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)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Transfiguration - Last Epiphany A February 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"You can tell them that they are called, that this story is their story, that they have a part to play in God's ongoing drama to save, bless, and care for all the world. But you can also listen. And this may be just as important."

"The Transfiguration of Peter," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"Jesus' followers receive the promise that his story and their story will be forever intertwined, whether they are on mountaintops or in valleys or someplace in between..."

Commentary, Matthew 17:1-9, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"While interpretation should bridge the distance between the biblical texts and ourselves, it should not facilely collapse that distance, drawing parallels that are not parallel, thereby reducing and even trivializing a grand text."

"Christ is Not as We Are," Fred B. Craddock, The Christian Century. At Religion Online, 1990.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God of all that is worthy of trust and destined to endure, you have made the words of your Son a solid rock on which the children of your kingdom can build their lives. Shelter us from the storms of mere worldly wisdom; anchor our judgments and choices in your timeless truth; that, with our lives set securely on this firm foundation, we may not collapse int he face of adversity or assault, but stand steadfast and true in the faith that endures. 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 Matthew 17:1-9

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Matthew is ever the story teller. His art shines through in this narrative of the Transfiguration. Certainly we see (as we have already seen in other parts of the Matthean Gospel) traces of the Sinai experience of Moses and God, and Moses with his followers. The telling of the Jesus story has mimicked the landscape and has given us a sense of space and place not unlike the Exodus itself.

Scholars in most texts say - that is not all. Matthew weaves images from Daniel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 255)  The transfiguration is central in the revelation of who Jesus is. 

We have talked some in the past few weeks about Jesus as a new Moses and new Elijah. We have talked about how Jesus' ministry begins a new age of prophetic action and an age of the Holy Spirit. 
We have talked about the emerging importance of the disciples in this new ministry; and how each follower of Jesus becomes a bearer of the Good News of Salvation in the world through action and word. Here in this text we see clearly these themes amplified.

Jesus is not Moses or Elijah - that time is over. Jesus is leading his disciples not to create a revolution in religious thought which still manifests itself in one or two given locations. No. Jesus is recreating the world holistically. Jesus' mission is not in a temple on a mountaintop, or even in in one country. His ministry is not a ministry where the followers come to him, but a ministry where the followers primary worship act is going with him into the world.

In his Lambeth address to the Bishop, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that we needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. He remarked at the reality of sin in such a belief that God must be protected by us. He instead offered an image, which remained with me after reading it on Tuesday morning this week, that we are to go out of our churches and places of worship to find Jesus already out in the world. We are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world.

We might remember as we reflect on the Transfiguration Jesus' own words earlier in Matthew: Follow Me. Not please come with me, but a command -- follow him. Here again Jesus leads his followers out into the world, off the mountain top, out into the place where the proclamation of Jesus Christ is made.

Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 1:16-21

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"One could use these two texts to tie together the splendor of the gift of the law and of the gift of the son, two markers of God's covenant with humanity. This could be underscored by comparing what Moses brings off the mountain “the Law“ with what Christ brings off the mountain “his own body"; both of these serve as the vehicles of divine relationship with the community of faith."

Commentary, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

This passage is chosen specifically to accompany the story of the transfiguration.  Yet there is a little bit more here as well.

The passage begins by saying that the author has not followed myths - in this context the word myth refers to clever lies.  He then refers to his won experience of seeing the majesty of Jesus and refers to the transfiguration event.  Stating as an eye witness to the moment of God's blessing Jesus in Majestic Glory.

The author then makes it clear that the transfiguration itself is further proof of the resurrection.  It is a prophetic message because it came true.  This reality, the author argues, is to be a light of knowledge which out shines the myths and lies.  The prophecy of scripture (meaning the books of the Torah and Prophets - there was no New Testament at the time of this writing) is proven by actions in the world - like the transfiguration.  Moreover, what the reality of this worldly proof means is the the words of scripture and their prophecy of the messiah were written by men and women moved by the Holy Spirit.

This passage leans heavily on the Jewish understanding of prophecy.  The first rule is the most basic: if the prophecies don't come true, that prophet is a false prophet. The second rule applies when a prophecy has come true or the prophet performs a miraculous sign: if his doctrine contradicts that already revealed. These are the basics.

I think what is of profound importance is that Peter's experience of grace, of majesty, of God - the mysterium tremendum et fascinans! - is one that helps reveal the prophetic message of deliverance found in the ancient scriptures.  [A reminder - mysterium tremendum et fascinans is the “numinous” (the spiritual dimension), the utterly ineffable, the holy, and the overwhelming. The “holy” is manifested in a double form: as the mysterium tremendum (“mystery that terrifies”), in which the dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming aspect of the numinous appears as the mysterium.] (I used to teach Rudolph Otto's Idea of the Holy from which this notion stems.)

