Lord May 28, 2017

Ascension Day Transferred


Quotes That Make Me Think

"Incarnate Love, Crucified Love, Risen Love, now on the wing for heaven, waiting only those odorous gales which were to waft Him to the skies, goes away in benedictions, that in the character of Glorified, Enthroned Love, He might continue His benedictions, but in yet higher form, until He come again!"

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).

"The mission of the church here is nothing less than to go into the world as God?s people, and proclaim a subversive, transforming message about a suffering God who calls anyone without discrimination to respond."

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Easter C7), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

General Resources for Lessons

Prayer


You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. Clothe us now with power from on high, and send us forth as witnesses to the Messiah's resurrection from the dead, that, together with us, all the nations of the world may draw near with confidence to the throne of mercy. 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 24:44-53

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for the Gospel

Leading up to the passage chosen for Ascension day Luke is telling a very clear story. Jesus prophesied a coming reign of God. The empty tomb shows that the prophet king was telling the truth. The old prophesies made by the greater and lesser prophets of Israel telling about the suffering servant who will come to remake a new Israel are true. This is proved in the resurrection appearances. Jesus himself in life and post resurrection offering a new vision of life lived in the kingdom. He opens their minds to see what they did not see before. The disciples are eyewitnesses to the new reality and they are to ministers interpreting and retelling the story.(Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 405)


The disciples will not be left alone. God is sending the Holy Spirit. It cannot come and be fully in the world until he departs. Moses and Elijah who offered a vision of this new reign of God and have been part of the Gospel story throughout are reminders that the power of God is always passed on to the successor. (LTJ, Luke, 406) In these last paragraphs of the Gospel of Luke we see clearly that instead of anointing one with the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the disciples as a group are to receive the Holy Spirit and pass it on.


These last verses of Luke's Gospel are pregnant with the clarity that we are the inheritors of the good news of salvation. We are to be the inheritors of the vision of a different reign of God. We are the inheritors of God's mission to the poor.We are the inheritors of God's prophetic voice which passes along to others what we have received.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:15-23



Resources for the Epistle

Christ has been raised and now is elevated. This particular passage comes after the developed theme of the church as Christ's body. The elevation of Christ emphasizes the themes from Revelation that God has dominion over all and that the church is participating even now the new kingdom. Christ is even now pouring himself into the new emerging Christian community. Together we are even now being drawn towards the fulfillment of God's desire to gather us in. We may in fact live in the not yet like Paul's own little faithful community; but hope is present in the victory o f Christ raising and his elevation into heaven.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter 6A May 21, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I will show myself to him, and be known by him, as if he saw me with his eyes: but this showing of himself is not bodily, but spiritual, yet so plain that no other showing could be more evident."

From John Calvin's the Geneva Notes.

"To preach the promise of the Spirit and the assurance of Jesus' ascension in the middle of the Easter season may very well get us out of our resurrection ruts, that the resurrection is all that God has in store for us."

Commentary, John 14:15-21 (Easter 6A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Fifty-seven times Jesus uses love verbs (agapao, phileo). Add to that all of the occurrences of "friend" (which is the translation of philos) as well as the fact that the primary disciple in the Fourth Gospel is an unnamed character called "the beloved disciple," and we might accuse the author of touting a single issue.

Commentary, John 14:15-21, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good
things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such
love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above
all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we
can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 1979

Some Thoughts on Matthew
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We are coming to the end of our Easter readings, we are nearing the Ascension and Pentecost.  The text itself reflects the transition that is underway in the Gospel narrative of John and parallels our own liturgical season.  The words we receive from Jesus in this weeks lesson are words of comfort.  He is leaving them, the moment is near.  Just as the disciples have witnessed Jesus and therefore have experienced the Father's love and care; so as he departs he explains to them and to all those in the coming generations that they will always be close to God.

