Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9 August 13, 2017


Strong and faithful God, your outstretched arm governs the mighty forces of creation, and your gentle hand cradles event he smallest of creatures.  Strengthen our "little faith," and open our eyes to your presence at every moment of history and in every circumstance of life, that we may face with serenity times of testing and turmoil, and walk with Christ through every storm toward safe haven and true peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 14:22-33

"How can we preach this tired story in a way that people can hear it?"

"Salvation and Fear and Jesus' Ghost," Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2011.

" is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point at which s/he can say to God, 'I don't know where you're going, but I know that wherever it is, I'd rather be drowning with you than be crowned by somebody else.'"

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 14. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

There is a lot occurring in this passage from Matthew.  Not unlike the work of Jesus Christ as co-creator shining through the miracle of the loaves and fishes we now continue on to see God's hand at work as the lord of the seas.

At first glance we see here in this passage the miraculous acts of Jesus holding up Peter's faith walk, walking on the sea himself, and stilling the storm.  While miraculous in their own right we must also pay close attention to the notion that these are acts reserved for God; these are literally acts which throughout the narrative of the Old Testament are work reserved for God alone.  So, the story is on the one hand a story of miracles but as preachers we must not loose the notion that the story also reveals the holiness, the other-ness, the God-ness of Jesus Christ.  These acts reveal Jesus as the divine Christ.

Not unlike the creedal faith soon proclaimed by the church we see in this story that the Godhead shares with the divine Jesus his nature as creator.

Allison and Davies (the Matthean scholars) point out that Matthew is quick to address the theological for evangelism purposes while at the same time delivering a teaching on the nature of following Jesus.  The Gospel for this Sunday is as much about who Jesus is as it is about whom we are to become if we choose to follow Jesus.

Christians must have faith in the face of difficulties.  As Christians try and follow Jesus and try to enact or make real his commands we know we will have difficulties.  Get out and come to not as easy as it may sound.  The idea that when we step out in faith we step out upon the deep water itself.  The metaphorical teaching of the Gospel lesson is clear: Jesus will not abandon his church (those in the boat) and will come to our aid when we tread the deep water for Jesus sake.  Jesus does not promise there will not be storms but does promise to be there in the midst of the storm.

There is still something more here though. We cannot forget that the Gospel voice of Matthew is one born out of a continuing Jewish context of Jesus followers.  Here in this passage we move from a general understanding of the kingdom to the specific building upon the shoulders of Peter a new community ( a specific Matthean community) of faithful followers.  The insight offered is not one of perfection (after all Peter sinks and will fail again at the passion).  The insight rather is one of understanding the difficulty of faithful following itself.  The apostolic witness of Peter is one upon whom the community will be built. He represents the continuation and tie with the ancient faith ancestors of Israel, and also the willingness to step out and bring the revelation of God in Jesus Christ into the messianic age of community.  A community of continuing Israel's faith in a Messiah who does not leave us but continues to engage the storm of community life and faithful attempts to bear witness to his divine nature and kingdom.

I have to admit that I fail.  That is not something we aspire to in the United States. Failure is not an American option.  It has led us to hold leaders up to a perfection unattainable. At the same time our aspiration for success has also led us to be unwilling to bend or fail; in turn this has led us to not even try.  It is the not trying that is the greater sin. As I reflect upon Peter's walk I think that the reality is that the greater sin is not found in his faith as it falters for there is enough grace for all.  The greater sin would have been not to have tried.  The greater sin would have to not believed in the grace of Christ such that we would have stayed in the boat.

I believe the issue with the church isn't so much that we don't believe in Jesus Christ, but that our real sin is that of perfection.  If it can't be perfect then we should not try.  The Episcopal Church (and my guess is all churches) today is being challenged to get out of the boat. We are being challenged to take a faithful step out into the world. We are being invited and challenged to step out upon deep waters and we are being challenged to fail gloriously.  When an institution and a culture no longer has the ability to tolerate failure the organization is dead.

I hope you will challenge people to get out of the boat.  I hope you will challenge the church to leave the building.  Most of all I pray for you and for me the gift of toleration to allow people to fail gloriously for the sake of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus.  In such grace we can hear Jesus' words to us:  “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Some Thoughts on Romans 10:5-15

"Paul seeks to work out a theology which is consistently informed by the being and nature of God as caring. Where it poses problems, even for the new Christianity, Paul refuses to surrender it as a starting point."

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

"This is the word of salvation that God has ordained from before time. Jesus Christ is the word in whom all are called to rejoice, Jew and Gentile. This is the word that calls for heralds of God's promise today."

Commentary, Romans 10:5-15, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

In our passage from Romans today we continue with Paul's attempts to understand and explain why the Jews have some how failed to grasp the truth about God in Christ Jesus.

The primary reason Paul says is that their faith and relationship with God the Father is based upon their covenant at Sinai.  They are in relationship with God through the law and the law alone. They are focused upon works and not faith.  Paul then does, what I think is an unfortunate thing, he twists a passage from Isaiah and offers a vision that God intended the Jews to fail.  I don't think this is true.  I think Paul has confused the passage completely.

The Jews still await a messiah but they have missed out on the Messiah that God has chosen Christ Jesus.  They remain focused upon the law and their own path to God's bosom.  Paul sees it clearly and says they ave essentially missed the messiah and Christ's redemption from the law so they remain imprisoned.

Paul points out that even Moses offered a faith of the heart and lips and not one solely based upon the law. Paul says they have gotten off track and that in missing Jesus they have missed salvation.  They have instead chosen the harder way to God and that the way of the law is ultimately going to lead to death.

Paul then uses Isaiah and Joel again to point towards Christ. He reinterprets the passage to mean Jesus and that Jesus is the bearer of the good news.  All people have the opportunity to understand it.  Yet many still do not believe.  

The problem I think for the preacher is how not to become anti-Semitic here in this teaching. I believe that God saves the Jews and the Muslims through and by their Abrahamic covenants.  That is theirs to sort out and to keep.  The three faiths are different.  So I would steer clear even though Paul has a very clear view of their predicament.

That being said I think this passage holds a great deal of prophetic teaching and preaching for those who choose to undertake the difficult work of parsing it out.  The reality is that humans in human communities all reject the grace and messianic truth of Jesus - even Christians. We too easily fall into the way of the law and begin to use the law as a means of salvation. 
1. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
2. I worship him in the spirit.
3. I am baptized.
4. I believe the scripture and fulfill it.
AND you (whoever the you is) don't...
We do well to remember the powerful place Romans plays in the reformation. The reformers read this and saw clearly that the Christian Church itself had become a place of the law and not a place of grace.

