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.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pentecost Day A June 4, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

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

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

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

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

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sermon on Pentecost

Who are we? We are forgiveness bearers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes:

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

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

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your operating core?

What is your lens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:3-13


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Acts 2:1-21



As many are aware, there are several passages that describe the moment in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. John’s version is very much a imparting from Jesus as he breathes on them and gives them peace. Luke’s is the story of the mighty rushing wind and it is more likely the popular version people remember.

In Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch he says, “[Jesus is the fulfillment of] the holy and faithful things of David.” (Acts 13:13-41 as referred to in connection with this passage by Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 232.) Luke is clear regardless of who is speaking, Peter or Paul, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy that God’s reign will be victorious and that it is meant for the whole world. The Gospel authors, Luke included, reads the Old Testament as the prefigured and prophetic work of the Word at work in the world.

The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples is clearly the way/manner in which this gospel message of fulfillment will be taken into the world. And, the coming of the Holy Spirit (as discussed in previous passages on Peter’s speech) is also part of the fulfillment itself. For while Jesus is the culmination of the work of the Word, it is the Holy Spirit that shall reweave and restore creation and humanity. And, Jesus is to be the Lord of all.

This is all clouded in the midst of our celebrations of Pentecost Sunday. The message will be muddled by the reading of the story in different languages. It will be obscured by the celebrations of the “birthday of the church”. It really isn’t a story about the inside but our celebrations tend to reinforce a stayed church institution and hermeneutic of attraction. The story is instead one of sending, of going, of being empowered with gifts for the journey, and being unmoored from our appointed seats at the table to a world hoping for light in the midst of shadow. Pentecost is NOT about the birth of a church it is about the ever expanding reign of God and the Good News of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus outside our church boxes and upper rooms and actively spreading into the world around us.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 7A May 28, 2017

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

Whatever the relationship between Jesus and God entails, glorification is a substantial part of it. In 7:39 we learn that believers had not yet received the spirit because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Commentary, John 17:1-11, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008

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


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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


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

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


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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts on John 17 and Church leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me tell you what I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Acts 1:1-11



This passage is used in both the feast of the Ascension (A, B, and C years) and on Easter 7A. It is the prologue to the book of Acts. In it Luke begins by writing to Theophilus and making it clear that the first books was about “all that Jesus did”. The second book though is about all that is done by God through the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. This is a book about mission and how the first followers of Jesus chose to respond to the events of Jerusalem and Galilee. That the teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus forever changed the friends of Jesus.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to the followers of Jesus in many forms. Jesus was ever more real and present after his resurrection than he was, in some ways, before his resurrection. And, that his promise was to be with them to the end of the ages, by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke understands this work as the great restoration of the kingdom of Israel. This was not a political kingdom or a coup of the existing reigning powers and authorities. Instead, Luke appears to grasp the great expansion of the kingdom from primarily an inheritance for the faithful family of Abraham to include all sorts and kinds of people. He has a vision, God’s vision, that he mission work is to offer the reign of God to all people in every land and of every nation. Here we see an expansion, and glorious multiplication of invitation from the cross which echoes after the resurrection throughout the whole of creation to all humanity.

Luke does this through a weaving together of the past and an expansion of the present for the sake of the future.

Jesus like Elijah is to be taken up into heaven. Luke has cast him as Elijah but with a global prophecy.

Luke also builds this first chapter to echo the first chapters of his Gospel wherein the Angel promises that the reign of God, through Jesus, will be restored. “He will reign of the house of Jacob,” and, “His kingdom will have no end,” says the Angel. So the restoration is to begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit after the ascension. What was foreshadowed in the Gospel will not be unveiled or unraveled in the Book of Acts.

Richard Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, writes, “…the witness bearing of Jesus’ disciples that the nations are to receive the light of revelation that Isaiah promised…” foreshadowed by Simeon and the whole of the Gospel narrative. (272)

We are of course always reading backwards from our perspective. But Luke is careful to interpret the Old Testament prophecies, especially Isaiah, as always having meant that this light, this restored kingdom of Israel, is one that includes the gentiles.