We might well invite our people to talk about the places where they experience or see God.  How do these experiences (like the proof of the old testament prophetic school and Peter) reveals the truth found in Holy Scripture.

Some Thoughts on Exodus 24:12-18

In this passage Moses goes to Mt. Sinai to receive the law. There is a cloud that covers the mountain and God appears in glory. Moses enters the great cloud to be with God and to receive the law. He is there for forty days and nights echoing the Israelites journey in the wilderness.

The passage just before this is very important to the story of Matthew as it prefigures the experience of the Jesus and his invitation to follow. All of this is a clear parallel of story, image, and mystical event.

Of course, we are to see Jesus as the greatest prophet, even greater than Moses, and in some way the appearance of Moses and Elijah represent God’s anointing finger upon Jesus. He like Moses, like God, appears on the mountain top in glory.

And, just as Moses went down into the valley from the mountaintop, so too Jesus will go. He will go and deliver the people into a new promised land. The echoes are intentional and the idea of all people (as in Zechariah’s prophesy) receiving deliverance at the hand of Jesus (just as they did at the hand of Moses) is not an image to be missed as preachers offer a word this week.

The first followers of Jesus saw in him a Moses, a deliverer, one who had come low but who would rise. Moreover, when they read back into the Old Testament it is clear that they saw all of the narrative as a prefiguring of the ultimate salvation narrative. Indeed as the Incarnation is eternal, then we see throughout the Old Testament, the working of the mighty Word pushing forward through time the deliverance of ALL of God’s people.

As the saying goes…we believe in the God who raised Jesus after first raising Israel out of Egypt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Epiphany 7A February 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"You see the lines in their faces and the way they walk when they're tired. You see who their husbands and wives are, maybe. You see where they're vulnerable. You see where they're scared. Seeing what is hateful about them, you may catch a glimpse also of where the hatefulness comes from. Seeing the hurt they cause you, you may see also the hurt they cause themselves. You're still light-years away from loving them, to be sure, but at least you see how they are human even as you are human..."

"Enemy," Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark.

"Walter Wink makes the case: 

"that antistenai has to do with violence. The word is formed from anti--"against"--and stenai--"to stand." Literally, the word means "stand against" or "withstand." Wink notes its repeated use in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as a word for "warfare." Likewise, it appears in Ephesians in a context of warfare (6:13). Josephus, writing in the time of Jesus, continually uses antistenai to mean armed struggle... Therefore, the sentence should be translated: "Do not violently resist the evil one."

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Lift from our hearts the burden of hatred, and drive all resentment far from our lives; so that, loving not only our neighbors but even our enemies, we may, by your grace, be perfect, even as you are perfect. 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 Matthew 5:36-48

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As last week we are continuing our passage from the sermon on the mount wherein Jesus uses the phrase, "You have heard that it was said...." 

Last week we worked on lust, marriage, and swearing (oath taking). This week we are presented with two more. They are offered as examples of how Jesus "came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it."

This is an important theme within the whole of Matthew's Gospel as Jesus is the righteous one and those who claim to be his followers are to be righteous still. We might recall that last week I talked about how Jesus is in these reflections being very pointed about his comments and is clearly making them with the idea that one's commitment to these principles is a necessary component to one's response to the covenant God has with all of creation and with us specifically as creatures.

The last two antithetical teachings have to do with violence and with loving neighbor. 

Jesus is clearly calling those who would follow him and desire to fulfill all righteousness must refrain from violence; in fact choose intentionally not to enact violence upon one another. Specifically not to retaliate or seek to revenge violence with violence. 

What would a world be like if we were able to create a culture wherein people lived whole lives without physical violence being done to them. I think as Christians and as people who live in a world of the Internet and a world with an understanding of psychology we must broaden Jesus' imperative to say that we as Christians are called, challenged, to live a life without being violent in our words (written or spoken), in our emails, videos, conversations, treatment of others, etc. The world would be a very different place today if Christians took this to heart. I imagine the world would be transformed if we simply tempered in some measure the violence we perpetrate and perpetuate on others. 

I don't believe that Jesus is saying don't stand against the oppressor, but he is saying don't wound or kill him. In fact do not wound or kill his/her character. 

This passage again ties into the notion that the law itself was based upon how one reacts to another.  You do this thing so I do this thing..type of approach.  Jesus has reoriented the conversation. He says God is impartial with his love and forgiveness to you.  How will you respond?  A follower of Jesus and of God is to respond with the same impartiality - regardless of what the other person does.  Jesus has reversed the work of the law, not only fulfilling it but raising it to a higher quality.  This higher demand of the law - your response to God's action - is one that was purchased upon the cross of Christ when he himself stood against all evil, all sin, and all brokenness - holding it tightly into the grave where by he left it and rose on the third day.  His trampling of the law and death and is invitation to respond is supposed to be the hallmark of our Church's mission.