Jesus is fulfilling the final portion of the mission of God; he is explaining that he will pour upon them the very spirit of God the Advocate who will bind disciples of the living God together and to the divine being itself.
Those who follow will continue to experience Jesus, and the Father's love through the comfort and counsel of the Spirit.  In fact, the as the mission of God has always intended, those who follow and make community in Jesus' name will experience the closeness and presence of the Spirit as it is in this very community that the Spirit will dwell and make its home. (John v.23)

As I search the web for resources I think Chris Haslam does a very good job in describing the nature of the word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit. For those interested in the word study his comments follow:
"Verse 16: “Advocate”: The Greek word is Parakletos, which can be translated as Champion. The Greek word is derived from a verb meaning call to one’s side. The Latin word advocatus has the same meaning, but there is a distinction to be made between the Greek and Roman judicial systems. In a Roman court, an advocatus pleaded a person’s case for him, but a Greek parakletos did not: in the Greek system, a person had to plead his own case, but he brought along his friends as parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to his value as a citizen. One can argue that the sense in John is of giving help – as is usually the sense in the New Testament, e.g. encourage, comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and exhort in Romans 12:1. A Champion is one who supports by his presence and his words."
It is clear that Jesus understands that the Holy Spirit is like Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit represents the Father, and living and dwelling in the community of the Spirit will allow others who did not experience Jesus directly to experience the fullness of the Trinitarian community of God.  The Holy Spirit is another representative, a member of the family which is called God.  The spirit is a direct representative not simply an envoy.  This Spirit will offer to all the world through the community of beloved disciples, and the continuing community of witness and the life of the disciple the truth of Jesus, his life, and the nature of unity all have in God.

From the very earliest created moment God has desired to walk in the garden with his people.  The Diocese of Connecticut has this very wonderful way of expressing this desire of God, this mission of God:
"God created all things in love – the universe, earth, humanity. It was diverse, and it was good. Human sin entered in and distorted our relationship with God, one another, and creation. God seeks continually to overcome this alienation. This is God’s mission. God chose and liberated a people, sent the law and the prophets. God came in Jesus, fully human and fully divine, to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  God sent the Holy Spirit, empowering the Body of Christ.  God commissions us in baptism to participate in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation." -- Collaboratively written, and offered, by the Mission Discernment Initiative working group .
As Episcopalians we cannot read our verses today without proclaiming the Holy Trinity.  We are a people who believe in the community of God and God's desire through mission and evangelism that we unite people into his community. We are people who proclaim the community of love divine.

As you preach this Sunday I encourage you to speak of this key and essential understanding of God, how God desires us to be in community, celebrate the beauty and goodness of the communities in which you serve, and challenge all the people of God to undertake with God, the pleasure of being a missionary people inviting all the world into relationship bound by God's Holy Spirit.


"Perhaps suffering in this case means being willing to renounce certain things in the name of Christian faith."

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A), Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The point of this rather dense passage seems to be that the hearers need not fear suffering nor fear the powers that be."

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

Our Author is reflecting in the text the fact that the Christians he is writing to are enduring persecution. Households are divided and some are suffering.  He reminds his readers that no matter what comes they are to not fear or be intimidated.  They have faith.  This faith may bring persecution.  Nevertheless, by focusing on God and continuing to live your life as a follower of Jesus they will make it through this time. He writes:
...in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
The author then reminds us that God is a patient God. Our God is a god who in Christ Jesus suffered. Christ himself and many before us have suffered and died for their belief.  God has been patient as is revealed in the story of Noah and we might also remember Abraham.  God has waited patiently even until this moment.  Yet the God we believe in saves us.  Our God is patient and waits upon us and in return we are to (as Mary responds) wait upon the Lord.

In our present sufferings we are to remember our baptism in particular. We are to be mindful of Noah and our baptism.  He writes:
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
We are cleansed in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever.  This is true and powerful for those who are suffering.

I am mindful of recent comments from our Archbishop past and present who called the so called suffering of Christians in the west dramatized compared to the very real suffering, persecution, and death of our brother and sister Christians in other parts of the world.

As Christian people in the west we do not honor our fellow Christians who are suffering when we talk about suffering in the U.S. for instance.  Sometimes I think we cry wolf and call it persecution when we are challenged by prevailing attitudes that in turn persecute or treat others without dignity.