The task here for the missional preacher is to think carefully about who we are speaking to in and what the invitation to us is. It would be normal for us to read back in that in fact we are the Gentiles and Luke’s prophecy and the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit has been successful for here we are. Yet Luke’s missiological premise and our responsibility cannot be shirked so easily. The question for the sermon hearer and church goer is: who are our gentiles today?

It is my contention that we now hold the place of the religious in the Gospels or the disciples. We are the ones now responsible for answering the Holy Spirit’s invitation. The mission that once was to the “gentiles” is still held out to this church. It is an invitation to bear the light to all those who still live in darkness. And, to do so as disciples and bearers of that light. We were once far off, we were once the gentile, but no longer. Today we are the ones who shall be part of helping God in Christ Jesus restore the reign of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whether we read this passage on the last day of Easter or on the Ascension, hear Luke’s invitation to tell the story of the risen and ascended Lord to the world.

The Ascension of Our Lord May 28, 2017

Ascension Day Transferred


Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

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

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

General Resources for Lessons

Prayer


You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. Clothe us now with power from on high, and send us forth as witnesses to the Messiah's resurrection from the dead, that, together with us, all the nations of the world may draw near with confidence to the throne of mercy. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Luke 24:44-53

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for the Gospel

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


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


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

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:15-23



Resources for the Epistle

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

Some Thoughts on Acts 1:1-11



This passage is used in both the feast of the Ascension (A, B, and C years) and on Easter 7A. It is the prologue to the book of Acts. In it Luke begins by writing to Theophilus and making it clear that the first books was about “all that Jesus did”. The second book though is about all that is done by God through the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. This is a book about mission and how the first followers of Jesus chose to respond to the events of Jerusalem and Galilee. That the teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus forever changed the friends of Jesus.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to the followers of Jesus in many forms. Jesus was ever more real and present after his resurrection than he was, in some ways, before his resurrection. And, that his promise was to be with them to the end of the ages, by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke understands this work as the great restoration of the kingdom of Israel. This was not a political kingdom or a coup of the existing reigning powers and authorities. Instead, Luke appears to grasp the great expansion of the kingdom from primarily an inheritance for the faithful family of Abraham to include all sorts and kinds of people. He has a vision, God’s vision, that he mission work is to offer the reign of God to all people in every land and of every nation. Here we see an expansion, and glorious multiplication of invitation from the cross which echoes after the resurrection throughout the whole of creation to all humanity.

Luke does this through a weaving together of the past and an expansion of the present for the sake of the future.

Jesus like Elijah is to be taken up into heaven. Luke has cast him as Elijah but with a global prophecy.

Luke also builds this first chapter to echo the first chapters of his Gospel wherein the Angel promises that the reign of God, through Jesus, will be restored. “He will reign of the house of Jacob,” and, “His kingdom will have no end,” says the Angel. So the restoration is to begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit after the ascension. What was foreshadowed in the Gospel will not be unveiled or unraveled in the Book of Acts.
Richard Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, writes, “…the witness bearing of Jesus’ disciples that the nations are to receive the light of revelation that Isaiah promised…” foreshadowed by Simeon and the whole of the Gospel narrative. (272)

We are of course always reading backwards from our perspective. But Luke is careful to interpret the Old Testament prophecies, especially Isaiah, as always having meant that this light, this restored kingdom of Israel, is one that includes the gentiles.

The task here for the missional preacher is to think carefully about who we are speaking to in and what the invitation to us is. It would be normal for us to read back in that in fact we are the Gentiles and Luke’s prophecy and the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit has been successful for here we are. Yet Luke’s missiological premise and our responsibility cannot be shirked so easily. The question for the sermon hearer and church goer is: who are our gentiles today?

It is my contention that we now hold the place of the religious in the Gospels or the disciples. We are the ones now responsible for answering the Holy Spirit’s invitation. The mission that once was to the “gentiles” is still held out to this church. It is an invitation to bear the light to all those who still live in darkness. And, to do so as disciples and bearers of that light. We were once far off, we were once the gentile, but no longer. Today we are the ones who shall be part of helping God in Christ Jesus restore the reign of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whether we read this passage on the last day of Easter or on the Ascension, hear Luke’s invitation to tell the story of the risen and ascended Lord to the world.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter 6A May 21, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

From John Calvin's the Geneva Notes.

