Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Liturgy of the Palms A April 9, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Thus Jesus' approach to Jerusalem has become for many a symbol of the confrontation they must make, including the confrontation with themselves."

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

"Now Jerusalem is not a large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. Do you think anyone at Pilate's parade heard about Jesus' parade? Heard what the crowd had shouted? Let's see what unfolds in the week ahead."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 21:1-11, David Ewart, 2011.



Prayer

You Servant, Lord our God, speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us close to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:1-11

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The triumphal entry has been recast from the Markan story and it makes clear the importance of this event as a sign of both who Jesus is as the Mesiah and the importance of the event in the continuing story of Israel. (See Zechariah 9.9, Psalm 118:26 and the image of a shaken city welcoming the prophet king Deut 18:15-18)

In Matthew's narrative these are the very first encounters with Jerusalem and the Temple. It is of eschatological significance, though I really do believe that for Matthew the emphasis is on the prophet king's entry and the importance of connecting his life's journey with that of Israel itself. 

Jesus is fulfilling the scripture's prophetic witness. He is the "meek and humble king." He is the one to guide the searching Israel. He is the Lord and he is the Son of David. 

This witness comes to us as we enter as a church family Holy Week and make ourselves ready to witness to the last days of Jesus' life. So often preachers will spend time on the passion narrative also characteristically read on this day. However, to do so is to arrive at Good Friday too soon. 

I encourage you to preach on the event of Palm Sunday. Use the drama of the liturgy and the lesson from Matthew to draw you ever deeper into the journey yet to be made - the journey to a common meal, a trial, a crucifixion, and a burial. Bear witness to who this Jesus is. He arrives on the doorstep of Jerusalem and the Temple with a life's journey behind him. He arrives there and we join him bearing witness to who he is and what he has done. This is a moment for us to be present with Jesus in his sacred footsteps towards the cross. For us to proclaim and worship our meek and humble King who fulfills all righteousness and makes his way to the Temple of our souls.


Passion Liturgy 

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time." 

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

"How do we relate a story that much of our audience already knows by heart?" 
Commentary, Matthew 27:11-54, Eric Barreto, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

O God, for whom all things are possible, you have highly exalted your suffering Servant, who did not hide from insult but humbled himself even to death on a cross.  As we begin the journey of Holy Week, take our sin away by Christ's glorious passion and confirm our worship and witness, so that when we proclaim the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and  every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. 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 26:14-27:66


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

All scholars will remind us that the passion narrative that Matthew offers a very close story to the story of Mark.  If we look at the variations what emerges is a very important twist.

The first is the idea that the world and powers are working intently to deliver Jesus unto his death. (M 26.16.  There is a focus upon those that betray the Son of Man.  (M26.24)  Peter is played up as one who is faithful (M26.35) but who will end the end deny him.  It is clear that it is the power of the state and sinners that have betrayed Jesus. (M26:45-46)   Jesus also clear that God is in control but that he will not beseech him to deliver him but rather that he will be faithful even if it brings death.  (M26.53-56) There is a reality here that Jesus in Matthew reminds us that this is the ancient tradition of the prophets of Israel. We should remember that Matthew has a theme of Prophet King and here in this passage we are reminded that we shall always kill the prophet that comes to us... this is our nature.  This, like Peter's betrayal, is highlighted in Matthew by the fact that even the disciples flee.  Before Pilate Jesus is quiet and committed. (M27.13, 14)  In Matthew Pilate exonerates himself from culpability over Jesus death. (M 27.23-26)  The crucifixion and death are the responsibility of the people - of all people. While it is humanity that is responsible for the death of Jesus it is also the broader humanity that is the first evangelist - the Centurion and others say, "Truly this was the Son of God." (M27.54)  

What is highlighted is that we have in Matthew a clear conflict between God's work and humanity's work.  There is a sense that the governance of the realm by Pilate is different (and obviously so) from the governance of the kingdom of God.  That humanity and human ways of judgement and forgiveness are considerably divorced from God's.  William Loader writes:
Matthew reworks the scene with Barabbas. It becomes Pilate’s initiative (not the crowd’s) to bring Barabbas into the equation. Choose Jesus Barabbas (Aramaic: son of the father) or Jesus (Son of God). The effect is to lay the blame squarely on the crowd. By inserting a report about the wife of Pilate and her dream (27:19), Matthew suggests that she, like Joseph and the magi of the birth stories, has a special connection with the divine. It could even indicate that he wants to exonerate Pilate. Washing his hands and declaring Jesus innocent (27:24) might point in that direction. Matthew certainly points to the bloody consequences for Jerusalem and its inhabitants (27:25). But, standing back from the picture, we cannot overlook Pilate’s role. Whatever game he is playing in the narrative, as such leaders are wont to do, he does not escape responsibility. The fundamental conflict remains: God’s way and Rome’s. 
...With these new swathes of meaning on the canvass, Matthew now has the centurion joined by his companions witnessing not only how Jesus died (Mark 15:39), but also the earthquake and its sequels and declaring to all the world that Jesus is truly the Son of God (27:54). As in Mark, here the Gentile response gets it right, but in Matthew the focus is primarily on the fact that Jesus is ‘Son of God’, a designation he has added in both 27:49 and 40. That drives the poetic and had already done so in Mark who surrounds the moment of death in darkness. 
...The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time. ‘Son of God’ is Matthew’s way in part of claiming that what happened here happened to God in some sense. This event became a point of revelation of God and evil, of love and hate. It will be mythologised far beyond Matthew’s earthquake and Mark’s darkness and spawn the imaginations of faith. Some will be helpful, some, unhelpful; some, fitting the event back into the values of deals and transactions, some, simply allowing the blood to flow and finding it in all violence and sin; some, putting it into competition with others’ insights, some, seeing it as a light which seeks its companions universally.
This powerful image of Matthew's gospel along with the images from Philippians will make for a transformative message of the Gospel and God's dying love for humanity.  If not we will slide into an old understanding of God's requirement of Jesus to die for our sins type message which is neither scriptural nor revelatory.


Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"This revision of a hallowed text throws a monkey wrench into the inner workings of Christian theology. So, let's do it."

Commentary, Philippians 2:1-13 (Pentecost 20), David E. Fredrickson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

David Fredrickson has an interesting take on this passage which has influenced me a good deal. He uses this quote which I think is a good place to begin:

Out of love for that likeness, His son took on my limbs, was conceived and born of a virgin, bearing all the attributes of men, and though He is the Lord of all He became a servant to undertake in one body the burdens of all. He who dwelt on high took the likeness of a slave, though he was reigning as God with the likeness of God, in company with His regal Father. He took on the likeness of a slave, and destroyed that guilt by which man of old was a slave to punishment and death. Bearing the form of slave, the Lord became our flesh and restored His servant to freedom, so that through Christ's plundering of the earthly Adam on the cross, my heavenly form might return to me. (tr. P. G. Walsh, The Poems of St. Paulinus of Nola, 310-311)
What lies at the center of this passage is this: did God in Christ Jesus come across the abyss between God and humanity because of God's love for us? Or, did God in Christ Jesus come across in order to show us how to live life as servant?  The problem with the latter is that it makes the figure of Jesus into a kind of guiding spirit who pedagogically teaches us a thing or two about faithfulness. In the end this way of living type offering undermines the very core of Christian theology on the incarnation.

Therefore, lets go for the first version!

So the passage for today certainly is Paul's teaching to the good people of Philippi that they should be encouraged to continue in their good life together - after all this appears to be the only one of Paul's letters where there is not a conflict raging.  He writes: "If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."  Paul is clearly making the case for those who follow Jesus are to be obedient to God by loving, by being unified, by serving and working for others - putting self aside, and to be humble.

Who is this God that we believe in? Paul continues... God in Christ Jesus, though he has no need to do so because he is God, loves and so snatches (ἁρπαγμὸν - harpagmos - see scholarly definitions here) out of eager desire humanity. God reaches out and takes hold of humanity by taking on humanity like a lover.  The slavery that he takes on is a slavery of love. This is rooted in the latin tradition of servitium amoris. (Fredrickson)  Here is an interesting essay on this. This is an idea that the lover is tied intimately to the beloved.  Fredrickson here is helpful in this, he writes, "he emptied himself [the phrase in Greek always refers to a bodily occurrence preceded by melting; liquefaction of the body and subsequent draining away of the once solid self was the poetic way of describing longing, the desire for union with an absent beloved.]."  God empties himself ἐκένωσεν (ekenōsen) out of this longing and servitude to humanity whom God loves and desires.  God in Christ Jesus does this even unto death on the cross.

This is an important and radical shift. Certainly it is one that is hinted to in Martin Luther's theology of the cross.  Yet, it has also been lost in years past.  Here we are able to see that God in Christ Jesus himself gives himself completely over to us even though his love for us means that we will ultimately kill God - as we do. This reorients and changes the action of the sacrificial center of the cross to God's love and human response.  This hermeneutic shift is and can be a powerful one as we walk into Holy Week.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 50:4-9



The passage from Isaiah is one of the shortest readings in the lectionary, and yet also one of the most profoundly influential in our understanding of the unique revelation of Jesus Christ.

We have not been reading Isaiah for a bit so remember this is a piece of his writing that is most likely brought forth during the Babylonian captivity. It is part of what is commonly called the “servant songs” by most scholars. These are sections that speak of the suffering servant of Israel. It is broken up into an introduction, the abuse of the servant, and the discipline of the servant.

The servant imagery, in the sections in which our passage today is apart, is clearly a reference in Isaiah’s writing to the suffering of the people of Israel at the hands of their captors. Later as the prophecy grew in revelation it would be seen as an image of the new David, the Messiah, who would restore Israel.

What is most important for the Christian reader is to understand that the Gospel authors, especially Matthew, understood Jesus in the light of these servant songs. The trial and the day leading to the crucifixion are seen in this light.

With catholic/universal mission in one hand and the suffering servant songs in another, the authors of our Gospels reveal the person of Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. A Messiah who does more than the resuscitation of Isreal, but instead creates a whole new Israel – creates a whole new lineage of Abraham- that stretches around the known world. It is not the fortunes of an old Zion that is being recreated, but instead a new community of Spirit and truth.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Lent 5A April 2, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"That we are raised to life, not as future salvific existence, but to life right now, right here..."
Commentary, John 11:1-45, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


"Lazarus comes forth from death for death, this time not by disease but perhaps by the disturbed Sanhedrin -- to be put to death for responding to life, Just as Jesus would be put to death for bringing forth life." 

"Back to Life," Suzanne Guthrie, The Christian Century, 2005. 

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

As once in the vision, O God, your prophet summoned the spirit so that dry bones stood up alive, and as once your Son stood fearless at death's door calling Lazarus to come forth alive, raise us up with Christ from the death of sin, that all of us, the elect and the baptized, may be unbound and set free. 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 11:1-45
[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 point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever." writes William Loader.

John's Gospel is a wonderful proclamation of the power, divinity of Jesus Christ and the transformation that is available to every person. The author has written, among the four Gospels, a compelling witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, as the giver of light, breath, and life from the very creation of the earth. The story of the raising of Lazarus has never ceased to inspire and enliven both my imagination and my heart for the work of the Gospel. 

 Our Gospel this week is the highest of revelationary narratives in the Gospel in both form and in content. Jesus' raising of Lazarus is a reason why so many follow him and is clear in 12:17-18. He is as we know and have been experiencing throughout the Lenten readings the giver of life. (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). 

If we were reading along we would see that this is the last of a second set of miracle stories in John's Gospel that follow and highlight Jesus' teaching and conversation with his followers. The passage begins with Jesus away and teaching, he is not present for his friend or his friends family. They come to get him and tell him that Lazarus has died. The words used to describe Jesus reaction to this are words that tell us he was affected greatly by the news. Again Jesus speaks of the work that must be done while he is with them, and that the work must be done in the light. Certainly these are like the other sayings that we have seen apocolyptic forecasts. Nevertheless, the very real human loss and desire for life is ever present as Jesus leaves to go to where Lazarus is buried.