The context of Peter's letter is important. The letter is addressed to slaves, and Christians who have no power, who are in the minority, who are dying and being persecuted. He is offering them hope in their suffering. We in the west need to be vigilant to insure that we do not take this passage out of context and use it to protect racism, class-ism, or bigotry.  It is always good to know that when we are powerful we are to seek powerlessness. 


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter 5A May 14, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world."

"Let Jesus Show," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"This is a terribly difficult word to preach for surely there are always those among us whose heartfelt prayers have gone unanswered and whose hearts have been broken, whose trust shattered by Jesus' failure to keep this promise."

Commentary, John 14:1-14 (Easter5A), Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Rubens Painting of Philip

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


God, give us eyes to see
the beauty of the Spring,
And to behold Your majesty
in every living thing -
And may we see in lacy leaves
and every budding flower
The Hand that rules the universe
with gentleness and power -
And may this Easter grandeur
that Spring lavishly imparts
Awaken faded flowers of faith
lying dormant in our hearts,
And give us ears to hear, dear God,
the Springtime song of birds
With messages more meaningful
than man's often empty words
Telling harried human beings
who are lost in dark despair -
'Be like us and do not worry
for God has you in His care.

Helen Steiner Rice
Read more at: http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Easter.htm#ixzz1MvRo6SBN
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution


Some Thoughts on John 14:1-14
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This week we continue with Jesus' teaching of the interrelated life of the Apostolic community and the Holy Trinity. In my opinion this passage gives an understanding of the interrelated nature of God as Trinity and how that interrelated life is to be a part of the interrelated life of the community.
The very first verses are key to the creedal arguments of the second century and the statement that the Spirit proceeds from the Father became a chorus for the Greek or more Western argument.

Jesus says that the Spirit will bear witness to him. What is meant theologically is that the Holy Spirit will, in it's very person, bear witness to the unity and love between the Father and the Son, and bear witness to their love. The Spirit is the very perfect image of God's love.
It is also clear that the Spirit will provide the undergirding of the community and that those followers, the one's whom Jesus called to be with him, will be witnesses because of God's presence with them in and through the Spirit.

It is clear that the passage holds within itself and Jesus' words a sense of dread for the apostolic community that remains. Whether a forecast of things to come or reflecting the reality of the time in which the text was written, the message is clear throughout chapter 14 - as the Jesus movement continues to take shape and bear witness to a new community life they'll be segregated and separated from the religious roots from which their faith was birthed.

Religious zealots have always sought to purify religion (it is human nature it seems). I cannot help reflect on the major stories of religious upheaval, from Babel to Babylon to Pentecost to the Reformation, we see God building and rebuilding his faithful followers challenging them in ever new ways. Phyllis Tickle speaks of these moments as great shifts. The nature of the church as Family of God is deeply rooted in these emerging shifts over thousands of years. N. T. Wright's work also gives a clear understanding of the emerging deuteronomistic family of God and how it has shaped us.
The disciples are right in the midst of a great shift and Jesus tells them they will not be alone, and that the Spirit will help them to understand their witness of the Truth which is clearly meant to be the Living Word Jesus Christ. From Stephen to Polycarp the names of the earliest martyrs are eternally with us. Perpetua and her friends have been joined by a holy family of saints who have paid the cost of faith - a family of God martyred by Christians and non Christians alike. Even Thomas and Philip who ask Jesus these questions, will be a faithful healers and preachers and will die as a martyrs for thier faith.

There is martyrdom of the physical body and there is martyrdom of the conscience, too. Our zealotry has little room today for difference of opinion and conscience falls away as we wrestle with the cult of belonging. The heresies of the ancient world catch up with us once again, Donatism and its friend on the opposite sides of the spectrum Gnosticism; Nazarene to its partner Manichaeism. Each requires perfection of its followers, rather than mutual and communal discernment of the Holy Spirit's revelation, which begins not with our knowledge, but of unknowing our common search for truth and our common brokenness and sinfulness. Always beyond us and always our aim, the collect for Richard Hooker is therefore prayed in hope: help us seek unity not for the sake of compromise but for the sake of comprehension.
I guess all of this is to say that it is easier for humans to walk apart because of their zealotry than it is for us to walk together for the sake of truth. No wonder Jesus prayed for the comforter to come and for the unity of those who follow him!