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

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

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

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

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

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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Acts 17:22-31



This passage comes well into the book of Acts. Last week we were introduced to Saul before his conversion where he was participating in the stoning of Stephen. This week we join Paul as he is making his second trip. Paul has had his conversion and become missionary helping to plant and to support emerging Christian communities. In this passage Paul has arrived at Athens.

I have to admit this is a very important and key passage if we are to embrace a missionary hermeneutic. So, I want to examine it carefully.

First, let us name what we do with this passage normally. A quick survey of sermon resources tells me that we often read this passage through the lens of the existing church and our liturgical or worship traditions. So, we read this as being about Christian liturgy and worship vs. pagan worship. This is not quite the context because for the Athenians Paul is the pagan and maybe even an atheist. The second way we read this is might be to make this an internal argument about our internal spiritual relationship with God vs the pagan gods we worship out in the world. This moves us into a dualistic understanding of world as bad God as good. Worse, it makes God into something inside of us and removes transcendence from the equation and perpetuates an immanent frame of humanism disguised in gospel words. Finally, preachers put their people in the place of the Athenians. They are the pagans who have come to learn. I don’t see much of this, but it is there. Somehow, the preacher believes they are to be the apologist within the organization for the people. All three of these scenarios move the work of responding to the lesson, God, or the world as an internal work that takes place within the individual or inside the church. The scholars who seem to get this closer to a missiological understanding place the hearers in the role of Paul and play with the notion of conversing about God out in the world.

Taking a look at the passage again we notice that Paul comes to Athens to meet up with and wait for Silas. This is important in that we must see that while Paul is on a mission trip, the actual frame of the story happens while he is waiting. He is out in the world. He is noticing his surroundings. He is about his work when the mission opportunity occurs.

Paul is clear that there is a lot of idol worship and he is “distressed” by it. The word here is interesting, because a direct translation is that he was moved by the spirit. He was provoked by the spirit. I pause here because some of the reading gets us into an antagonistic situation. Paul though is moved by the spirit to talk about all of this idol worship so he engages with anyone who will engage with him.

We automatically put Paul into an antagonistic situation where he is arguing for something over and against something. This could be the situation but this runs a little against the grain of Luke’s narrative in Acts which seems so very interested in engagement for the sake of relationship and invitation. Princeton Scholar Clifton Black points out that for Luke, “all other philosophical or religious views do not have to be dynamited as false in order to prove the gospel true.” In this vein then we see Paul is invited as a fellow philosopher into the Areopagus to speak with the greatest minds in the city. The invitation is not so that they might confront him as in some of the Old Testament prophetic duals between God’s prophets and Baal’s. Instead this is a conversation.

Paul then tells the story of his time in Athens. Paul uses their own image, their own idol as a tool to discuss the God in Christ Jesus. Note very carefully that he does not turn over the tables in the false shrines, or call them heretics, or tell them they are not believers. In fact, Paul speaks to their highest selves and their searching and seeking.

Moreover, Paul does not offer them religion for religion. He offers them faith in a God who seeks relationship with the creature. He is not interested in competing against the other lesser gods, he doesn’t even deny their place. He simply offers a vision of a God who reaches across creation and embraces humanity, who bridges the gap of sin by God’s work on the cross, and who raises all people through the work of resurrection. This is brought about by Jesus. Paul makes a compelling case. But it is a case not made by bashing the religion of his hearers. Instead he uses what he has observed about his hearers and their faith to speak to them about the faith in Jesus.