He is of course returning to a place where he has shown power before and a place of danger. You might remember that he was almost stoned though he passed through them. 10:31, 39. Jesus states that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common reference to death in the time of Jesus and after. Chris Haslaam has done some very good research and provides links for other parts of the New Testament that say the same thing: "A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [NOAB]"

Jesus' words of peace and comfort are kind and simple....things will be better...they will be all right. Yet we must also realize that the word used here is one that means "to be saved." Sosthesetai is translated into "be saved." It is the word for salvation. Our witness to the raising of Lazarus is not simply a witness then to healing story, or an act of kindness, or a hopeful act, but a transformational act of restoration of health - of true salvation. It is a miracle, which like the other miracles in John's Gospel, clearly represent the work of glorifying God through the ministry of Jesus.We are told that Lazarus had been in the grave for three days. There is a lot written around the idea of the Jewish burial services and the timeliness of such activities once the person has died. But I do not wish to get into this though it is interesting. I believe that the real meat of the text is in the conversation about salvation and resurrection.

As we continue the discourse on the resurrection we note that the Pharisees believed, along with other popular movements of the day, that all the Jews would be raised. Gentiles too if their integrity was judged by God to be suitable. I like how Chris Haslaam has written about these next two verses.

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [NOAB]Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [BlkJn]

Jesus then gives life now and in the age to come. Immediately Martha offers the same statement as the blind man in last weeks lesson. Her words, while a question refer to previous affirmations in the Gospel. She is convinced...convinced that the proclamation of Andrew on the Galilean shore was true 1:41. She is convinced that Nathanael's proclamation is true. 1:49. She is convinced that the good news revealed int he feeding of the 5 thousand is true. 6:14. Jesus approaches the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. It is not a resurrection story. But we cannot miss the conections as Jesus calls forth the dead from the tomb as he will most certainly do in the Easter miracle bringing all of the saints into light. I also am struck by the reality that Lazarus must be unbound and that many participate with Jesus in this work of freeing him from death into life, from darkness into light.

The Gospel tells us that this miracle of reviving Lazarus is for the glory of God. It is also brings many more into the Jesus movement. We cannot see the disturbing events that lay ahead of Jesus without seeing the impact of this great miracle on the movement itself. For surely, as the Gospel testifies, the leaders of the day were worried and concerned.This is a great miracle story. It is one that is rich with intertextual meaning and connections. It highlights Jesus' as the one who gives life and breath. As Jesus says in the beginning of the text day is becoming night, and yet as we read we see that it will be Jesus who brings us out of the shadow of the darkness of the tomb into the light of day. The witness of this passage is an evangelical one pointing us to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ so that we might believe and then raise the dead ourselves!

We are here hovering at the edge of Lent and preparing for Holy Week. The blogger and pastor Meda Stamper reminds us..."just as Jesus has met us at our tombs so we must follow him now to his own."

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:6-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Preachers of this text must, therefore, be careful to read it not as an ethically prescriptive text but rather as an anthropologically descriptive text, a metaphor for the act of salvation that only God is able to do."

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 

"In our focus during Lent on our individual sins we can center so much on our actions and mis-actions that we can miss the larger issue. What is our mindset? What is our orientation toward life?" 

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008. 

"In the moment when we feel separated from God, meaningless in our lives, and condemned to despair, we are not left alone. The Spirit, sighing and longing in us and with us, represents us."

"The Witness of the Spirit to the Spirit," Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955. At Religion Online.

For Paul the life of the Christian is one lived in response to God's love.  He writes, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ." (8.1) The death and resurrection of Jesus is the liberating faithfulness of God.  It is freedom to live "life in Christ Jesus" (8.2) We are not condemned so our response to this freedom is to live.  The law itself would have brought death to be sure.  The law was unable to bring life.  Christ however has in fact done what he law could not.  

Paul then speaks about what it means to live in response to God's love - which is to live a life of the spirit.  God dwells within the life of the Christian.  Our response to God's love is buoyed up within us by the spirit working in us.  Though our flesh is to die, Paul is clear that it is Christ in us and the Spirit in us that will be redeemed on the last day.  

Those who do not live in response to God in Christ Jesus will forever be doomed to trying to live in the law and perfect the flesh.  Paul is clear the flesh itself is even now corrupting.  The flesh is animated earth and to earth it shall return.  To try and perfect that which is not perfectible and to try and live by a test which is un-passable is to live a life of futility. 

Christ frees us from both of these requirements.  Christ offers us the spirit.  Christ gives us the opportunity to have a different life.  What is essential here though (and Paul would be keen to point this out) is that it is only Christ working in us that makes this life possible. It is only the spirit in us which is bringing salvation.  Though new life is available to us all, the reality is that we inherit this life and we receive reconciliation and redemption always and only by the hand of God.

Some Thoughts on Ezekiel 37:1-14



Set in the midst of the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon, Ezekiel offers a hope of God’s individual and mindful intention to each individual person. Ezekiel was completely devoted to the centrality of the worship on the Temple mount and sees the people’s return to that central religious site as a ingredient to their return not only to God but a restoration of the kingdom. Many scholars note that this perspective is rooted in Ezekiel’s own priesthood. So it is his prophecy offers a longing hope for a return to the religion of his inheritance.

From Ezekiel we receive the very clear idea that the temple is the center of the people’s concern, the center of their faith, center of the nation, and the center of their world. (Jon Levenson, Sinai & Zion, 115)

It is also clear that Ezekiel, throughout the text, but especially in our text for this Sunday, believes the only solution to returning to the center of the world where God firmly plants God’s feet is through religious practice. As a mouth piece for religion, Ezekiel tells the people that there is great hope for deliverance. However, their attempts to make this happen politically will not work. Instead the whole community should be put in the mind of a faithful response to God’s continued companionship. God will breathe new life into the dry bones of Israel. There is more here than resuscitation. What is needed is reanimation and a quickening of the spirit. Only then will a restoration occur.