Christian community today is very complicated and the reality is that most congregations have been involved in violent heart rending conflict in the past decade.The congregational study called FACTS reports: 86% of congregations had conflict in the last five years. 32% of churches reported very serious conflict. Of congregations that had serious conflict, that conflict: is ongoing in 6%; remains, but is no longer serious in 28%; was resolved with no negative consequences in 26%; was resolved with some negative consequences in 40%.The report says that the following are the primary reasons for conflict in a congregation: priest’s leadership style (17% so report); money/finances/budget (11%); priest’s personal behavior (11%); who makes a decision (10%); member’s personal behavior (7%); how worship is conducted (6%); program/mission priorities (5%); and for theology (4%).

From what I gather these statistics are not unique to Episcopal congregations alone. I believe one can make a case that based upon this statistic most congregations have not paid much attention to this passage of scripture at all! 

One might also say this may very well be one of the most important passages to preach!I believe that if we as Christians and as Christian communities do not truly try to work on this area regarding loving our brothers and sisters, our enemies and our neighbors unconditionally as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does then we will perpetually live within the false expectation that people will want to become members of the community of Jesus Christ; a community which promises love and kindness, gentleness and hope.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The buzz of self-promotion and the satisfaction at increased recruitment, even in the name of Jesus, can so easily go awry."

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

"Corinth is holy because God's spirit dwells in it. Holiness is not Corinth's possession. It is a gift that has been given to it by Christ."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Mark Tranvik, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Paul begins this passage with a metaphor of building.  He points out that he laid a foundation - which is Christ and not himself.  All others will have to chose how they build for you always want to build on Christ and Christs work and not your own.  This of course has been the problem with those other teachers in the Corinthian community.

You also do not need to worry about the judgment for these preachers who build up other things than Christ and Christ's building.  God will do that work.  He writes:
"Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done."
You are God's temple of the Holy Spirit.  So whatever you put on to hide yourself or build up to look like something else - God will burn that way. God will in the end have you as his temple.

One way that you will know if you are building up a different building than what God has purposed is if you are dividing your self from others. Are you separating yourself out?  Are you separating others from God? Are you the one doing the judging? Are you the one who is using fancy arguments and following a leader who takes you out of the community? If you are doing those things then you are following the wrong leader. You are in fact not building up the temple but tearing it down.

Godly leaders will want to help you - the real you - the internal you - become God's vessel - God's temple.  Don't boast on the leader - boast on Christ and Christ's work in your heart!

I imagine that the reality is that most of us are more interested in our way, our language, our view, our leader, our group, our team.  My intuition tells me this is where we most often begin and then expand to God and pull God down on our side.  Paul is reminding Corinth - This is not how God works.

Some Thoughts on Leviticus 19:1-18

A missionary Church knows the basics of its faith. Following Jesus in the community of the Episcopal Church means that we work on being good disciples. We need to be able to articulate our faith. As a church, we need to be forming followers of Jesus who can articulate the essential visionary nature of who we are as Episcopalians.

Episcopalians, for instance, engage in the work of praying the Ten Commandments. We do it in worship, and we even have a teaching guide in the Book of Common Prayer (page 847). When was the last time you picked up the Book of Common Prayer and read the Commandments and our Episcopal understanding of their purpose in guiding our pilgrimage through life? The Ten Commandments are some of the first discipleship instructions in our catechism—a guide to faith. The Commandments remind us of God’s desire for us in our relationship with God and with others.

Episcopalians understand that we trust God, and we bring others to know him. We put nothing in the place of God. We show God respect in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions. We are faithful in worship, prayer, and study. To the other we are to be faithful as well—treating our neighbors with love as we love God and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands. We, as Episcopalians, are to show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God. We are to use our bodily desires as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God. We are to be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God. We are to speak the truth and not mislead others by our silence. We are to resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people's gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.

Continuing this faithful work with God and on behalf of God is what it means in part to follow in our apostolic teaching, to continue the work of a covenant community. We, as Episcopalians, hold ourselves accountable to this vision of relationship with God and with one another. We believe we hold up our lives to this image of our being, word, and deed and can see clearly where we fall short of the hope God has in us and so we repent. We return to God.

As Episcopalians, we know that baptism does not make us perfect. We know that we remain sinful and sinning people. That is what we Episcopalians own—that we too often follow our own will and not God’s. This really messes up our relationship with God and with other people. We also have managed to make a real mess of God’s creation.

We recognize we cannot help but mess up our relationship with God and others, so we understand that we are in need of salvation. We are set free to do the work of creating a community of reconciliation. We know as Episcopalians, we say in our Eucharistic prayers, that God has tried to call us back to God . . . but not yet. It is under this weight of sin that God chooses to enter the world. God comes as the Messiah to set us free from the power of sin, so that with the grace of God, we may live and work as God’s people.