In this moment of great awakening let us preach and offer a Gospel message of grace and salvation. Let us focus upon our own saving, our gratitude and our response. And, let us make way within our community for God's grace to gather others in - especially those who do not follow the laws we have created to keep them out.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 37:1-28

"Discussions of the providence of God go hand-in-hand with questions of theodicy, and preachers should navigate the topic with care."

Commentary, Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Cameron B.R. Howard, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"In our text for today, sibling rivalry comes close to murder and sets in motion a chain of events that occupy the rest of the book of Genesis (chapters 37-50)."

Commentary, Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text 

I enjoy the readings from Genesis in year A as they march right through the stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs. Today we begin the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors and join the journey as the people of Israel are about to find themselves in Egypt.

Here are some key points:

Jacob has settled in the Land of Canaan. While Isaac (his father) migrated there, it is now home for the tribe of Israel. Jacob likes Joseph a lot! And, his other brothers resent him for it. Jacob doesn't help by giving him a beautiful robe. Joseph has dreams and is a bit pompous. His brothers decide to try and get rid of him in this way continuing the repetitive violence towards the sons of Israel.

The story is important to the New Testament authors in this way. The memetic story of violence towards the least, the lost, the little is a continuous them picked up throughout the Old and New Testament. Mark clearly casts Jesus in this light too. Jesus both tells stories and parables about the kingdom of heaven in which such memetic (repetitive) themes occur. And, Jesus himself is to play the role of Israel's son now sacrificed. This is part of the overall Christology throughout the New Testament wherein Jesus is the "beloved son" and the beloved who will be offered on the altar of human required sacrifice. In this way the violence against Jesus mimics the violence against Joseph and Isaac.

We find that while Mark's Gospel and the synoptics pick up the theme of beloved Son, that it is Luke who carefully repeats the themes in Chapter 2 of his Gospel. Richard Hays in his book Echoes of the Scripture in the Gospels points out on page 201, how the story of Jesus actually (its Greek vocabulary parallels the Hebrew) rehearses the older scriptural narrative. He writes:
Both in Genesis 37 and in Luke 2, we find a loving parent given pause by the apparently grandiose claims of a young son who will later undergo suffering but then in fact turn out to be vindicated as an elect bearer of Gd's special favor; in both texts the paren "keeps" the word/words and ponders them. 
Theologically it isn't that Jesus is a parallel son of Israel as his faith ancestors, instead because of the nature of the God in the eternal incarnation the sons and daughters of Israel forever reveal the nature of the sacrificial incarnation of God. Jesus is in fact the culmination and perfect revelation of the theme that has been seeded throughout the story of humanity and recored in scripture.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Proper 13A/Ordinary 18A/Pentecost +8 August 6, 2017


Loving God as a mother tenderly gathers her children and as a father joyfully welcomes his own, so in the compassion of Jesus you nurture and nourish us, feed us and heal us.  Let the bread Jesus multiplied then in the wilderness be broken and shared among us now.  May the communion we experience with each other in this holy meal, compel us to seek communion with everyone in loving service toward all. 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 14:13-21

"Dostoevsky, in the magnificent "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, ties the matter of bread and hunger to the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11."

Commentary, Matthew 14:13-21, (Pentecost 7), Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"The last supper makes sense in the light of all the other meals including this one and they make sense in the light of the vision of liberation and reconciliation which inspired them. To receive him in bread and wine is also to participate in the vision and nourishment which makes it possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Not unlike the grace imparted in the Eucharistic meal the feeding of the five thousand connects Jesus' ministry of feeding people with God's continuous outpouring of love.

Certainly, the Gospel author tells his story in such a way that the feeding events in the Matthean narrative are linked.  They give shape and image to the final feast.  Matthew's vision of Jesus as Christ and as provider shapes the story even in the telling.

This passage comes in the midst of the fourth largest section of the Gospel. It echoes the abundance of the previous passages on the kingdom of God and not unlike a sacrament it puts flesh on the images of parables that Jesus has been offering those who have ears. In a way, the feeding of the five thousand is an incarnation of the kingdom parables.  Jesus is showing that the kingdom is all around and that God's grace abounds in the fields and on the hill tops not only in the sanctuaries.  He is showing that the mandate to care and love and feed one another is a commandment that will not be confined to the rules of the religiously powerful.

He is also manifesting a very real kingdom community.  The signs and stories, the symbols and the miracles, are now embracing an ever expanding vision and reality which is the growing kingdom.

The New Testament scholar Gerhardsson comments:

In Matthew's time the Eucharist had probably not yet been made fully distinct from the satiating common meals in the early Christian communities.  Thus Eucharistic symbolism does not exclude the possibility that the story is concerned with the satisfaction of elementary bodily hunger -- and vice versa."(Allison/Davies, Matthew, p 492)

The Davies and Allison Commentary continues the theme:

In other words, the spiritualizing of 14:13-21 on Matthew's part does not discount the equal emphasis upon Jesus as the one who can meet mundane, physical needs.  Our pericope therefore both shows Jesus' concern for such 'non-religous' needs and likewise demonstrates his ability to act in accord with that concern.  So the christological assertion that Jesus is  Lord of all seems implicit. (Ibid)
In the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves the Christian Church as a vision of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, through whom all things were made.  We have a vision of Jesus modeling a stewardship of abundance that insures that the world is not simply a place of consumption ("This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away"); but rather that all creation is seen as bountiful for a sustainable kingdom of God ("They need not go away.")

The miracle challenges us to see the possibilities of a church at work in the world.  It challenges us to move out as missionaries into our culture of scarcity and seek to transform the world by bringing real food to all those who are hungry.  Instead of sending them away to other agencies or expecting the government to care we, the Episcopal Church and the Church, must take our rightful place as the hands of God.  We must feed the world and make real the kingdom. We must make the Gospel story of our bible, the one of parable and miracle, a reality.  Only when we re-engage the world as the incarnational body of Christ at work (meeting the very real needs) will the world listen to the Good News we also offer.

For far too long the Church has squabbled over the idea that it is either evangelism or outreach. This Gospel lesson reminds us that service to the poor, with whom Jesus identified himself, and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God go hand in hand.

Some Thoughts on Romans 9:1-5

"People these days ask God to damn lots of things. I have, too; but I've never had the nerve to include myself on the list. Paul did, offering to surrender his own salvation in Christ if it could make a difference."

Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"The identity of the Messiah is the greatest of God's gifts to Paul's kindred according to the flesh. This brings Paul to the only words that can express the focus of all that he has said in these introductory words?a doxology of praise to God?'God blessed forever. Amen!'"

Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

Romans is a magnificent text by Paul.  We have covered a great deal of theological breadth.  He has offered an understanding of how God is at work in the world even now and making it new. He has given us an understanding of the life of the disciple who follows Jesus, is baptized, and forever adopted into union with God.  He has given us hope in our suffering and an understanding nothing can separate us from the love of God.