The verses  which come towards the end of the passage, and yet are not included in our reading, confirm the reality of Jesus' own perfect revelation in that the Spirit's work will confirm what has been taught. There will not be a new or differing revelation as time wears on. Now some will say, but don't we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work and reveal God in the world through the mission and ministry of those who follow Jesus?

I think sometimes we get confused about what is changing. As a person who loves to think systematically and theologically, how I understand this may in fact be different than most, but what I am about to say also fits with my understanding of the Episcopate as keeper of the church's faith, handing down a living tradition of apostolic belief. The revelation of God in the unique person of Jesus Christ and the community of the Godhead as Trinity is an unchanging reality and faith. However, I remember at this point, and always at this point (humbly I must admit), the prayer for the church from our prayer book, page 816: where [the Church] is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it... All this is to say that here are the areas where I believe the church is challenged, not with new revelation but with the challenge of seeing God and God's mission more clearly.
Raymond Brown confirms this reading in today's text when he writes:

"Verse 14 reinforces the impression that the Paraclete brings no new revelation because he receives from Jesus what he is to declare to the disciples..." The author records Jesus' concept that he, like the Paraclete, is an "emissary of the Father. In declaring or interpreting What belongs to Jesus, the Paraclete is really interpreting the Father to men; for the Father and Jesus possess all things in common...In Johannine thought it would have been unintelligible that the Paraclete have anything from Jesus that is not from the Father, but all that he has is from Jesus." (R.B., Anchor Bible, John, vol ii)
Perhaps in our time the Gospel -- the Good News-- is the promise that seeking the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will, intends to be nothing less than a pilgrimage into the heart and community of God. So I pray at the end of my life's journey, may I find I am closer to God and that such a closeness reveals and births in me a love for my real and ever expanding family of God.


"While it has become commonplace these days to describe the coming Kingdom as a reality far removed from the plane of this world, there is really nothing in Peter's eschatologically-oriented letter to suggest such a notion. For him, the revelation of Christ was destined to happen in the midst of creation itself, and it was here that Christians were called to be a priestly community in anticipation of the event."

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:2-10 (Easter5A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"These expressions converge in a vision of Christian life that 1 Peter shares with many apostolic writings. Everyone who receives adoption into God's people enters that new life by grace alone (sounding a note that the Old Testament makes frequently and forcefully)."

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:2-10, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

We might well remember that Peter is writing to a household of new believers. They had all gotten a new God. Everything in this faith is new to them and some may not have even chosen to become Christian. As part of the household they would have simply been baptized with the rest of the family.  So the text is a text of instruction.

The author uses that wonderful image of living stones. They are all part of this new household, this new family, of which Christ is the chief living stone.

Then the author goes through the Old Testament and reveals to the new members that this was and is the way it is to be. They are part of a long and ancient heritage - this is a value of their ancient society.  We see clearly then that Psalms, Isaiah and Hosea are prophecies telling of the coming Christ, the followers and the church that is even now being raised up.

Chris Haslaam writes:
In v. 7, Christ is the “stone”; he is rejected by the community’s pagan persecutors but to us he is of great value (“precious”). Their rejection was ordained by God before time (“as they were destined ...”, v. 8). In v. 9, the terms used of Christians are all from the Old Testament – where they refer to Israel. The Church, the new Israel, is “chosen” by God to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection (“mighty acts [of God]”); it is God who chose the new Christians for conversion from paganism, “out of darkness into ... light”. In baptism, they have come from having no relationship to God (“not a people”, v. 10) to being “God’s people”, to receiving God’s gift of “mercy”.
 Just as the readers had no part in receiving their old Gods they have no part in receiving their new God. This God has chosen them though from before time. It was meant to be.  Chiefly among their items of inheritance is the gift of mercy and forgiveness.

While their old Gods desired of them many sacrifices and many liturgies (even in the household amidst their daily routine), this God is a God of freedom and relationship.  They are marked in this new relationship by the waters of baptism.