We believe the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God. He is the Christ. He is not just another prophet, good guy, wise man or great historic figure—no henotheistic guiding spirit. We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the true nature of God. Jesus reveals to us that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God. We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God’s own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother. We believe that God became human so that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.

As you think about this particular way of reading and understanding the Levitical code I want you to understand this this is a traditional Christian form of reading it. The Gospel of Matthew is very clear here that this work of the commandments, of reading the first and second commandment through all of life, does not lessen the work of keeping it but instead raises it to a new and different level. You see it is not enough, Jesus tells us, to not murder but rather that the seat of murder is anger and we must deal with our anger. Therefore, the higher work is to realize this and seek reconciliation instead of anger. Jesus does not simply want us to do or not do things, but invites us to a transformation of the heart.

Richard Hays in his book Echoes of Scripture writes: “According to Matthew, such radical obedience, to which the Torah, rightly understood, points is possible only through a transformation of character, enabling not merely outward obedience to the law’s requirements but also an inner obedience from the heart. In light of such a vision Jesus summons hi disciple to renounce not only murder but also anger, not only adultery but also lust. (Matt 5:21-30)” (Echoes, 121.)

Too often we want to throw out the law – that is a mistake and a heresy. As my Lutheran brothers and sisters say the law can neither deny the gospel of grace nor can the gospel deny the law. Paul Zahl adapts, in a very Episcopal way, Martin Luther’s three uses of the law and its use. Removing the law as a fear provoking method of producing repentance, Zahl offers two uses: First, as Jesus is attempting to teach us, our actions have consequences. Secondly the inability to keep the law teaches us our human nature is in need of saving and that we totally depend upon God in Christ Jesus and his grace.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Epiphany 6A February 12, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"As far as I know, there is only one good reason for believing that he was who he said he was. One of
the crooks he was strung up with put it this way: 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us' (Luke 23:39). Save us from whatever we need most to be saved from. Save us from each other. Save us from ourselves. Save us from death both beyond the grave and before. If he is, he can. If he isn't, he can't. It may be that the only way in the world to find out is to give him the chance, whatever that involves. It may be just as simple and just as complicated as that." 

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

"The season of Ephipany proclaims the good news of God's presence with us. Our response to that proclamation, our recognition of God's life and work here and now, is more than going through the motions of church. Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God."

Commentary, Matthew 5:21-37, Amy Oden, Epiphany 6, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


As we come to offer our gift at your altar, make us eager in seeking reconciliation, so that e may live the gospel of your kingdom with single-hearted devotion, our every thought filled with respect for one another an our every deed with reverence.  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 Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This part of the Gospel has a number of sections. Our reading today has four of these "antithetical" style teachings. "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you," are the introduction for each one. In each Jesus recalls a teaching and then presses his followers to go deeper. We might remember that in the previous introduction to Jesus' teaching on the mountain he reminds us that he is the one to fulfill the law and not to abolish the law.

A quick read of Daniel J. Harrington's thoughts on the idea of law can help us better place this teaching in context. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 91) The English term "Law" can distort the Jewish understanding of Torah. The word "Torah" derives from the Hebrew verb "instruct" (yrh) and refers to the teaching or instruction presented in the Scriptures, especially the Pentateuch. For Jews the Torah was (and is) the revelation of God's will, a kind of divine blueprint for action. It is a gift and privilege given to Israel, not a burden. Acting upon the Torah is the privileged way of responding to the Creator God who has entered into covenant relationship with Israel. It presupposes the prior manifestation of God's love.

The Greek translation of Torah (nomos) is not incorrect since the Torah is concrete and demands action. But the theological context of covenant can never be forgotten if distortion is to be avoided.If we begin then with this understanding we can read these antithesis in a very different way.

If we think of the prerequisite of God's love and covenant, then the baptismal affirmation of that covenant, we arrive at these understanding that these then are a manner of Christian life. When we work on these higher ways of being we engage in the fulfillment of the covenant relationship we have with God. When we do not we turn our backs on the covenant relationship God wishes to have with us.

In the first antithesis Jesus teaches us that when we live and dwell in anger, when we use anger, and lash out or treat others out of our anger we are destroying the creatures of God. Anger leads to death. The higher way of following Jesus is to acknowledge this death and to seek reconciliation. Both illustrations make clear that not only is anger a destructive force in the life of Christian community but that it is an unacceptable manner of leadership. One cannot offer gifts and talents at God's altar unless one is reconciled with ones enemies.

Somehow in our culture we have decided it is okay to be angry and to treat others (service providers and enemies) with scorn, discontent, and hostility. Jesus teaches us that we destroy the creatures of God and one another when we do this. Yes, we live in a country where we honor a person's right to free speech. That does not mean that such manners of speech build up our country or the communities in which we live.