In this part of Romans he deals with the issue that the Jews have rejected Christ and the Good News of Salvation.  Paul, a Jew himself, wishes this was not so.  Paul would do anything to help the Jews come to Christ.  Then Paul offers these insights. They are insights worth pondering as we seek a healthy relationship with our brothers and sisters with whom we share the Abrahamic faith.

  • The Jews also called the Israelites are inheritors of God's promise to Abraham.  They are adopted like us and children of God.
  • God has been present with them in the desert and in the Temple and continues his presence among them.
  • God is faithful to his promises and so will keep his covenants made with their forefathers - Adam, Noah, Moses, and David of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • God has given them the law to follow and it expresses his will at Sinai and his desire for them to worship.
  • Their continual and faithful worship is essential in their life with God.

Paul though also believes that Jesus is their gift as well.  God is the one who chooses and not the Jews. This is where Paul believes they have gone wrong. God has chosen Jesus to fulfill the law and to unite all humanity to God.  So, while they have so much they lack the one thing.

I think the challenge this passage presents to us is the reality that God is continuing to move and work in the world around us. We like the Jews of Paul's time may be too assured in our certainty and may in fact - like them - be missing the work the Holy Spirit is undertaking outside our churches. Just as the Jews could not see a religion freed to the masses beyond the confines of the Temple so too we may have a difficult time seeing God at work in the world around us.  We may count upon our lineage and adoption too much.  Paul is willing to give it all up to participate in the emerging faith around him. What are we willing to give up so that others may have life and have it abundantly?

Some Thoughts on Genesis 32:3-31

"The story of Jacob's wrestling with the angel provides an embarrassment of riches for homiletical possibilities."

Commentary, Genesis 32:22-31, Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Gen 32 needs to be taken as a whole with its theophany (vv.1-2), prayer for deliverance (vv.9-12) and encounter with God (vv.24-31)."

Genesis 32:22-31, Pentecost 12, Commentary, Background, Insights from Literary Structure, Theological Message, Ways to Present the Text. Anna Grant-Henderson, Uniting Church in Australia.

"God does not punish Jacob's conflictive character, but challenges it and reshapes it so that Jacob is able to live into his promised destiny as Israel, which according to verse 29 means 'one who strives with God and humans.'"

Commentary, Genesis 32:22-31, Amy Merrill Willlis, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text

This is a climactic moment in the story o f Jacob. He comes to terms with his brother Esau. A virtual army of men is on its way. Jacob is afraid and pleads to God, 
"O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’"
Jacob then sends an offering of great value to his brother hoping that he will accept him. 

Then he lays down to sleep. This is the great theophany in which God comes down and wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. 
"a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him."
Not unlike his birth and how he held on to Esau's ankle, Jacob would not let go of the angel/God/man until he was blessed. Jacob was a man of tenacity! God then gives Jacob a new name, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Jacob gives the place a name, and then is freed and continues his journey. 

In this story we see the reconciliation of brothers. We also see the blessing not simply of Isaac but that God's blessing itself rests upon Jacob. Abraham's line continues. It is an origin story of a kind where in we now understand from whence comes the people's name and how they are deeply connected from the age of the Temple to the patriarchs and matriarchs. 

We do well to remember that these cultic stories, passed down, were eventually pulled together through a series of editors and scribes working to unite the traditions of Israel at the time of David and Solomon. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +7 July 30, 2017


Good and generous God, fountain of all wisdom, in Christ you have revealed your kingdom to us, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price.  Grant us your Spirit's gift of discernment, that we may learn to distinguish aright between the passing wealth of this present world and the enduring value of your kingdom.  Then make us swift to renounce all else to acquire the treasure you alone can bestow. 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 13:31-52

"Jesus’ parables, the words of St. Paul, and much of the Bible should serve as a reminder that when it comes to the enormity of God, God’s Kingdom, God’s Salvation, etc. we are not only merely privy to dim reflection—silhouettes—but a silhouette is all we can handle."

"Splashing Water on the Floor," Fr. Rick Morley, a garden path, 2011.

"In the Treasure parable, one's "treasure" (thesaurus in Greek) is an important metaphor in Matthew indicating where one's allegiance ultimately lies and its nature."

Commentary, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

We continue with our parable teaching of Jesus this week.  It it good to remember that Matthew's Gospel account tells us of a number of Jesus' parables.

13.24-30 The weeds and wheat
13.44-6 The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price
13.47-50 The net
13.23-35 The unfaithful servant
20.1-16 The workers in the vineyard
21.29-32 The two sons
22.1-14 The marriage supper
25.1-13 The ten virgins
25.31-46 The last judgment
Together these are about the kingdom of God, and they helps us understand the urgency of following, the cost of following, the importance of not being divided along the way, and the need for preparedness.  The kingdom of God is at hand. We must be ready and we must be willing to make our journey not concerned about the cost nor our traveling partners!

The Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price
This Sunday we read three of these: Hidden Treasure; Pearl of Great Price; and The Drag Net

Each begins in a similar manner: “The kingdom of Heaven is like.…” One of the interesting things is that none of this Sunday's material appears in any of the other Gospels; so this is a special Sunday that gives the preacher an opportunity to really grasp the Matthean Gospel message of kingdom and kingdom community.

The first image that Jesus gives us is that finding the kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which one will sell everything. Treasure was often hidden in fields.  We might remember the find in England called the Staffordshire Hoard. Found in 2009 you can read and watch the story by following the link above.  The treasure included 1500 pieces of Anglo Saxon treasure.  Unlike treasure buried in a tomb the scholars believe this treasure was buried for safe keeping.

We note that this parable presupposes that the kingdom is hidden, that it is not yet revealed to everyone.  This fits well with the thrust of the rest of the chapter. The Kingdom of God is breaking forth and not everyone either sees it or is able to live within it yet.  Not unlike previous parables the revelation of Jesus and God's kingdom is not perfectly clear to all…it can only be perceived by those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  We think immediately of Jesus as he returns to his home town:
54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The next parable is the one most often called the Pearl of Great Price.  The rawness of these three parable is so very like what most scholars believe would have been Jesus' teaching style.  Many presuppose that this is exactly how Jesus would have talked and would have taught those who followed him.  Not unlike the the parable of the treasure hidden in a field the meaning is similar.
Unlike the previous parable though we are challenged to ask the question: why does a merchant purchase a pearl?  Merchants purchase items to resell them.  So we have a spin on the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is for the pleasure of the finder. The pearl’s pleasure is in its sale.  We might say that the pearl becomes symbolically connected with the Gospel itself and the discipleship of giving away the grace received.