Scholar William Loader writes,
“Both episodes today [Peter and Acts] are about removing barriers, barriers constructed by religion itself. Both are saying that the whole world is God’s creation, the playground of the Spirit. The whole world is the object of God’s love, the love incarnate in Jesus Christ. Every attempt by human beings to capture God in images, in a book, in a temple, in a people or culture, in a religious experience or in an institution, is a denial of the Spirit. It is a re-erection of Babel’s tower, another futile assault on God’s power in the name of human power, another desperate bid borne of fear, to define out the unknown, the unpredictable, the unmanageable future God promises us. The serpent’s vision still entices us: we want to be like God.”
To often mission is about us having something they don’t have. It is about them coming in here to get it. It is about making a case about a God seen faithfully only through the eyes of religion and worship. This is not the missiology framed in Acts and not in this passage about Paul. We do far better to speak the truth that our greatest witness is out in the world – sometimes while we are waiting. That the invitation is not to shame people into religion by propositioning them to see how ours’s is better. It is rather about true engagement, valuing of other faiths and religions as pieces of revelation of God in Christ Jesus and seeking with them to understand and speak about the God who suffers, dies, and is resurrected.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter 5A May 14, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

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

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

Rubens Painting of Philip

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


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

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


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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Acts 7:55-60



As we mentioned in last weeks lesson what we know is that the community(s) Luke was familiar with had an understanding that they were to make sure that the lost and least were cared for. They were even willing to sell their things to do this ministry. Collections were taken, held in common, and redistributed for the purposes of ministry to the people in the wider community.

We know this was true elsewhere as there is testimony in both the Gospels and the letters that early stewardship was to share what you had with others. It was not a complex model or program. The work of the church in explaining stewardship revolved around a theology that understood that: 
  1. That if you wished to experience a relationship with Jesus, you had to know and serve those whom Jesus loved and that is the least, lost, hungry, and imprisoned. (When did we see you?, Matthew 25:31-46)
  2. That religious systems are not to take from the poor and weak but give to them. (The widow’s mite, Mark 12:41-44)
  3. Jesus invites those who follow to be neighbors with those unlike themselves. Their community was beyond family, clan, and religious belief and included people outside their faith circles. (Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37)
  4. Those who follow Jesus are to sacrifice their own safety and comfort for the lost as Jesus did. (Good Shepherd, John 10:11-12)

Service and mission to the lost and least was an outward understanding of the theology that understood God himself united heaven and earth in order to serve and die for God’s friends.

This gospel work of service required communities to oversee the work and so we are told in Luke’s experience this is revealed in the work of Stephen. Stephen and others were chosen early in our narrative (6:1 of Acts of the Apostles) to do the work of caring and feeding the orphans and widows. Gathering resources primarily was the work of Stephen. The believing community would take up offerings or sell what they had and then purchase food for the feeding of the hungry.

What has happened in the religious community prior to our reading today is the following. The religious leaders are getting concerned about this new sect within their body. I do not believe that everyone is called to be an evangelist. The scripture is clear that some are pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, etcetera etcetera. But what is also clear is that when you serve for instance, as Stephen is doing, people may in fact come to believe. All of this was causing the numbers of the followers of Jesus to grow within the religious gatherings and the religious leaders were getting nervous. So, they call Stephen to come before the judges to determine what to do.

In response to questioning then Stephen gives his testimony. Stephen tells them that essentially religion is the enemy of God and that forever while God has been sending prophets to tell them so, they have in turn (in the name of religion) prosecuted them. So it is that religion does to all prophets what it has been doing from the very beginning… if religion is to survive the prophetic call it must kill the prophets. So, Stephen says,
”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Needless to say the hearers do not take this very well and the religious judges decide that Stephen must die. In a twisted turn they actually fulfill the prophecy of Stephen that religion kills the prophets and they are going to keep doing it as long as it furthers their purposes. A fact and tradition not lost on Christian religious tradition and well implemented after the religious institutionalization of the Jesus movement.

The judgment is made. The mob seizes Stephen, covers their ears so they can’t hear Stephen’s preaching. It was tradition for an execution to take place outside the city so they take Stephen out to through him into the pit and cast stones on him. Stephen, like Jesus, forgives his executioners revealing a key understanding that Christians are a people of peace even in the face of violence, murder, and executions. We are left with the image of Saul as part of the crowd and an understanding that he too will play a greater role in our narrative as he wrestles with and comes to terms with the message of a gospel meant for all people. So in this one foreshadowing moment we see too the beginning of the mission to the whole world – including the non religious.