When we read the text, as do many of the descendants of Ezekiel, what we see is an overlay of the apocalyptic. We see a seed of the idea of resurrection.

With this then, many preachers will stick to inviting us to hold on with our Lenten disciplines (for this comes in Lent) for God is even now resurrecting us. And, because this is read at the vigil, a heavy dose of end-time resurrection talk will be combined with Jesus’ own resurrected bones.

John’s Gospel rests on the idea that this new shepherd, who is the archetype of David who united the northern and southern kingdoms, is to unite the godly and ungodly, the righteous and unrighteous, the faithful and unfaithful. The new life that is being breathed into community, the new life of being raised from the dead, the new life of resurrection means that the people will be brought out of their tombs and graves into one community. Our passage today is the prefix to the passage of a united people of God from inside the religious community and from outside. The God who has come for all people and even now is gathering them in. The Good Shepherd in John is saying, “I know my people and my people know me.” (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospel, 340)

New life for those who are even now lying in death is a promise for all who come to God in Christ Jesus. Regardless of where you start your journey, this God is breathing new life into you, putting flesh and spirit on your bones, and raising you into the one flock.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lent 4A March 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"As the fruit of Jesus' vine, we are on display and stand for something Other."

Commentary, John 9:1-41 (Lent 4A), Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Those who preach faith as the cessation of pain, suffering, poverty, restless nights and turbulent days are offering false comfort."

"Coping in Jesus' Absence," Fred B. Craddock. Commentary from The Christian Century, March, 1990. At Religion Online.

"We cannot be light to the world until we can see that light in the eyes of beggars in our town and in our global village, welcoming that light as Christ's presence among us and receiving each bearer as a neighbor, a brother or sister with a face and a name."

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Lent 4. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, 2005.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

O god, the author and source of all light, you gaze into the depths of our inmost hearts.  Never permit the powers of darkness to hold your people captive, but open our eyes by the grace of your Spirit, that we may be able to look on your Son and see the Once you sent to illumine the world,so that, seeing we may believe and worship Jesus as Lord. 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 9:1-41
[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

God's work is revealed in us. This is the message of the Gospel today. God's work is revealed in our own healing as we come to make our pilgrim way with Jesus. God's work is revealed in our own mission and ministry to others. God's work is revealed in us; both as we are healed and as we get our hands dirty doing healing work.

As we read along John's Gospel we see that this miracle is the second in a group of three. Jesus is passing by a place were beggars usually gather and the question about sin and his blindness is posed.

All the scholars I read point to both the social history and the scriptural interpretation of the time giving evidence that people believed that people's trials were punishment for sin. (We might remember Job's friends.)  Jesus answers that God's works are revealed in this man. The glory of God is revealed. John's Gospel repeats that the work of Jesus, who has come down from above, is here to glorify God. (see John 11:4, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”.)

The next verses remind us of the imagery of night and light explored last week and are ever present in this Gospel. We might remember that “I am the light of the world” parallels 8:12 where Jesus says: “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

Like many healing practices at the time of Jesus, he spits in the ground and makes mud. I believe here we see the remaking of humanity by God - the new genesis of life. John's Gospel is a new creation story and the image here of God remaking this man so that he may see and bear witness to the light is essential to the Gospel and the understanding of this pericope.

The people are divided and amazed and concerned. Our response to our remaking is clear though we are to “‘Give glory to God!’” This is the response and our work. We might look elsewhere in the scripture to understand the meaning of this. When we do we see that it is "a technical term meaning tell the truth! It is a formula used when people are to confess their sins. In Joshua 7:19, Joshua urges Achan: 'give glory to the LORD God of Israel and make confession to him'. See also 1 Samuel 6:5; Jeremiah 13:16; Acts 12:23 (Agrippa dies); Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:2. [BlkJn] [NOAB]" (Chris Haslaam's Clippings)

Of course the religious establishment wants none of this and so while they are astonished they react by blaming the blind man. This is a typical response from those in power to those who are left out of the system; this is surely his fault. The man who does not accept the authoritative version of the events is driven out of the synagogue.

The man returns to Jesus and begins a life of following - a life of discipleship. His witness, worship, and proclamation becomes his work. Just as God is revealed in the healing, we see at the end of the text that God is revealed through the man's discipleship. His ability to see, proclaim, and live in the light of the Lord is an important part of the story. Healing and being remade by Jesus Christ is only the first part of one's pilgrim journey. Our Lenten journey is a healing one. We are turning and remaking ourselves. Through various disciplines we are opening our eyes to see God's hand at work in the world and in our lives personally. This revelation brings us closer to God as we proclaim and bear witness to the light which is in the world. This is only part of our pilgrim way of lent though. The second half is to remake and reinvigorate our hands in the world. Like Jesus we are to get them muddy with the primordial clay of creation and be at work in the world around us. We are to be healers: proclaiming release from the powers that bind us and giving sight to the blind. In this way we participate in the kingdom of God that is becoming and is to come. We live with our eyes wide open to the emerging new creation and light which is already breaking in the world.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 5:8-14


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"Ephesians focuses heavily on discipleship: how we should live in light of the grace that has been given to us in Christ Jesus."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:8-14 (Lent 4A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings."

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

Our passage from Ephesians in many ways echoes the passage from John.  Paul tells the Ephesians that they once could not see or understand who God was or the revelation of God in Christ Jesus - they lived in darkness.  Now because God has given them grace they can see a bit more clearly and live in the light.

Being able to comprehend and understand the way of Jesus comes after the saving act of Christ. It is a response to grace and mercy.  We often get it backwards believing that if we do the right things then we get God's love.  We have a kind of modern economic free economy view of God.  Paul is saying you are saved, you receive grace, you are now to respond. You are to live in the light and your desire is to respond to the grace by pleasing God.