This is a truly foreign idea to someone living today. I think as a preacher you have to relate through the notion of what enslaves and requires attention of you today...what are the gods that are controlling your current life?  Do you know that this ancient creator God has chosen you?  Are you aware of what this God requires? This God has in fact chosen you as he has chosen Israel and he is a God of mercy and forgiveness and love.  This God does not require constant maintenance but rather acts of sharing, of kindness, of mercy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter 4A May 7, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Seeing that by Christ alone we have access to the Father, there are no true shepherds other than those
who come to Christ themselves and bring others there also, neither is any to be thought to be in the true sheepfold but those who are gathered to Christ." 

From John Calvin's work the Geneva Notes

"One lesson here is that sheep fare best together, not picked off one by one. Another is that there is promise of great pasturage, abundant life for all who follow Jesus' way. A third is that there is something public, open, honest, and even simple about how we live as God's people through Jesus."

Commentary, John 10:1-10, (Easter 4A), Sarah Henrich , Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

O God, whose goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, you have made Jesus, whom you raised from the dead, the gate through which we, the sheep of your flock, may enter the sheepfold of abundant life.  Pour forth upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that a midst the corruption of this age and over the voices of those intent on leading us astray, we may learn to recognize the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who came that we may have life, life in all its fullness.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 10:1-10
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The context within the Gospel text is the healing of the blind man. Jesus has healed the blind man, who was blind from birth. The authorities have not understood and have smarted a little (int he last verses of 9) regarding Jesus' words to them regarding their leadership. Jesus then begins the teaching in chapter 10.

The double amen leads off today's text, a repetition we are familiar throughout the Johannine text. Thieves and bandits, (literally street fighters or revolutionaries) climb in and steel sheep. They have to make their way over some kind of stone wall most likely and scramble through a next of thorny dried bushes. It takes some work and is a painful enterprise most likely; even for the most determined thief. Nevertheless, this is how bandits do it.

A shepherd enters the gate, gets the sheep. Calls them by name (pet names) and leads them out and they follow. Sometimes a helper brings up the rear...but the chief shepherd leads. The gatekeepers helps by getting the door (don't spend a lot of time on this image and difference between gatekeeper and shepherd as many scholars think this was a latter scribal adjustment to help people understand how the shepherd got out) and all march out by the sound of the shepherds voice. (Raymond E. Brown, John, Anchor Bible, textual notes, 386)

Sheep don't follow strangers. This seems logical, and I have heard and read a number of texts describing how shepherds and sheep know one another well. Sheep follow their shepherd's voice. Verse 5 gives us an inter textual understanding here: "They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

The disciples who are the audience (while it is conceivable that the audience is the same audience from before - the blind man who was worshiping Jesus and the leaders). So, they want to know what Jesus is saying and how these images have meaning in their current context. Jesus offers clearly his take: he is the gate:
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I think the text should continue. There is an important part of the text which speaks directly to Jesus as the one who will lay down his life for the sheep and offers him as the much better alternative to the thieving and killing bandits.

We essentially have here the parable of the shepherd and sheep (1-5); the misunderstanding by the listeners (6), and the explanation (7-10).

Raymond Brown offers two interpretations to the meaning of Jesus as the gate. First, we cannot separate the comment of Jesus from the context and climate existing prior to Jesus' own time and stretching back through the intertestamental time period which embodies much of the Jesus movement understanding and that is the displeasure with the occupying authorities and some dissatisfaction with the religious rulers. In this interpretation we have something far from the idyllic pastoral seen and rather inherit here a frontal attack on all those who would use authority in an unjust manner. While Jesus is given all authority he is not that way. (393)

The second idea that Brown floats for us is the idea that the gate is the gate of salvation. (394) In the very earliest patristic sources we see Jesus as the gate by which people enter salvation. Here is just one of the many:
Christ. “For I am,” He says, “the door,” John x. 9. which we who desire to understand God must discover, that He may throw heaven’s gates wide open to us. For the gates of the Word being intellectual, are opened by the key of faith. No one knows God but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him. (Clement of Alexandria)
While Jesus is the giver of water, bread, and wine here we see him as the provider of pasture over an against the death promised by others. These two images then (gate of salvation and salvation's pasture) are important. This pasture is the fullness of life; fullness of life today and tomorrow.