Jesus teaches us another way. Jesus teaches us (and many of his followers need to hear this clearly) that such behavior is unacceptable, destructive, and we are held accountable to a higher standard. Our bodies and person reflect the glory of God and in his second teaching Jesus explains that lust destroys the higher purpose of our flesh. Christianity and the Episcopal Church is uniquely a very incarnational faith. We understand that the beauty of God is reflected in all creation and in one another. When we look on one another with the eyes of Jesus Christ we cannot help but see God's glory revealed.

 Jesus calls us to this higher understanding and tells us that lust leads to adultery. These are two charged words. But if we remember the understanding of the Torah above we have a better and much more clear understanding of the teaching here. Certainly what he says is true. However, there is a higher code being offered here. Lust is a form of viewing individuals as objects of desire. It turns the flesh from being a revelation of God and God's creative and covenantal acts to something that can be possessed by another human being. In this teaching we see the role of dominance and power abusing the creatures of God. Bodies and people are works of Godly art when we treat them otherwise we change them. When we use sex to sell something or when we abuse people sexually we are defaming God's handiwork -- that which he called very good. In our culture we use lust, sex, and images of humans as commodities to be bought and sold for the purpose of individual enrichment or for power gain. Not unlike free speech, our country provides an environment where this is seen as normative. However, for the Christian we must as individuals live a higher standard. Lust destroys that upon which it fixes its gaze. It will also eventually destroy the person who lives a life fed by it.

I would add that divorce enters into the picture here because it is the death of the covenant relationship illustrated in the man and woman's brokenness. While Jesus speaks of lust leading to adultery, we live in world where divorce happens for many different reasons. Jesus is clear about what happens in divorce and how it is rooted in brokenness. When humans have so destroyed the image of the union of God with humanity that in their relationship they can no longer see the love God has for them the relationship is itself broken. When they cannot see the beauty they reflect or the goodness out of which God created them -- the relationship is over.

The Episcopal Church has responded by allowing for divorce and for remarriage. It has done this as a pastoral and caring approach to members of the community who find themselves in this very sad place. The church has more that it can do to help people shoulder the pain of divorce; regardless of its cause. An individual who lives with the false belief that they are no longer good, somehow failed, or that God does not love them can be an incredible mill stone around an individual spiritual life.

The last of the antithetical styled teachings in this Sunday's lesson is about oaths. Here Jesus offers the very simply reminder that yes and no are perfectly good answers. The Torah permits oaths in every day speech as long as they are neither irreverent or false (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 1, p. 532). Again, one must be careful in speech to not do damage to that which is God's.

I am struck here by thoughts provided by the Anglican theologian John Milbank offers in a number of his texts that our words have meaning and they have being. They have substance. We believe in a God who created with the and through the Word. We believe in the Word which becomes flesh, the living Word of God. Not unlike how feelings change the world in Jesus' teaching about anger. Not unlike how we look and treat people changes the world. How we speak, for Christians, makes meaning and being in the world. Our words are powerful and we are accountable for them.

These are three very difficult teachings. These teachings are tough no matter who you are, but especially if you claim to follow Jesus. All too often the Christian point the world and calls for transformation. More often than not it is the Christian, me included, who needs to do the transformative work of listening to Jesus' words.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:1-9

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"God's grace is manifested not only in the forgiveness of our sins but is also creatively redemptive, the power that works in us to make us perfect in love. Nothing short of perfection, Christlikeness in thought, word, and deed, can measure God's loving purpose for us. It is our faith that the fundamental change wrought in the individual by regeneration is a dynamic process which by growth in grace moves toward "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." We may quench the Spirit and fall from grace but our divine destiny is perfect love and holiness in this life."

"We Believe in Christian Perfection," Georgia Harkness, Chapter 8 in Beliefs That Count, 1961. At Religion Online.

"This congregation, this people, this great good news of Jesus Christ are not objects to be fought over. No church member and no apostle owns this mission field. It is God's."

"You Are Not Ready," Paul Bellan-Boyer, City Called Heaven, 2011.

I love that we are continuing through the Corinthian readings!  In our passage Paul begins by saying that people are still people. That we, some of us that is, are not fully formed in the spirit and so we are "infants in Christ."  We come from the world into the body of Christ through baptism.  We are cultured and as we move closer to Christ we grow in our understanding that we belong to God and in this being are now made different.  Paul is clear the Corinthians are having a hard time with this and are really struggling with their worldly nature.

Will Willimon is fond of saying: "In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, & we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens."  This is Paul's point...It is as if Paul is saying to the Corinthian church folk look you have got this backwards you are not to be resident aliens in the church; instead you are to be resident aliens in the culture.

Paul says if there is jealousy and strife then there is the world and the world's values.  Those who truly represent God are those who act with gracious conduct towards one another. Regardless of the celebrated cause of the day those who are God's never make their cause God's cause they are focused. They never seek division nor do they cause division.