The last parable in our teaching is The Parable of The Drag-Net.  Perhaps like the wheat and the weeds we are being reminded once again that in the end the wicked and the righteous will be separated out.  I don't think that the preacher can get around the message here that Jesus, and likely his followers, saw a very tragic end of those who reject the Messiah.  This was rooted in their history and in the prophetic teachings they received.  This too is our understanding.  We believe as a church that there will be judgment in the end. The argument about who is saved and who is not is as old as the scriptures themselves.  Recently this argument has been ignited by the writings of N. T. Wright and Rob Bell.  Certainly we have our catholic faith which tells us there is judgement.  We have our own desire that tells us that we hope everyone is saved; in part because we worry about our own salvation and life lived.

A Missional Hermeneutic Approach to the Treasure and the Pearl
One of the problems that the typical parable approach takes is that it easily places the Church at the center. It puts the treasure and the pearl as the kingdom. We put the price to be paid as our discipleship. We are the merchant or the one who finds the treasure.

But if we put God in Christ Jesus back at the center of the parable what we find is a bit of a different message. Here then we might read that God is is the one who has the treasure in creation and humanity and so is willing to risk everything even the incarnation to be in relationship - to regain what was lost. Similarly, the Kingdom of God is as if God was a merchant and desired a pearl, humanity and creation, which was of great value. Again, God was willing to give all in order to redeem it.

In this way then the church as the body of Christ is invited into a new question. As the body of Christ int he world, what is the Church willing to do as its work of the Gospel? What is the body of Christ willing to sell, redeem, give away in order to be part of the treasure and pearl which even now is buried in the world around us?
The Drag Net
It seems to me though that not unlike the message of the sower and the weeds we must ask ourselves about the net itself. Is our mission work like the drag net? Are we so working and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are encircling and bringing in such a bounty that there will be many saints and sinners caught by the kingdom of God and the Gospel we proclaim.  A dragnet brings up fish and wood and weeds. Certainly Jesus will do the sorting out (not us!) but is our net big enough? Are we strong enough to live as saints and sinners, as sinners and saints, shoulder to shoulder with a diverse community.  We might remember the other stories of nets in the Gospel...  Is our mission broad enough so that our net is about to break?

You see the parable of the drag net includes a Greek word: genos.  Before the parable is explained Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." (Every KIND, every genos.)  This word was most often used to mean race, nation, or tribe.  I would offer that before you spend a lot of time preaching about judgement the church as a whole could use a good dose of preaching on mission and that the parable of the drag net challenges us to be a church in mission where all are drawn in.  Let us as a church mirror the culture around us in our diversity of race and language. Let each church represent the people in the neighborhoods around them.  Let each diocese be challenged to represent the people (in all their diversity) of the geography in which they have been planted.

A Missional Hermeneutic Approach to the Drag Net
But let us push the metaphor a bit more. I have begun to think that while the above is all very good and strong theological thinking it is also imprisoned by a church hermeneutic. What I mean by this is that the boat is probably a better and more historical metaphor for church...not the net. In this way what we quickly realize is that deep within the assumed hermeneutic is a flaw. And, that being that somehow the organization itself is to do this work. That it is the net. That the net work is itself something that belongs to others.

Instead, when we reorient this around a missional hermeneutic what we see is that the net is an image for the Gospel - for when using this kind of net, many times the people are out of the boat/church and in the water with the net. So when we completely contextualize the parable within Jesus' teaching and the nature of fishing and Jesus' call to repeatedly get out of the boat and back on the shore or in the water...we discover that we are to be proclaiming a Gospel that gathers people of all kinds and that this work of Gospel proclamation is to go out in the world and not wait for them to jump into the boat. 

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:26-39

"Without the future hope, God's present involvement in the lives of the suffering might amount to little more than a feeble expression of the company that misery loves."

Commentary, Romans 8:26-39, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."

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

God loves us and reconciles himself to us. He sets aside the result of the law in order to have us be together eternally.  We can see and hope in this very real adoption received by Christ's death and resurrection and marked upon us in baptism.  We know death is not final and that we will live with God eternally and that nothing can separate us from God's love. This has been the theme of Romans.  In our passage today Paul reminds us that we need help from the Spirit in order to navigate and live in the mean time.

We are limited both by our vision and because of our sinful broken nature.  We just can't seem to do the things we want to do and are forever doing the things we do not want to do.  For this reason the Spirit helps us.  God created us to love and respond to him.  God knew we would do this and and that we would need help.  Paul says this is part of the plan to which creation is following.  We are struggling and so the Spirit is sent to us to help us.

When we open ourselves up to God and God's love the Spirit intercedes where we are weak and gives us strength.  We are recreated in this world as preparation for the next. God is remaking us.  God is enabling us to be faithful...though we will surely fail again.  

So how do we know? How are we certain God will be successful?  Paul says God is for us, God has decided not to condemn us, and God has and is justifying us.  Christ Jesus who knows us in now with God. He himself is preparing a place for us. Christ Jesus is advocating for us and pleading our case.  God has come into the world and has returned and so knows us intimately and knows our struggles and our faithfulness.  

It is this reason, this presence of Christ Jesus with God, that assures our triumph and the certain hope of those things promised - our eternal adoption. Then Paul gives that wonderful few words that are some of the most comforting in all of scripture - especially for a sinner like me...
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what we may suffer in this life we will have victory because of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from God's love.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 29:15-28

"The almost invisible presence of Zilpah and Bilhah in a passage that includes discussion of appropriate wages (Genesis 29:15) encourages reflection on the precarious status of minimum wage earners, surrogate and birth mothers, domestic workers, and others who perform vital but largely underappreciated work in our society."

Commentary, Genesis 29:15-28, Esther M. Menn, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"These characters are all intent on using and subverting a system of conventional social and cultural arrangements for their own ends. In this sense they echo the God behind the narrative, whose promise and blessing also subvert conventional social (and political) systems."

The Old Testament Readings: Genesis 29:15-28. Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text

The passage this week continues with the story of Jacob. Jacob and Laban are bound together in a battle of wits. Essentially Laban tricks Jacob who loves Rachel into marrying Leah. Jacob has to work even more to have Rachel. 

The passage gives us insight into the nature of relationships, property, work, and the oppressive social and communal conditions of women living at the time. Often times Christians and others will make an argument that some tradition or another is part of our ancient inherited faith. 

This Sunday's readings remind us that marriage for instance, is relatively a new phenomenon in our culture along with the ability for women to have a say in their future and relationships. And, we should be quick to remember that in many other parts of the world there are in fact cultural traditions that are much more in line with our reading today. 

This story, and the well, where Jacob meets his future family, is the same well mentioned in John's Gospel in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We have covered this in the past few posts and so I encourage you to look back. 