This week I am thinking about a conversation that I had recently with a group of clergy about preaching and teaching. The idea we explored was about the nature of community as defined over and against other communities; and as a community engaged in the world.

The context of Jesus' ministry as described in this Gospel message is very much one in which the movement itself is distinguishing the nature of its mission from those around it (government, religious sects, and power). John's community was developing and growing. Perhaps a network of house churches connected to a larger community in which diversity and growth are pressing on the fundamental quality of who the community is; who does the community reflect.

There are seven "I am" statements in John. These I am statements help define both Jesus, Jesus' community, and John's community. In Richard Burridge's John commentary he has a great line: "So Jesus has to spell it out, 'I am the door of the sheep'; he is the way to safety and salvation. Unlike the thieves and robbers, and the false leaders, he will not cast out, but save and protect all those who hear his voice and respond." (133)

As we listen and respond to the image Jesus gives us I would ask how are we doing? Jesus is the door, the gate, he is the way of safety and salvation. How are our communities self-differentiating themselves within their neighborhood and city in which we life as a community of safety and salvation? Are we the ones who are perceived as thieves and robbers? Are we the ones who are thought of as false leaders? If so how do we correct that vision of us? When people come to us, or encounter us at work in the world, do they feel cast out or brought in, saved and protected, condemned and put in jeopardy?

This is quite the challenge if we are today to continue in the apostles understanding and teaching; if in fact we are to be the continuing community of Jesus in the world around us today.


"We must also see Jesus' death in the light of his life; otherwise we will have no idea what this life is for which he died and think it some kind of promise of escape to bliss." 

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia. 

"Though Peter is intent on teaching his readers about what is good and right to believe about the love of God the Father, the suffering of the Son, and the sustaining work of the Spirit, he balances all of this with an emphasis on anastrophe, the adoption of a way of life distinctive to the Christian faith." 

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:19-25, (Easter 4A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh , Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

We continue with another reading from the first letter attributed to Peter.  It goes well with the image of sheep and shepherd found in John's Gospel.
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
What becomes clear as we make our way through this pastoral letter is that the author is intent on offering clarity around what is expected of a person who chooses to follow the risen Lord Jesus.  A number of scholars point out that this is part of the traditional and cultural household code. Here is the problem we must face...this passage begins with an address to slaves. The passage we read is meant for slaves. It is not meant for women, householder, or children. So, the passage presents a number of problems.

So how will you preach it? Will you own the fact that it is meant for the household slaves and then interpret anyway? Will you simply adapt it? The passage has a different meaning in a context where perhaps there is the persecution of Christians and a completely different thing in a context where the Christian is the persecutor.  Also, one must be careful not to suggest that people should simply have their place and go along to get along - as the saying goes.  With these troubling thoughts at the forefront of our mind let us wade into the actual text a bit and see what we might come up with.

First, I think you should tell everyone where this passage comes from (the ancient household code) and that it was addressed in this letter to household slaves. Tell them that this is troubling but with that in mind it might offer us a vision of how we might follow this Jesus - for we have been lost and God has found us in the Good Shepherd.

I want to say that the author recognizes that people are treated unjustly. It is the unjust part which Peter is focused upon.  God is present with you in your suffering. We mentioned this last week. And here in the suffering unjustly God is with you as well - God's approval. Approval is translated here from a word that is better offered as "favor." God is with you, God is ever more present, ever more concerned, and God weeps with you in your unjust suffering - God favors you.

When you suffer silently you mimic Christ. Okay so here is the tough part. I don't think that I can preach that God intends for you to suffer silently - but rather that your silence - like Christ's - might have a purpose.  
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
The purpose of Christ are redemption, reconciliation, the cross, the coming of the Kingdom of God. He did not suffer for sufferings sake.  Christ suffered in order that we might be free.  So the question is...did Peter mean get along and suffer quietly? If so...abandon that train of thought now. It might not be worth the sermon.  However, if the suffering was to bring about transformation in the householder, the one who unjustly acted against you, to create an opportunity for freedom then by all means move forward with it.