Paul continues to make his case by pointing out that when we take in so is right and so and so is wrong...we are just parroting the world.  Just because you add Jesus' name before you divide people doesn't make it right.  Whenever you abuse another in God's name (our Matthew reading for today points out) you do murder.  Anger and vengeance are not Godly traits.

Preachers will think it is their role to do this.  Paul believes it is worse when preachers do it. Those who are tasked with building up, uniting, and growing the body should never be about dividing it. This is the sign of a false teacher.  The work of the preacher or leader is to do the work of reconciliation with God for themselves and then to aid in God's reconciling work in creation.  To play a role in politics and divisions is to engage in a worldly act.

It is our job to encourage, to love, to unite, to reconcile, to give God's blessing.  As Paul Zahl says: it is about love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. That is it...what more is there. Love, mercy, forgiveness, grace...repeat...

God grows.  We don't grow things.  We are, Paul says, "nothing" in this process.  We are mere vessels.  Every moment we begin to think we are in charge of the vessel leads us down a terrible world.  Our feelings and our perceptions about our-self are flawed.

Paul does say though that those who do the work faithfully will be blessed. Those who keep to these values of unity and encouragement will in fact be fellow-workers with Christ; rather than frustrating Christ's efforts in us.

"For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building."  It is as Gods and in making ourselves open to God's perfecting Holy Spirit that we are able to become a temple of prayer for all God's people and a field in which rise up the great Harvest Lord's ingathering.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The Gospel of Matthew offers a vision of the beloved community that is shaped by works of discipleship. The community as envisioned is laid out clearly in the sermon on the mount. The community of followers of Jesus is also deeply rooted in the narrative of Israel and how it was shaped by the boundaries of the Torah. We must be careful here though. While the gospeller tells us that we are tied to the Torah it is always with the lens of Jesus. We must be careful not to take away from the law (would caution Matthew’s author) because to do so is out of step with Jesus’ own understanding. This is certainly seen in his confrontation with the religious leaders of his day. At the same time the Torah must be seen primarily through the eyes of Jesus’ ministry and his instruction. Here is a refocusing of the law with a lens towards justice, mercy, and faith. (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 121)

So we turn to our reading from Deuteronomy. On the one hand remembering that this is a retelling of the story of the first four books of the Old Testament, with an eye to the faithful community. It is a book cast within the narrative frame of Moses reminding the people what lessons they have learned prior to entering the promised land. Just before this passage Moses says, “These commandments are not too hard for you, and they are not too foreign.” (30:11)

Moses begins our passage with these words: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” (30:15) Then he says that people will know who you are and who you love by the work you undertake in keeping these commandments. Love God and act as followers of God and you will be blessed and those who look upon you will know not only what you do but whose you are.

Furthermore, if you do not then you will perish. You will perish if you worship other gods, if you serve yourself, you will lose what has been promised to you, and you will fail the mission that is yours specifically because you are God’s people. “Everything is before you”, Moses says, “Life and death, blessings and curses.”

The key will be loving God, doing the work of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This will be understood not simply by worshiping God but as we read the rest of the Old Testament, with an eye to the sermon on the mount, we know it will be remembering the poor, helpless, and hopeless. God has acted for the migrant, the poor, the worker of the land, and those who have nothing. God acts for the motley people of God and God will act for the community that remembers them. Righteousness is to be defined in the prophets to come and in the living out of the covenant not by ritual faithfulness but by communal care of everyone. The land, and creation, is yours, but as will be clear in the rest of the narrative, you will lose it if you forget the lowly. You were delivered, deliver others, or God will go about the delivering Godself and find those who are interested in such works of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany 5A February 5, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...we need to actually show people that they are, in fact, salt and light. So I suggest starting a "Salt & Light Log." Really. Start asking people to collect examples of where God has worked through them to help someone else."

"Salt and Light," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"God's perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."

"You, Therefore, Must Be Perfect," commentary by Fred B. Craddock in The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Almighty God, giver of all things, give us grace to be salt with flavor so that we may be helpful in spreading the good news of your kingdom.  Give us wisdom to be light in the world, not hidden but shared, so that people may not only hear of your love for them but find their way into your loving embrace.  Let our salt and light be not only words but actions that honor by serving our neighbor.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage follows on the heals of the sermon on the mount. However, most everyone did not read that passage last Sunday in our Episcopal tradition but skipped over to Luke for the presentation in the temple and the prophesies by Ana and Simeon.

In this weeks passage Jesus turns his attention to his followers and begins to expand his teaching.  What is interesting is that salt does not actually lose its flavor!  What?! That is correct. Salt does not lose its flavor.  
Common salt comprises a very stable, simple chemical compound called sodium chloride, which has a salty flavour. As table salt, it typically also contains minor amounts of additives to keep it free-flowing.  As it is so chemically stable, sodium chloride will not lose its saltiness, even after being stored dry for many years. However, there are ways in which salt may appear to lose its saltiness.