Nevertheless, let me say that what is clear is that the image here for the first Christians is one that clearly invites us to consider the similar passage invitations above. How is God like Jacob who meets humanity at the well and will do anything that the world requires. If we put the story within the missional hermeneutic and not the church hermeneutic what we can easily see is God postured as Jesus and as Jacob, the world as Laban and Rachel and Leah as the pearl of great price or the treasure. God in this way, through the work of the cross, a labor of love, is willing to give of God's self for the other. God is willing to pay whatever the cost.

The one issue here and above is that we must be careful not to slip into the memetic (re-occurring and repetitive) cycles of violence perpetuated without pausing to think about language. God in the incarnation and particular and unique revelation of Christ Jesus does in fact give himself over into the world. René Girard offers that from his annunciation God comes not to overthrow with the same old systems of violence but with new ones. It would be far to easy in both the treasure, pearl, and the story of Rachel to offer a vision of a God who continues to overthrow the world through violent means and required sacrifices. This is the way of lesser gods.

Girard says in an interview found here:
The authentic knowledge about violence and all its works to be found in the Gospels cannot be the result of human action alone. Our own inability to grasp knowledge that has been waiting there for two millennia confirms theological intuitions that are no less certain for being incapable of setting out explicitly their foundations in reason. These rational foundations can only become intelligible if we proceed beyond the sacrificial version of Christianity, and are guided by the non-sacrificial reading which can emerge when the other one has fallen away.
A non-violent deity can only signal his existence to mankind by having himself driven out by violence -- by demonstrating that he is not able to establish himself in the Kingdom of Violence.
...and speaking of the birth of Christ:
Throughout these episodes, the Gospels and the Christian tradition, taking their cue from the Old Testament, place in the foreground beings foredoomed to play the part of victim -- the child, the woman, the pauper and domestic animals.
...and finally:
Saying that Christ is God, born of God, and saying that he has been conceived without sin is stating over again that he is completely alien to the world of violence within which humankind has been imprisoned ever since the foundation of the world: that is to say, ever since Adam. The first Adam was himself also without sin, and it was he who, in becoming the first sinner, caused humankind to enter the vicious circle from which it has never been able to break out. Christ is thus in the same situation as Adam, facing the same temptations as he did -- the same temptations as all humanity, in effect. But he wins the struggle against violence; he wins, on behalf of all humankind, the paradoxical struggle that all people, in the succession of Adam, have always been fated to lose.

While Paul does not use this particular story in his letters, and it is only vaguely referred to in the New Testament, there is nothing that keeps you as a preacher from pulling a Pauline allegory out of the text in order to speak of God's mission and elevate the story from one simply of origins to one of redemption. But let us be careful that as we do so we do not repeat the systems of violence that have always been at work taking advantage of the least, lost and powerless in our communities.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +6 July 23, 2017

With a love both powerful and patient, O God you sustain the growth of the good seed your Son has planted. Let your word like a mustard seed, bear rich fruit within us, and like a little yeast, produce its effects throughout the whole church. Thus may we dare to hope that a new humanity will blossom and grow to shine like the sun in your kingdom when the Lord of the harvest returns at the end of the age.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 13:24-43

"Perhaps there were some overzealous 'weeders' in Matthew's congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age."

Commentary, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 201l.

"Never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth!"

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

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

We remember from our work on this chapter last week that Jesus has been surrounded by crowds and is teaching from a boat. He is teaching in parables as was his custom on many occasions; and was a traditional form of teaching and preaching. Perhaps not unlike our postmodern custom of preaching which weaves in cultural stories, narratives, movies, and prose.

The material in this cycle of teaching is unique to Matthew's Gospel and so may offer insight about the nature of his community.

The Greek indicates that this first story is about a householder with servants. He has fields and during the night while everyone is asleep an enemy comes and sows weeds into his perfectly good field. His servants are very concerned and want to pull up the weeds. He then says, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."

According to Leviticus 19.19 sowing weeds into the field makes the field ritually impure. As a number of scholars point out just gathering the weeds won't fix the problem.

So perhaps in keeping with the sowing of seeds which is also part of this chapter the kingdom of heaven is very different than the community of faith in Jesus' time . Perhaps the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the impure - the profane. Not unlike the sower who sows seeds with abandon; we see that the idea of where the community of God exists is in the world. That there is no separation in the world between the righteous and the unrighteous. That the mission of God is in the midst of the people of God (those actively participating in the kingdom and those who have not yet heard the Gospel).

We might be challenged then after reading the first parable in this sunday's lesson to ask ourselves: Do we have enough weeds in our field?

The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. This parable then continues to challenge our notion of the nature of the kingdom of God. First we have a kingdom which lives out its mission in the midst of weeds which is seen by the establishment as unclean and impure. Now we read that the kingdom of heave is a weed.

No one plants a field of mustard seed. It is voracious and chokes out all other growth. In fact it will blossom and bloom and spread to neighboring fields. It grows into a wild bush where many creatures inhabit and live.

We might be challenged then after reading the second parable to ask ourselves: As missionaries do we sow a Gospel that is voracious and weed like; in which many creatures may find shelter?

In the last parable Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” This is crazy! This parable of the kingdom is even wilder than the sower who sows with abandon; the farmer who allows the weeds into his field; or the farmer who grows mustard!

Think about this for a minute. The woman has yeast. She must remove it for the sabbath. This yeast (given the period of time) would have been much like a sourdough starter today. So she is going to mix the yeast in with flour and bake the bread thereby cleaning the house of all its impurity and insuring she does not do any work. She takes this starter and mixes it with "three measures of flour." A measure of flour in the first century was about 8.5 liters; or 36 cups. She has mixed this threefold meaning that she has mixed her yeast starter into 108 cups flour! This will mean that she will end up making about 18 loaves of bread. A loaf of bread would have cost a person a day's wages in Jesus time.

So the kingdom of heaven is like a mad baker! The parable of the yeast is not unlike the parable of the sower. The results is a multiplication of ample amounts.

We are challenged in this third parable to ask ourselves: is our mission proclamation of the Gospel kneading into the world around us copious amounts of yeast to bring forth a great bounty of bread for the world?

Is our Gospel proclamation providing the world around us enough bread that those who are hungry are fed?

The last portion of our text today is an apocalyptic interpretation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds.
36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

I do think that one has to make a decision as the preacher how one is going to approach the text. Jesus himself teaches to the crowd and teaches to his closest followers. Will you preach to the wheat and the weeds both parts of this text?

I do think that the preacher needs to make some mention of the reality that the Gospel offers a vision of an end that includes judgement. How is that judgement to be explained.

The reality is that this pulls into the text the a Daniel (12.3) like prophetic vision of the end. Perhaps it is entombed in Jesus' time period and should be overlooked. But I think that we loose something if we don't also deal with accountability. I think that for Jesus and for Matthew's community the message is clear: the proclamation of the kingdom of God matters to God.