What is pleasing to God?  Paul would reply as he does to the Ephesians:  "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"

Margaret Aymer in her commentary in Working Preacher writes:
Ephesians is an example of advice to communities trying to find a third way between the realities of Gentile paganism, the majority religiosity of the ancient world, and the church's foundation of monotheism. A majority of scholars hold that this letter is written by a pseudonymous author in place of Paul; if this is the case, then the primary struggle to bring together Jew and Gentile in Paul's early letters has been resolved and a new culture has been born, a culture that is an amalgamation of the two previous cultures. The author counsels his audiences to turn toward this culture rather than to be influenced by the external culture of the world around them, which the author calls "darkness." The advice, here, seems particularly aimed toward Gentiles who have become Christian, those more likely to be wooed back into the "mainstream" of life.

William Loader writes in his Blog:
To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings. We are still very good at hiding injustices or hiding ourselves from them to our shame. They extend from sexual abuse and exploitation to downright poverty and victimisation of the weak and disempowered. Our author mixes the images when he speaks of the fruit of light, but there is no mistaking what he means. 5:9 makes this clear. Light is goodness and justice and truth. It is not about knowledge or spiritual elevation or mystical ascent, as valuable as these may be.
Paul is clear.  You are part of a new family now.  As a member of God's family - as children of light - you are to resemble your Father who is in heaven.  This is neither a simple faith nor a one that is separated fully from the world. To be a member of God's family is to do the hard work of God. You are to bear light out into the world. You are to do justice and love mercy. You are to engage yet remember you are always and forever now God's.

Aymer warns that in choosing to preach this lesson we may "err" in preaching a simplified mystical faith for fear of engaging our cultural complexities; or we may so engage our cultural complexities that we miss the opportunity to preach the Gospel of the children of light.  Our challenge is forever and always to remember that there is a very creative edge in being in the world but not of the world.  The author of Ephesians, our Paul, is trying to shed a bit of light on that murky enmeshment.

Some Thoughts on I Samuel 16:1-13



It has been a while since we introduced the book of Samuel so let’s begin with a refresher. The whole text includes both books (they were not divided until the Greek translation). The book itself tells of the life of the prophet Samuel and how he comes to anoint the first king of Israel and then the second.

Today’s passage picks up as the spirit of God we are told is passing from Saul, the king, to David the successor. We get to see that Samuel himself is searching for the new king in the house of Jesse. Samuel is a bit nervous about all of this and goes. Samuel imagines all kinds of physical representations of the new king – for he doesn’t know David yet. And, he is continually mistaken. Samuel is seeking not who he thinks should be king but is looking for the one upon whom God’s spirit is resting and who God is making king. Samuel eventually will find David not in the house but in the field as a shepherd – this is a call of the rulers of Israel to be shepherds. The metaphor here is linked throughout the old and new testament from this time forward.

When Samuel anoints David the Spirit of the Lord falls on him. Everyone is a witness.

Having accomplished what he came to do, Samuel returns. Let us simply say, “King Saul is not a happy camper.” After King Saul’s death, for which Samuel grieves, David brings together the kingdoms of the North and the South to become the first ruler of a united Israel.

Gospel writers play on Jesus not only as the new Adam but as the successor to David’s kingdom – uniting all the people of faith. But this passage is not used for that in particular point in the Gospels. For the inheritor of the Davidic kingship in the is world and the next the Gospel authors will draw on different passages. The hallmark of this passage for the first Christians was the powerful statement, the realization that Samuel has in his search, that God does not see has humans see. God sees different.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is dealing with what is called a halakhic controversy in the very beginning of the narrative (Mark 2:23ff). (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 49.) This is the part of the story where Jesus and his companions are challenged because they pick grain on the Sabbath. Jesus is also challenged for healing on the Sabbath and feeding people on the Sabbath. The halakha controversy is a debate about the collection of religious laws in Jesus’ day which at times were in conflict with one another. The Gospels are full of attempts by the people and religious leaders to trip Jesus up with questions about these conflicting laws. Richard Hays, scholar and theologian, points out that in Mark’s Gospel he first leans on the idea that like David in our passage from today, Jesus is anointed but his full authority is not yet recognized by the leaders all around him. But, Gospels go a step further.

In the Gospel of John, our author uses our I Samuel passage today to show that God sees differently that human beings. In so seeing God solves the conflicting religious laws by setting out priorities. John’s Gospel will pick this up in chapter 7. Here too we see the conflicts in play. Jesus is making a case that because God sees the world and humanity different, God’s love may “override” other commandments.

Let me end with Hays’ brilliant words for us on the use of I Samuel by Jesus. Hays writes, “This implies that the law’s fundamental aim of promoting human wholeness and flourishing can in some instances over-ride its ritual prhibitions. This is certainly not a negation of the law; rather, it is an argument profoundly respectful of the law’s own inner logic, an argument that operates within well-established Jewish hermeneutical precedent… That this is so is underscored by the subtle scriptural allusions in the final thrust of Jesus’ rejoinder to his critics, ‘Do not judg according o appearance, but judge with just judgement.’” (Hays, Scripture, 298)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lent 3A March 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"What gives me life is the knowledge that there is someone who loves me unconditionally, irrevocably, and absolutely. That assurance is liberating, it's healing, and it's invigorating." 

"Life Giving," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.

"She is not a prostitute. She doesn't have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her
story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms "

Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well, David Lose, The Huffington Post, 2011. 

"This text suggests in a number of ways that it is not about what we know but who we know."