Historically, salt has been obtained from crude sources such as salt marshes, and minerals such as rock salt. This contains the stable sodium chloride plus other components. Sodium chloride is readily water-soluble, so if this crude salt were exposed to condensation or rain water, the sodium chloride could be dissolved and removed, and the salt could in effect lose its saltiness. 
Also, the salty flavour is detected by our sense of taste. If there were a physiological change in the functioning of our taste buds, salt consumed may no longer taste the same, but this would not be due to any inherent change in the salt itself.
In summary, salt, i.e. sodium chloride, is a very stable material which retains its properties when stored dry. (By Peter Stotereau, 10 Jul 2010 / Chemistry,

What I also found interesting is that salt did, in the religious tradition of Jesus' day, become unclean and was to be thrown away.  When it was ritually pure it was used in the temple to season incense and it was even added to the offerings.)  So...salt was a big deal in the life of Israel and in the life of emerging societies that depended upon it as a preservative.  The basic image nevertheless is a powerful one...salt without its saltiness really isn't any good to anyone.

Jesus then also gives a very practical understanding about light and how people don't go around wasting perfectly good (and expensive - as candles were a luxury) light. Interestingly, candles are mostly associate with worship.  Jesus may be speaking about a lamp here which is probably more likely and more relevant to his hearers' ears. That being said light in darkness was an important and life giving ingredient to humanity.  Think about it also... a typical home only had one opening...the light would only go through a door - no windows. We are to pour light out into the world like a city. And, if we remember our past lesson - even though it was from Luke, Jesus is light in our darkness.  Again...there is a lot going on here.  

Both of these images begin to shape Jesus' expectations of us...that we not remain disciples, but that we become apostles. That we not simply follow Jesus but that we are meant to go out and be an example to others.  We are to change lives by reflecting the life of Jesus. Sometimes I think we get into trouble by trying to reflect other things...but Jesus is saying, "Be salt as I am salt in the world. Be light as I am light in the world." 

Jesus reminds us that there are very faithful people who are members of the family of God. They are good, they try to be good, they do their very best at trying to do the right thing.  Jesus adds thought and says that really isn't enough.  Being a really good person is ok...but if it is focused on you then we may have a little problem.  We are to share what we have in God and what we have found in God.

Jesus is talking about something very different.  Religion is most often about the individual coming to a certain sacred place, doing sacred acts, and so receiving an invitation to be closer to the divine.  Jesus is saying that the divine one is out in the world and all about us.  God is present and when we serve others on God's behalf his presence is multiplied.  Jesus is offering a view of faith that is far more than simply bing good and following the rules.  This is really an expansive view that is not limited to the holy shrine of choice.

Jesus is offering a vision of where the law to love God and love neighbor becomes rooted in the heart where love and compassion are found.  That we are to love, have compassion, offer mercy without partiality to all those we come upon.  Here is how Chris Haslam describes this change:
"One of the ways he fulfills the Law is by looking at its intent and not just the words used to express it. (For example, the Law says you shall not murder but Jesus says, in effect, you shall attempt never to impair your relations with another person.) Whoever regards the Law as he does, even if he or she fails sometimes, will gain entry into the Kingdom."
Jesus is saying that we are to be perfect in moving beyond the law.  You cannot fulfill the law if you are not in healthy thriving relationships with others.  Moreover, it isn't enough to love the ones you love and hate the ones you hate.  Jesus expects the relationship to go far beyond the expected - you are to love the ones you love and love the ones you hate.  Here is what is crazy!  In the regular way things work the old law is based upon ho the other person (other than yourself) treats you.  Fred Craddock says this well:
"The flaw in such relationships is that they are entirely determined by the other person: the one who is friendly is treated as a friend; the one who behaves as an enemy is an object of hatred; the one who speaks is spoken to; the one who spurns is spurned."
Jesus is then bad...the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge says this or that...wisdom says  No matter how they treat  No matter what they  Do not become like them!  You are God's so be like God.  Craddock continues with these words:
"Jesus says that one’s life is not to be determined by friend or foe but by God, who relates to all not on the basis of their behavior or attitude toward God but according to God’s own nature, which is love. God does not react, but acts out of love toward the just and unjust, the good and the evil. God is thus portrayed as perfect in relationships, that is, complete: not partial but impartial. God’s perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."
So there it is...God in Christ Jesus is challenging us to the law and more.  This is how salt and light keep their flavor and how they are shared with others.  For in acting as God acts the world is truly stumped by such grace. And, it is transformed in the face of such abundant grace and love.

As a bishop we talk a lot about why the church is shrinking in size and why people don't find us helpful ingredients in their recipe to find God or light in their pilgrimage to God's embrace.  The real reason is that we have gotten really good at the law part and we really fail to be like God.  We are to love, to not react, but to act always out of love, to do this to the just and unjust, to love those who are good and those who are bad. We like God are to have a complete impartiality with others.  That my friends is difficult and it is certainly not an abolishing of the law but rather an increase of its precepts.  