No matter what the end times are going to be matter what judgment will be like...our work to sow the seeds, live in a mixed community, proclaim the gospel like a weed and leavening the world around us MATTERS to our God. This is our work and we believe it matters and is essential to life in a community that proclaims Jesus as Lord. Perhaps as in the the parable of the wise stewards our work is to risk and believe that we have a God who is willing and even invites his followers to risk.

The ones that always seem to have a hard time in the scripture with God are those who can't trust in his grace and who are forever goes against the grain. From Jonah to poor steward it is the the lack of trust in grace that gets one into trouble.

We do well to remember that God is "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." So risk it all. Risk making too much bread and risk waisting seed.

A Blessing
I like this blessing and thought I would share it with you as I think it ties into today's lesson. We have work to do and our footprints in the garden are short, there is community to embrace, a weed like Gospel to sow, and leaven to knead!
"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more."

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:12-25 

"The inheritance is not a place or a gift or a reward, but God and God's glory. And God's glory is not golden shiny streets, but God's own being. The glow and glory of God is what we celebrate in God. Paul is saying: our hope is nothing other than to share in that life."

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

"Whatever evil or suffering we face, we have the blessed assurance that God will see to the completion of our adoption, and nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."

Commentary, Romans 8:12-17 (Trinity B), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

God does not promise that now that we live in the Spirit that life will be easy, without difficulty, suffering or sin.  In fact we will encounter and experience all of these things. But life is changed, life is changed and we have hope because God has reconciled us already and our failings and sufferings cannot undo our salvation. Just as we cannot do anything to earn our salvation so too we cannot do anything to undo it.

Our reality is that now that we are Jesus followers and God fearers that we are debtors. We understand our current reality and God's love, grace, and mercy so we are people with a debt.  We now know what God has done and so we are grateful and our response to that gratitude is to live a life that mimics the one who has saved us.

Paul says that we may hope for reconciled life with God and do not despair over the finality of death which will have no hold upon us.  We are the new heirs of Abraham, we are God's children.  We are adopted by God and made heirs.  We are not like slaves who are mandated to do this or that and must fear the master.  Instead we gentiles, like our brothers and sisters of Israel, call God father because we are intimately connected as part of his family.  This is not a statement of maleness or the sex of God but rather an image of the intimate nature of our reconciled relationship with God.  What are the words you might use to describe this? Regardless of what you call it, we as followers of God in Christ Jesus have received union with God. This is a union that cannot be undone.  This adoption is finalized.

Paul then turns to the reality of the community in Rome; probably around 57 ad.  He recognizes and honors their suffering but also points out that this will fail in comparison to the glory which is to come at the end of life.  Sin is a terrible state and has grown in power and it has enslaved us and made us servants to a demanding and awful master.  The world is in bondage and is even now decaying.  But God is at work in and among us.  Everything is even now laboring with great pains toward the kingdom of God.  As Christians in Rome they are suffering and their suffering is part of these pains.  But we are to see that nothing will put an end to God's mighty work of recreating and reconciling the world.  We are enduring and hoping in things not seen because we know that God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year!

Some Thoughts on Genesis 28:10-19
"Jacob finds himself all alone at nightfall. He is on the run from his brother Esau because of a blessing."

Commentary, Genesis 28:10-19a, Esther M. Menn, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Three Hasidic interpretations of the ladder in Jacob's dream shed light on humanity's relationship with God."

"The Ladder to Heaven," Torah Commentary by Rabbi Shai Held. BeliefNet.

So we get to Jacob's ladder in this week's reading from Genesis. While we are taking giant leaps through Genesis this is a great set of readings. Isaiah is of course the other option...but these are fantastic AND they give the preacher a chance to update what most adults remember of the story from their childhood Sunday school lessons to a more mature understanding of the theological arc.

Jacob has a dream of a ladder that reaches from the earth to the heaven. Angels are going up and down as you well know. In a great theophanic moment God is next to him and says:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Here then is a passing on of the mantle of Abraham. A promise of those things to come. It is both the mix of origin story about our faith ancestors, explaining how we got here, and it is at the same time a story of a man's walk with God. 

Jacob of course responds, "
"Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel...
This of course is to be one of the great shrines of the people of Israel. The story is also a significant Orthodox vision of the incarnation and this reading is used on the feast of the Theotokos. For early Christians there is still more.

In Mathew's Gospel Jesus himself takes up the place of God in Jacob's dream. Such a parallel is obviously to entwine the ancient promise and story of Jacob within the coming of Jesus as if he is the fulfillment of the covenant promise. (Hays, Echoes of the Scripture, 172)

In the Gospel of John Jesus, as the incarnation, is himself seen as the house of God. Here Jesus is the place of God's dwelling presence on earth - a living Bethel. Here he is the living water from the sacred well himself. Jesus is the gate to heaven. He is the one upon whom oil shall be poured. (Ibid, 313) In John 1:51 we even have the allusion of the angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man. There is also a delightful essay entitled "Jacob Traditions and the Interpretation of John 4:10-26". (Ibid, 427)

We have worked a long way into this narrative to reach this high point. There is more here than mere lineage of Jesus, or faith ancestry work. Instead what we begin to see (because we believe in an eternal incarnation that was at work prior to the unique revelation of the incarnation in Jesus) that God's plan to walk again in the garden within and with his creation is already at work both as the incarnation travels and walks the pilgrimage that Jacob must walk, and as a precursor of revelation for those who would find need to interpret the person and ministry of Jesus. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +5 July 16, 2017


Creator God, unceasingly at work in the field of humanity sowing the good seed and awaiting its yield, let your Spirit move in power over us to transform our hearts into the good soil you seek. Then may your word bear fruit a hundredfold in our deeds of justice and peace, and thus reveal to a world that eagerly awaits its liberation the blessed hope and glorious freedom of your reign.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 13:1-23

"This is not about what good soil we are, and how well we understand the divine mysteries. This is about what God is doing in staggering numbers."

Preaching Matthew 13:1-9, Anna Carter Florence, Lectionary Homiletics sample.

"The parable of the careless sower, the miraculous harvest, the helpless, hapless seeds, or the good soil? Which brand name(s) do you prefer? Whichever one(s) you pick, 'let's hear something we've never heard before.'"

"Rebranding the Parable of the Sower," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

The setting for this parable is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. There are many people following Jesus now and they are pressing in on him. He is offering them something they are not receiving elsewhere. He is perhaps helping them see that the world does not have to be the way it is and that the reign of God is at hand. He is sharing with them his vision of the kingdom of God and inviting them to realize that the change begins in their own lives. This band of disciples and Jesus are living on the edge of the culture and of their faith but here they are finding companionship along the way. Herein on the Sea of Galilee they are finding that perhaps there are many who feel they live on the edge.