I am reminded here of a great article written regarding the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. for Black America. You can read it here by Hamden Rice.  Rice points out that MLK did not make white people nicer, instead he taught black people that they could stand up. Here is a quote from that article that I was reminded of when struggling about this text.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of "assault," which could be anything from rape to not taking off one's hat, to "reckless eyeballing."

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father's memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people. The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.
...The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn't do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of nonviolent resistance, and taught the practices of nonviolent resistance.)
So what did they do?
They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.
If we do it all together, we'll be okay.
 They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn't that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
Rice points out that what followed was largely the end of terrorism on black people that was rampant in the country. Rosa Parks didn't make a big deal - she just didn't move to the back of the bus. The people beaten in the nonviolent protests went about it peacefully singing We Shall Overcome. Those thrown in jail unjustly in order to try and maintain white control were visited there by God.  God knows what we did and God strengthened his people to withstand the onslaught of such suffering.  If you can take 1 Peter and help us teach people how to use peaceful means to combat injustice I want to encourage you to go all out.

Now...while that version of dealing with the text takes it and twists it a bit...my next thought is that as a preacher you could tell people that when they oppress and treat people unjustly then they should know that God is watching and taking note - according to this passage. God knows - no matter how quiet or how loud the wailing is - who is responsible. God also will not favor or be found with such acts. God also does not take kindly to people who use God to abuse others, to beat others, to imprison others falsely, or to kill others.  It is wrong and God knows it.  It is wrong and we know it.  

God in the end is on the side of those treated unjustly...so much so that he comes into the world to unbind those shackled by the law and to free them to live life anew responding to grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  One might even ask in the end...how are we who follow Jesus to be the gate to justice, freedom, and peace for God's people.  And we might ask ourselves, "What are we willing to stand up and suffer in order to offer peace in this world to those who have no peace?"
 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter 3A April 30, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think



"I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that." 

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

"Today's reading ends with the commissioning of the disciples. One will be able to make the connection with today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles."

Commentary, Luke 24:36b-48, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

As we hear the word that brings salvation, make our hearts burn within us. In the breaking of the bread, open our eyes to recognize the One whose feast it is. Through the presence of every friend and stranger, real to us the face of the Christ who had first to suffer but who has entered now into glory, the Lord Jesus, our Passover and our Peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 24:13-49
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The Road to Emmaus comes in our reading cycle every year A the third Sunday of Easter. But what is so compelling about this story that as I think about it appears in my minds eye to be the strongest story of the Gospels?

Jesus appears to two disciples outside the walls; some seven miles from Jerusalem.  They are talking about all the things which have happened.  In this particular testimony we are watching the transition from the crucifixion and the Easter resurrection become the mission of a new community.  In Luke's Gospel we must remember we are marching always towards Pentecost and Acts.  We are given in today's lesson a memory of the events. We are reminded of what our story is; and in the author's own way he gives us permission to be somewhat concerned and curious about the past and what lays ahead.

If we remember that this Gospel is written that we may believe an in believing be transformed so as to offer and communicate the same Gospel for others.  Luke Timothy Johnson captures well the event of conversion in Lukes' testimony.  Conversion is for Luke an his community the following notion:

The Word of God demands the acceptance of the prophetic critique and a "turning" of one's life. Conversion is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely joined to the pattern of the prophet and the people.  Jesus' ministry is preceded by the Word of God spoken through the prophet John, which called people to repentance.  Acts opens with the preaching of Peter which also calls for repentance. Those who enter the people that God forms around the prophet must "turn around. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 23)
This reception of grace and turning births faith in the follower of Jesus.  After hearing one comes to believe and one seeks to mold one's life to the shape of the prophet's life - Jesus' life.  Here is what Luke Timothy Johnson writes about faith:

In Luke-Acts, "faith" combines obedient hearing of the Word and patient endurance.  It is not a momentary decision but a commitment of the heart that can grow and mature.  Essential to the response of faith is the practice of prayer.  Jesus prays throughout his ministry; and teaches his disciples to pray.  Luke also provides splendid samples of prayer, showing a people for whom life is defined first of all by its relationship with God. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 24)
In the Gospel story we are seeing these two disciples, who have converted, who are faithful move through the enduring walk post Easter.  Like all of us wondering and maturing as we make our way with Jesus. 