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 2:1-16

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"...Paul's understanding of the Spirit is different from that of the Corinthians, who see the Spirit in terms of miracle and power. For Paul the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and brings to life again that same Christ of the cross."

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

"And so one more time we see that the story we tell about the cross of Christ becomes the measure by which the stories of our own communities are judged."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"It is better to speak of "learning Jesus," rather than of "knowing Jesus," because we are concerned with a process rather than a product."

"Learning Jesus," Luke Timothy Johnson. Spiritual intimacy through Christ, adapted from Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (1999). Republished at Religion OnLine.

Paul is a simple guy. He is not a philosopher. He was probably educated and he was certainly a man who knew the law. He was a business man and a tent maker.  But Paul was pretty simple and he reminds us of this fact in the first verses of today's lesson. It is as if he is saying, "Look you guys. You like philosophers and lofty words of wisdom. That isn't me. I am a normal guy. But I know this...I know and have come to know God in Christ Jesus and his cross.

It isn't so much an educated vs. non-educated thing. Hardly! In fact it is simply not about signs, symbols, and philosophies.  It is instead about ministry.  It is about our response to God. It isn't about being a hypocrite or not but rather about responding to God.  The cross is a symbol of how God humbled himself, how God became one of us, it is about weakness, and it is about giving oneself over for and on behalf of the others.  Jesus' death on the cross is a symbol of what our ministry is to be like. Transformation comes not from power or convincing someone of a right argument. Instead transformation comes from humility and love and the giving up of oneself and ones agenda so others amy hear clearly the love of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

The people of Corinth are so focused on the arguments and words of their leaders (almost like a fundamentalist) that they are missing the whole point of Jesus' mission.  Paul is actually completely undermining and then reconstructing their understanding of "wisdom."

David Lose in his blog says this, "Paul sets the disputes in Corinth on a cosmic stage: to side with those who advocate worldly wisdom is to side not with the God who saves by means of the cross but, instead, with those who blindly warred against God's wisdom by crucifying the Lord of glory (2:8)." Yikes!  

(One has to wonder if how we treat one another, our councils/conventions, and our way of running our churches exemplifies the cross of christ or the wisdom of this world?  As they say, "Houston we have a problem!")

Paul then challenges us in our own current mission context.  Are we attempting to attract people because of our superior learning? Are we hoping they will be drawn to Christ because of some measurement (way of reading the bible, way of worshiping, or social class/education).  Are we merely attracting people to our way of being church? If so then Paul seeks to undermine us.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 58:1-12

This passage is written while the Israelites are divided, most in exile in Babylon and a few in the homeland. The prophet invites, and God invites the people to remain faithful. God is faithful and God will move on behalf of God’s people.

While the people see faithfulness as turning inward and to God by fasting, God and Isaiah offer these words:

“[God desires a fast that] looses the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” God offers a mirror to the people an is clear – when you do none of these things you are most unlike your God and the people you are meant to be.
Remembering Jeremiah and other prophets over the past months, we know that God see righteousness not as simple religious faithfulness but as acts of bounty where people take care of the oppressed, loosen the yoke of another, help with food for the hungry, roofs for the homeless, and clothing for the naked. Here Isaiah prophesies that these are the kinds of true fasting and sacrifices that God declares as righteousness.

When this happens Isaiah tells the people: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

God desires that people, “remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Light is the light of God’s actions through his people. Light comes by means of work of the faithful for the other.

When nations forget their most vulnerable they shall lie in ashes and sackcloth. When the vulnerable are cared for light, life, and the rebuilding of community are the results. Foundations of generosity will lead to generations of strength among the people.

The Luke writes in his Gospel that this release of people who suffer is key to the very nature of God and especially to the person and mission of Christ Jesus. When in chapter 4, Jesus opens the scroll to read in the temple it is Isaiah 61 with the addition of this passage. What is made clear in Luke’s analysis and use in the narrative is that God has been about the work and care of the poor, oppressed, homeless, helpless, and most vulnerable. God in Christ Jesus continues this mission of righteousness (the caring of others). The jubilee promised to the slaves in Egypt, and the jubilee promised to the people in Babylon is the same jubilee promised for all people under the yoke of Christ. (Richard B Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 224ff)

Release is not only for prisoners (Isaiah 61) but release for all people who are broken and burdened (Isaiah 58). This is a freedom brought on the cross and given through the Holy Spirit to all people. The promise to Abraham and the of Moses and Isaiah now become fulfilled in ministry of Jesus and the inclusion of the whole world. Moreover, that the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ministry are to continue the work of release – this same faithfulness and righteousness will be the hallmark of the every continuing body of Christ in the world.