As the people press in on Jesus he gets in a boat and begins to teach them from this place. One can imagine the people sitting along the edge amidst fishermen repairing their nets and boats. They sit and stand and listen.

Jesus chooses a very pastoral parable. Parables of course are stories with many possible meanings. Martin Luther said that one must depend upon the Holy Spirit to open their deep meaning to the person listening. Jesus even says:

The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

It is probably worth spending a little time this Sunday teaching about what parables are and the nature of them. Many people have heard them, but most people don't really know what they are; how many they are; or that they were a natural part of teaching during Jesus time.

The text is divided into two parts. The first is the actual teaching, and the the explanation of the teaching. Both are important and both have their place, but I would suggest to you that you must choose to deal with Jesus' parable or Jesus' teaching of the parable.

Let us simply go over the teaching of the parable by Jesus first. Certainly people in Jesus time were more connected with their food sources and where their food comes from. Unlike us today, most of them would have had small gardens. Certainly there was a growing dependance upon farmers, but unlike the industrial age when we see whole economies depend upon foreign food production, people in the time of Jesus all farmed a little. So it is easy to understand his teaching. The sowers sows the seed this is the good news. The ground is us. We can be fruitful or not. We can be like the hard ground, the rocks, or the thorns. We can let birds come and gather it up. These are hard times and much can happen. Here is what Jesus says:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

I think those gathered around Jesus heard this parable and thought about God. Perhaps some of the more religiously astute remember the prophecy of JEroboam from 1 Kings 14:7-11. In this story the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam that because he abandoned God and worshipped false Gods that he and his household will suffer for their evil ways and and that the birds of the air will peck at them upon their death. It is the same for King Baasha. So there was some understanding by the population that this birds of the air was not a good thing at all!

It is not a difficult thing to think that God is the sower, receive the good news and reign of God and don't let anything happen to it...nurture it...water it...and for goodness sakes be good ground. At the end of the day if every one of our people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning got that much (be good earth for the Gospel) we would be off to a grand start.

I think there is more there though that is worth looking at and going a little deeper. Here we see that listening and doing are important and key to discipleship work.

A disciple is not one who abandons the quest.
A disciple is not one who listens lightly and then returns to his life as though nothing has changed.
A disciple is one who will be persecuted for their faith.and if not prepared the Gospel will not have rooted itself deep enough o withstand pressure to relent.

These are some key discipleship thoughts. I am interested though in what happens when we take Jesus' last words here and return to the parable to hear it again for the first time.

Jesus says, "But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Does the one who hears, who understands it, then bears fruit not in turn like the sower. A fruit tree itself is a sower of fruits and seeds. They fall and land every which way. The fruit tree produces a hundredfold. Yet all of it does not grow new fruit trees just like the original sower of seeds. In this way the disciple becomes like the master, the assistant gardener like the master gardener.

In this way the human being who was created to be God's partner in the garden, tending and walking with God in the end of the day is restored. The disciple returns to the work we were originally created to undertake. We are to be, like Jesus, sowers of the seeds of the kingdom of God. We are to sow with abandonment. We are to sow in all kinds of places. We are to not worry about what grows up but it is the production of fruit and the propagation of the Gospel that is essential.

In our work places, in our homes, in our families you and I are to bear the fruit of the Gospel. Which for Jesus is very clear. We are to be the family of God. We are to care for young and old, rich and poor, the powerless and the powerful. We are to bring all to a closer knowledge of God and of his son Jesus Christ. We are to so proclaim the Good News that those around us find the transformation they are seeking.

If we are to go deeper...if we are to go beyond a gnostic understanding of this gospel text where some get it and others don't...then we ourselves must become sowers of the Gospel seed.

One flew off in the belly of a bird.
One sprang up, but withered fast.
One choked by thistles, or so I've heard.
One gained a hundred when it was cast.

Come hear the wise old story
Of a sower and his seed.
He flung it far to fall,
Then battled bird and weed.
Some seed sprouted quickly,
Then withered in the sun--
But some seed fell upon good soil,
And repaid the work he'd done.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
\Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Sun and rain and time pass by,
And what was sown awakes.
First the blade, then the bud,
Then full ear it makes.
Come now golden harvest,
We'll reap what we have sown.
Seed once watered by our tears
Will be glad sheaves brought home.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves.
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves,
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

2002 by Skip Johnson

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:1-11

"...To hear, that is, that no matter what we've done or has been done to us, no matter what we may have previously heard or presently believe, God is not angry with us. To hear that God loves us, forgives us, accepts us as we are, and sets us free to live lives of meaning, purpose, grace, and gratitude."

"What Willl You Do...?" David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"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,, 2011.

Last week we talked about the two ways of being in the world - living by the law, living by the grace of God knowing you will fail to keep the law. In this passage Paul talked about the conflict between the exterior doing self and the inner believing self.

In this passage Paul continues his thinking by laying out that something is simply wrong in our inner being - in our mind - our will.  We seem (while we are created to be God's creatures) to be unable to do what God wills. We are sinful and we are somehow broken.  Our flesh, Paul offers, seems to do bad things quite naturally.  

This being true we are grateful to God that there is no ultimate condemnation for these mistakes.  100% forgiveness.  This is true Paul says, because God's Spirit, through God's action in baptism, has freed us from death.  Nothing we do has done this...God has done it all. God has loved us so much that God came into the world.  God in the world, reaching out to us in perfect love, dies because of our sin. We do what we do...we kill love, forgiveness, and mercy.  God is faithful to us and does not raise a hand against us but heals and serves us and changes the equation.  God suffers what we give in return and dies in accordance with the law and our will.  God then redeems the whole situation through resurrection - forever reconciling us with God and with one another.

Paul then illustrates that even still there remains two mindsets which struggle against one another - the one focused upon ourselves and the other which is focused upon God.  The first is rooted in the law and leads to death; the second is a life lived in gratitude and leads to eternal life.  Those who follow Jesus are the ones who are living in the spirit and therefore will not die but have life eternal.  

God's spirit is with us - even to the end of the ages - and when we live in gratitude to the mighty work of God we be living in the spirit and have life abundantly.  This is the only way one has life.  The truth is that as humans we live believing that everything else will bring us happiness and eternal life. We believe all else will provide life abundantly - but in the end - the truth is clear - none of it brings gratitude and life.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 25:19-34

"This very brief, one verse account, continues the theme of the promise threatened and promise fulfilled that runs throughout the book of Genesis. Moreover, as in the instance of Sarah and Abraham, the theme of barrenness makes a powerful statement with regard to the power of God to bestow the unexpected gift of life in situations of barrenness and despair."

Julianna Claasens, Working Preacher

"It took Jacob of the Torah more than twenty years, plus a night of wrestling with God, to learn that steadfastness and clarity in his own identity, not trickery or violence, could win him the blessings of prosperity and peace."