Commentary, John 4:5-42 (Lent 3A),Meda Stamper , Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

O God, the living fountain of new life, to the human race, parched with thirst, you offer the living water of grace that springs up from the rock, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Grant your people the gift of the Spirit, that we may learn to profess our faith with courage and conviction and announce with joy the wonders of your saving love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on John 4:5-42
[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

It is probably good to remind ourselves that the Samaritans are the Israelites who were not deported during the Assyrian occupation. They did not go with Isaiah to Babylon. They settled in Palestine with the Gentiles. They had recently been a fight between the Jews and the Samaritans and the Romans had intervened. (Chris Haslaam points us to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.6.1-3 118-36; Jewish Wars 2:12.3-5 232-46). [NJBC]

Shechem was a real place, maybe called Askar. The geography is important as a revelationary vessel of who Jesus is. Chris Haslaam does some great research and reminds us that "in Genesis 33:19, Jacob buys land at Shechem. In Genesis 48:22 he gives land to Joseph and his brothers, giving Joseph a double portion. In Hebrew, portion sounds like Shechem. See also John 1:51, where Jesus tells Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. Jacob, with his ladder to heaven, is the type (forerunner) of Jesus. [NOAB] [NJBC]" So we cannot underestimate the power of the place in memory and prophecy within the tradition of the first followers of Jesus. 

Jesus begins by breaking down the barrier between them by asking her to give him a drink. (Jews and Samaritans did not share things in common.) This invitation though leads into the revelation of Jesus as not only the Son of God, who has come down and is with us, but also as the one through whom all things come. Jesus is the gift.  Jesus is the living water for those who thirst. Jesus is the one who will give the Spirit of life. 

We remember then also that the water rose to the top of the well for Jacob, that in Jeremiah 2:13 God is the fountain of living water. As Christians we see the revelation clearly and powerfully, but for her in the midst of this story she asks the questions that many must have been asking of Jesus. We might well remember that for those still seeking God or in the midst of a dark place on their pilgrimage the question she asks are important and worth hearing again - even if we have not asked them yourself in a long time. She questions, "Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 

Jesus then responds. While the well obviously had been enough for the great herds of Jacob, and his family, one will always thirst again. So Jesus is speaking of a different thirst the thirst and hunger for God. He is the bread of life who has come down from heaven. Like the words of God to Moses, "I am goiiong to rain bread from heaven for you." (Exodus 16:4) Here I am so very struck by the beginning of a switch. The place, the earth, the well, the water, and the bread...are earthly physical things. Jesus is holding up a mirror to our human condition in some manner and saying that while you have the need and desire for these basic things your soul hungers for something different. 

Believing that the world will give to you what is needed for spiritual things is misguided. Jesus is offering to this woman and to us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." We might remember furthermore that in 10:10, Jesus says: “‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’”. So just as last we and this week we see the reoccurring themes of the incarnation. Jesus comes from above. So too we see the imagery of spiritual life flowing from God, in Jesus, to the Holy Spirit and out into the world.Jesus continues: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.The theme continues then as Jesus offers a vision that worshiping God then is not located to geography. 

Here in this Holy place, which offers us a revelation of who Jesus is, is not the only place where Jesus is found. Those who follow him and those who are filled with the Spirit find and discover that God is worshipped and followed in all places and in all times. A disciple does not have to make their pilgrimage to a place but that God is with the pilgrim everywhere. Likewise the responsibility of the pilgrim is to make God known and to worship God in all places of their daily life. These are revolutionary and revelationary words. 

 Humans from the very earliest of recorded history have desired to mark out sacred space in the world, to separate the sacred and the profane. Our desire to continue to build altars in the world and churches and sanctuaries illustrates this fact. The reality is though that as Christians we believe in a God in Jesus Christ who came and walked with us and left the holy places and went out. It is this God that beckons us still. Clearly gathering that Jesus is different and special she says, “‘I know that Messiah is coming’” There is a lot of conjecture about who the Samaritans thought and how they thought about the messiah's coming. Most agree it was something like a hope for a new prophet, a great prophet, like Moses. This is partly based upon the fact that they used the prophetic books, while most Jews only used the first five books of the scripture. Chris Haslaam writes about the next verses: “I am he”: Perhaps Jesus points to his divinity, in an echo of God’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’'”. 

This is the first of a series of self-revelatory sayings, all echoing an Old Testament formula This is particularly striking in those sayings (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) in which Jesus uses the words I am without any predicate. This verse is in striking contrast to the synoptic gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to disclose to anyone who he is. Perhaps he felt he could say openly in Samaria what would have seriously impeded his mission in Jewish territory. [BlkJn]

So what we have just witnessed, like the conversation with Nicodemus, is that Jesus is continually in conversation with those who do not yet believe. As Lent is a time for new converts to be prepared for baptism and confirmation, and the whole of the church is to be renewed in its faith, the message of the woman at the well and her conversation helps us to remember the power of conversation with those who do not yet believe. We are to listen and reveal who Jesus is. We are to be out in the world. We are to engage and make holy all the places we make our pilgrim way. To make places holy through conversation with all people, perhaps even those who are the most separated from us by either wealth, or status, or ethnicity.

Look at what happens in the text:Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” When we dare to do this we will find and discover that the converts zest for new life, living water, and the holy spirit will renew the greater community and draw others to Jesus Christ. We too will be renewed and have the opportunity to leave our buildings and go with them out into the world. 

All receive not from our testimony but from God's empowering Spirit that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. What happens is that the disciples show up and they are all upset for many reasons, most of which probably escape us today. (I think we spend a lot of time on the woman's background and on why they are upset because Jesus talks to her. This seems less important than the conversation about conversion and evangelism) Jesus responds to them with at proverb and a teaching. Jesus begins with this proverb: Four months more, then comes the harvest? In everyday language the proverb may have simply meant, "what's the rush?" You have to remember when you sowed seed,instead of drilled seed into the ground, you had to wait for the seed to take root. So we have this beautiful image of Jesus saying just be patient. It is a parallel conversation with the actions of the towns people. See the seeds are taking root in the people's ears and hearts. Sowing and reaping are the work of the disciple. And, sometimes the disciple does not get to see the fruit of their labors. We live in such an instant society we want to see the change now! 