So...they are walking and talking about all the events. They are wondering and one might even say wandering.  As they do this (reminding me always of the prayer of Chrysostom, "when two or three are gathered in his name you will be in the midst of them...") Jesus is present, physically with them.   He engages with them. 

The disciples do not recognize him, the text implies they aren't able...perhaps not allowed to know him.  We do not know why, it may be that their sadness and sorrow prevents them from seeing who is with them.  They are sad because they had hoped in Jesus.  The words seem here to play out two meanings. The first meaning certainly is the idea that Jesus was the new Moses to lead his people out.  The second meaning is found deeper in the text and is rooted in the idea the the words used are of a more spiritual nature.  Israel, the Abrahamic family of God, was hoping to be delivered.  This reluctance to believe, this inability to see the triumph of prophetic revelation in the resurrection of Jesus  is a failure of heart - Jesus says.

And, he opens up for them the story. He retells the story. One can imagine if we sat and read Luke all the way through in one sitting that we would hear and rehear the teaching that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all the scriptures and in and through his death onto the other side of resurrection had delivered the people of Israel from bondage.

In this retelling of the whole story from creation until Emmeus, in the breaking of the bread, and in his very presence with them their eyes are open to recognize him.   He then vanishes, he is no longer visible. In an instant realization, and in another moment gone.

They then quickly tell others and we can imagine Luke writing down this testimony; the Gospel of Luke itself recounting the first witness of events on the road to Emmeus.

So the work of conversion and faith begins its cyclical manifestation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Luke Timothy Johnson remarks on Luke's writing, "As people tell the story to each other, they also interpret the story."  He continues:

Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their conviction.  The resurrection shed new light on Jesus' death, on hi words, and on the Scriptures.  The "opening of the eyes" to see the texts truly and the "opening of the eyes" to see Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning....Luke shows us how the risen Lord taught the Church to read Torah as "prophecy about him." (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 399)
I have leaned on Luke Timothy Johnson a great deal in this passage as I think he does the very best with it.  The preacher has many opportunities for topics on this Mother's Day.  I encourage you to think deeply about speaking about how we have come to understand and to know the witness of Jesus both through others, and through our texts.  For Episcopalians we read the text in community. We read the texts of scripture on the road to Emmeus, struggling together and inviting Jesus to be in our midst revealing the truth, the way and the life that lies before us as people of the resurrected Christ.




"Old habits die hard, especially when they have had a lifetime to reach their roots deep into the human psyche." 

Commentary, 1 Peter 1:17-23, (Easter3A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The good news of God's announcement of grace could be matched with several aspects of the human condition. To give just one example we can mention our mortality."

Commentary, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Richard Jensen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Into Peter's letter we see an emerging concern over what happens when Jesus' returns. I will always remember how my NT professor drilled it into our heads that the first followers of Jesus thought that we would return soon and very soon - as the hymn goes.  Peter says be ready.  God is returning. Do good works. Peter says, in Texas speak, "Look you'all Jesus is coming back, he has purchased your freedom with his blood, so get busy doing his work."

Christians are receive grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love from God in Christ Jesus and then we are asked...so what is your response? Peter's is you need to live a life worthy of the cross.  Life an ethical life.  

This is going to separate you from the world. You will make different choices than the rest of the world and that is okay.  God keeps his promise, the one set from the foundation of the world, to give his love.  Your work is to recognize this gift and to approach the world with the gift in mind.

This is very important - approach the world as forgiven people who did not deserve to be forgiven Peter might say.  So meet all those around you with love and forgiveness as well.

Peter then offers the notion that this notion of forgiveness and love is rooted in baptism.  Baptism is a new birth reorienting our life.  Peter writes:
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.