We want to see new disciples made from our proclamation now! The reality is that if we are like the sower, and are focussed on the work of the sowing we will have a great harvest - though someone else may be the one to harvest for us. In fact Jesus is saying that part of living in the kingdom now, part of living in the reign of God, is the proclamation of the word. When we do this both the sower and the reaper rejoice together. As we think of our own Christian story between John and Acts, we can see that while Jesus stays with them for a few days, it is Philip in Acts who returns sows some more and reaps. (see Acts 8:5-17) This is a great passage to talk about evangelism, conversion, the work of the church in the world. It has images of how we meet people where they are in the world where they live. I hope you enjoy exploring what is a very full passage, it is itself a deep well from which much living water can flow.
Some Thoughts on Romans 5:1-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"So for Paul peace is about being in a right relationship with God, not as some distant judge nor as someone who is trying to draw us up into himself, but as one who is expansively living love out into the universe."

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

"The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping."

"Hope," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.Justification, from Whistling in the Dark

"In the space of five verses, the second reading for Trinity Sunday mentions God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit."

Commentary, Romans 5:1-5, Mary Hinkle Shore , Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

Paul is clear that humanity was not doing so well on its own and that now because of the work of Christ we have a mediator with God.  He is very clear that this particular work of mending the relationship resides at the foot of Jesus upon the cross.  

Paul writes, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."

So it is here that we find the key to Paul's understanding of the atonement.  For Paul, we are spared what we are truly due to pay to God for our sinfulness only by Jesus' action on our behalf. We are given grace, we are restored, we are united once again.  There are many debates about this and many scholars will go on endlessly about the meaning of this passage. In its very essence what we know is that Paul believes (as I do) that the crucifixion is the cross-roads of the salvation narrative.

Paul writes, "But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."  As John Newton reminds me reconciliation is always and foremost a vertical action that takes place between humanity and God through the work of Jesus.

We are in fact unable to do the reconciliation work between us, that horizontal work, if we don't recognize that it is always dependent upon the vertical work of Jesus. Why? Because as Paul says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die."

It is this vertical work that is our grace. It is this work that justifies us. It is this work that brings peace. It is always God's work and God's work in us that enables these things. It is never by our own merit. It is God's faithfulness in us that provides the endurance and produces the character and the hope.  It is the very fact that God's love for us is constantly poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And for Paul it is poured out from the cross.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lent 2A March 12, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Nicodemus had heard enough about what Jesus was up to in Jerusalem to make him think he ought to
pay him a visit and find out more. On the other hand, as a VIP with a big theological reputation to uphold, he decided it might be just as well to pay it at night. Better to be at least fairly safe than to be sorry, he thought, so he waited till he thought his neighbors were all asleep."

"Nicodemus," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. "Born Again," from Beyond Words.

"When we become too sure of what we know about Jesus (or indeed the Trinity on this particular Sunday), when we believe that we have grasped him at last, that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Meda Stamper, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

To Abraham and Sarah you called out, O God of mystery, inviting them to journey to a land of promise.  To us also you call out, inviting us to pass through Lent to Easter's glory.  Open our ears, therefore, to listen to Jesus, the Beloved Son in whom you are well pleased, so that, embracing the mystery of the cross, we may come to the holy mountain, to immortal life, and a share in Christ's transfigured glory.  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 3:1-17
[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

So we begin our Gospel lesson today with Nicodemus. We know that he is only mentioned in the Johannine account and appears later in the story insisting on a trial and anointing Jesus' body for burial. We are told he is a leader of the Jews.  Much is made of him arriving at night. Perhaps he came in the darkness because he was fearful of people seeing him, or perhaps he came at night because he was a devoted teacher and studied always. (Chris Haslaam offers this latter connect based upon the Qumran Community Rule of life).

Heavy too is the symbology of light and dark in this particular Gospel and we may be given this reference to illustrate the teachings of Jesus over and against the pharisees. Immediately, as in the other parts of the Gospel of John, Jesus is recognized, proclaimed as being from God. Nicodemus a little less humble also recognizes Jesus as a teacher on par with himself.  Jesus then offers him the vision of God's reign/kingdom where in individuals are brought in not by moral achievement but by the transformation of God.

 There is a scholarly argument about the translation "born from above" and "born anew." I like both. They give that true sense that our ability of living in the kingdom of God comes from God, and is made possible through God's providence and grace. Such an understanding about the potential of life being transformed is not something that comes from our ancient roots in Israel but is more in keeping with the emerging thought of Hellenism. Nevertheless, Jesus' revelation is clear. People are transformed by God and God's spirit. They are transformed and have the potential of living new life. People have the opportunity to be different, act different, live in community in a different manner - if they are but opened to the inner workings of the Holy Spirit.

Chris Haslam puts these two pieces together for verses 5 and 6:Verse 5: “born of water”: 1:33 says “... John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’”. See also Ephesians 5:26. [NOAB]Verse 6: “Spirit”: In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh promises through the prophet: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your un-cleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”. See also Titus 3:5. In Jubilees 1:23, cleansing by the Spirit is associated with the coming of the Messianic Age. [NJBC]Verse 6: See also 1:12-13: “... to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”Now what is also happening is that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in the plural. So we get the sense that Jesus is speaking not only to the man before him but also to the whole of the the religious establishment of the day...perhaps even to our religious institutions today.

Jesus says, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I am sure much of this historic meaning may be lost; it sounds very much like a common saying here used to describe the Holy. It does that very well and I think challenges those who lead to be present to the spirit's work in the moment. How often do we worry about where something is coming from and where it might lead. We try not to discern God's invitation in the moment but figure out how to control God's spirit for our own ends. Is this not perhaps what Jesus perceives Nicodemus is doing? Perhaps he is challenging the pharisees to stop their machinations about who Jesus is and what he is up to and to see that God is moving in that very moment and inviting even them into a transformational moment.

As a church (a denomination, diocese, and individual churches) we have spent the last two decades attempting to control political events in and around our communities. In the midst of this we have completely lost our sense of mission. We have some how become so discerning that we have lost the ability to present for one another and those who come to us in the dark night of their own spiritual journey. Following this Jesus and Nicodemus' relationship seems to change. It is as if Nicodemus' eyes are opened and he is transformed.

 We can read that the conversation continues with Jesus doing as he hopes we shall all do, meet one another on our journey and be transformed by the Spirits presence in our midst. Jesus meets and helps Nicodemus discover what he has been looking for... Some small part of that is Jesus' own recognition of the goodness that is in Nicodemus and a willingness to engage with him.I am always struck by the conversation that is taking place. On the one hand Jesus is treated as an equal by Nicodemus. But Jesus does not correct him. On the other hand the more important lesson may be that Jesus treats Nicodemus as an equal and so the engaging conversation is able to lead to transformation. What would it be like if we as church people were so very comfortable in our own faith and understanding of God that we could treat all those who come to us as Jesus treats Nicodemus?

The last part of our Gospel is an assumed continuation of the conversation, though Jesus is the only one speaking. It is a vision of the future of God's work through Jesus. It is the Gospel in miniature as Martin Luther once said. It is powerful foreshadowing of the cross and the Christian call to follow.I think too there is an important distinction being made in the Gospel of John about the resounding impact of God's work through Jesus. First is that "eternal life" and the "kingdom of God" synonymous. I don't want to get into a debate about "realized eschatology." I am merely pointing out that when a disciple of Jesus begins to make real the kingdom of God by participating in the life of the Holy Spirit that disciple is participating in eternal life. Transformation in this world is very real and that health and vitality of community life is dependent upon the individual transformation that is taking place. The kingdom is made real as people are transformed by it. Furthermore, there is a distinction we might often miss by reading the Gospel in the lectionary.

The synoptic Gospels speak of this transformaton more through a lens of eschatological theology; that is they think of this work of the kingdom as urgent work prior to the end times and fulfillment of God's creation. John sees this as ontological or being work. In other words it is the individual change which serves as the lens. It is the Holy Spirit's moving in the life of the individual and thus the community of the faithful (always a communal view) that leads to the reign of God emerging in the creation. This means that today as we look at the work that God is doing in the world we cannot separate the transformation of the faithful community from the work in the world. I might say, if we are only concerned with social justice and are not transformed and changed and deeply rooted in the study of scripture we are only a social service agency.

We do the work in the world around us because we believe in our individual and corporate change; and we believe that we are called through proclamation of word and deed to be about our father's work to transform the structures and communities around us into the reign of God through the partnership of the Holy Spirit. We are, as we follow Jesus, reorienting our understanding of the way things are to be and to whom we belong. In our transformation (which comes from Jesus who himself claims us, and the Holy Spirit who baptizes us) we are no longer the head of the family but members of God's family.

The blogger Chris Haslaam has this great way of looking at it: "Whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Spirit descends from heaven onto Jesus; in John, it is Jesus himself, the Son of Man, who has descended from and ascends into heaven. (Verse 3:13)"We are transformed as Nicodemus is transformed by being welcomed and accepted so that we may welcome and accept others into the very real and very present kingdom of God. That we might experience life eternal here on heave and along our pilgrimage and not only at the pilgrim's rest.

David Ewart, a blogger, captures this well when he writes: ...And so, salvation lies in being born anew; in being born from above - in re-defining one's "family of origin." John really means that we become God's off-spring, children of God, and in that way we receive from God the same honour and character that God has; and owe God the same loyalty that blood relations show one another (or ought to)."  David Ewart summarizes the overall text with these words: 1. The Son is sent. 2. Those who trust and bond with the son, become part of the Son's family (being born anew from above), and as equal status siblings, 3. Become heirs to the family estate: heaven, Spirit, light, truth, love, salvation and eternal life. 4. Those who don't trust and bond with the Son, don't become part of the family, and don't becomes heirs. To be more clear. The logic of John is NOT: If you believe, then God will love you and save you.

God's salvation is not a reward for belief. Nor does God withhold God's love, forgiveness and salvation until we believe.On the other hand, since love is not coercive, we do have to accept the invitation in order to actually be part of the family.I would conclude that being apart of the family means traveling in the light of day and not the dark of night as did Nicodemus. And, that it is intentionally about glorifying God. John's Gospel is nothing if not clear that the work of the family of God is to glorify God. God does not withhold his love, forgiveness, and salvation. Once the invitation to become members of the family is accepted one works with the family to receive others and to make the world (with Jesus) reflect the beauty and Holiness which is God's alone.There is a lot of meat in this passage and I would think the most difficult part will be preaching one message and to not overwhelm the listener with too much material.

Some Thoughts on Romans 4:1-17


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Lent is a time to 'LOOK RIGHT'. It is a time to look for the amazing "things that do not exist" in our lives; those throw-you-to-the-ground, awe-filled moments that God is offering us every day."

Commentary, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"God did not and does not wait for us to become a people. 'While we were yet sinners,' as Paul will say later in this letter, God brought us into relationship, gave us the gift of the Spirit, showed mercy, and in all that acted faithfully to the promises long made and never forgotten."

Commentary, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"The nature of justifying faith must be seen as a wholehearted confidence in God which manifests itself in ongoing obedient trust in God's promises of a future 'most complete cure' of all the remnants of sin which so afflict us in this life...This is 'faith working itself out in love' -- a faith which counts on God for everything, from initial justification through spiritual healing to final glorification."

"Justification as Healing: The Little-Known Luther," Ted M Dorman, PhD.Quodlibet Online Journal, 2000.

Here is the key idea to this passage: God is and has always been a God of grace.  This is true in the proclamation of Jesus as it was for the prophets before him.  It is true in the Torah as it is true in the letters of Paul.

So he turns his attention to Abraham.  Abraham believed and was faithful. He is determined righteous by God not by what he does but by the faith that is in him.  It is not because he was circumcised or because he was part of a particular family.  These were simply signs of God's grace working in him.

The ultimate purpose of the Gospel and it proclamation is to make ancestors of faith.  The promise God made to Abraham was to be faithful and it is God's faith that works in him and is even now working its purpose out in creation.  It is God's faithfulness that makes one a member of the family.

Paul says that what is also true today was true then as well, "If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation."

"For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, for it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist."

In this final statement Paul insures that all understand that we are given the inheritance of Abraham, and grace counts us faithful participants in the family of God.