"From Rivkah's Womb to the Western Wall," Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center.

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament Text 

Old movie serials would bring you up-to-date quickly before the next episode. This is similar to how we read through Genesis in our cycle. We discover since we last caught up with Abraham that our story follows a creation story about the linking of the Arab people within the line of Abraham as well, this time through his wife Keturah. These origin stories link all the people of the middle east together. Abraham has since died. Everyone is disbursed. 

While Rebekah and Isaac are having trouble getting pregnant, she speaks with God through an oracle and finds out she will have twins, but the younger will serve the older. 

Again, as before with Cain and Abel and with Isaac and Ishmael, we have two brothers divided.
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
As a child I loved this story - even though I was the oldest. When the time comes for the twins' birth of course this is a great wrestling match between the hair one and the heel.  They were always at odds (similar to the other brothers in our origins narrative). Esau was a hunter and a man of the field while Jacob was a tent dweller. Isaac loved Esau because he was like him and he love the hunt. Rebekah loved Jacob. What follows is that Jacob tricks Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup! In this way Jacob secures from Esau his lineage as the future patriarch. Spoiler alert: of course he gains from Isaac the blessing as well. 

In the end the great division between the two brothers will come to a head later in our story. Jacob will have to learn (not unlike many other characters in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament) that one cannot survive by trickery alone. Wrestling with angels, a dream, return to Canaan, a final conflict with Esau, and finally a lost son will bring him around to understanding the grace and mercy of God. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Proper 9A/Ordinary 14A/Pentecost +4 July 9, 2017


To the childlike, O God, you reveal yourself, and on those who are meet and humble of heart you bestow the inheritance of your kingdom.  Set our hearts free from every burden of pretension and refresh our weary souls with the teaching of Christ, that with him we may shoulder the gentle yoke of the cross, and proclaim to everyone the joy that comes from you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 11:16-30

"It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery."

Commentary, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"In the end, I am tempted to the same kind of apathy and indifference as the people in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. The problems are too big, too complicated, other people don't seem to be as bothered as I am, so why don't I get on about my business and fish?"

"Are You Paying Attention, Capernaum?" Tod Weir, Bloomingcactus, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

There are several sections to this reading; and in fact many will only read portions of the whole series.

The first section begins with the end of a discourse on John the Baptist (11:16-19). The second section is made up of a prophecy of "woe" (11:20-24). Then we have a series of praises to God for his revelation (11:25-30).

We know that John is Jesus precursor, that he decreases as Jesus influence and power increases, and we know that John's career runs parallel with Jesus. This framework gives way in the end to our text today wherein it is clear that Jesus' work and mission is not being responded to and our verses this Sunday offer a key crossroads for the community. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, vol 2, 294ff)
16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
For those hearing Jesus they have a decision to make will they follow Jesus or John the baptist. For those hearing Matthew's Gospel there is some question as to whether they will follow Jesus or the old ways of their community. For us today we stand at a perpetual crossroads in our daily life, in our communications, and in our relationships wherein we are challenged to follow Jesus.  We are not given a utilitarian outlook on life when we choose to follow and love Jesus. We are changed by the Gospel and changed by those whom God embraces.  When we embrace and choose the path of Jesus we are choosing a more difficult yet very interesting road.

The next section is a prophecy from Jesus about what happens when we do not respond.
21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
The last section is a section that deals with a thanksgiving to God for revelation. I found it interesting in Allison and Davies commentary to read these words, "...11:25-30 is a capsule summary of the message of the entire gospel."  This passage is as important a text as John 3.16 - famously known as the Gospel in miniature: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.."

In this passage Jesus is clear:
  1. He is the one who is responsible for revelation to the family of God who are in their infancy growing into the discipleship community they were created to be.
  2. He is the meek and humble one (fulfilling the sermon on the mount's blessings) - he is the servant of Israel; he is the Messiah.
  3. He is the embodiment (the Word made flesh) of both the law (he is the righteous one) and wisdom (he is the revealer).
  4. He has come to make know and to act out the perfect will of God, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It is interesting how our 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and our Rite One service use these two passages together.
They both reveal to us who Jesus is and who we are called to be. His message is profoundly different than that of the baptist; it is for both the old and the new Israel. In this manner we remember the mosaic motif of the evangelists words in describing Jesus and his ministry. He is the one who reveals God's holy law to us and it is similar to the law revealed by moses and it is given to us on a mount not unlike Moses' own delivery. Jesus, like Moses continues the tradition of righteousness and wisdom inherited from the great mosaic tradition. Matthew is clear Jesus is the living word that revealed to Moses the law; now in the flesh he fulfills it. But the new Israel is an expanded version of the old. There is more to it, not in that it is new to God, but rather that it is new to us. In Jesus the purposes of God are more fully revealed. We are to learn and study that with Jesus provides for us but we are to be meek as we become more fully aware of this revelation and we are to be transfigured and transformed by our experience of this revelation.
Not unlike the Matthean Gospel in miniature we are to live out the revelation of Jesus Christ and become the discipleship community creation was intended to bring forth.We are to be servants of all if we are friends of Jesus. We are the meek. Our lives and relationships are to be different than those around us for the purpose of God's revelation. The words we receive we are to proclaim and enact for others, receiving the weary, carrying their heavy burdens, giving others rest. We are to take Jesus' yoke and to learn and while being humble and gentle we are to help others find rest for their souls.

Some Thoughts on Romans 7:13-25

"The tone of these chapters is reflective, meditative. Yet, no portion of the epistle is more challenging to understand than these four chapters."

Commentary, Romans 7:15-25a, Marion L. Soards, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Paul's dilemma is the human dilemma -- all of us struggle in the battle between good and evil, right and wrong choices, thoughts and actions."

"The Blame Game," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

So lets take a look at Romans.  Paul has been setting up this conversation over the last two readings and today it becomes a bit clearer to understand if not a bit more difficult to undertake.  There are essentially two ways of being in the world.

The first way of being is the old way. This is the way of the law.  The problem with the law is that because of sin humans are constantly breaking it. In point of fact humans cannot keep the law fully; the only thing that one can expect for sure from a life lived by the law is a life of sin and continuity in its breaking.  What this means is that humanity is therefore dependent upon God to help reconcile them.  This dependence comes from the understanding that without God's intervention humanity, a community of law breakers, will have no spiritual life upon their death.

The second way of being in the world is the way provided by God in Christ Jesus.  This other way of making our way in the world is attained through the sacrament of baptism, where in we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By doing so we have life in Christ Jesus.  This new reality formed in the grave and redeemed means that upon our death we too will be raised like Jesus.  The craziness is that after baptism death brings life - instead of simply death.

Paul then explains that the problem here is not the law itself - important to understand - but it is humanity who is at fault.  Here is how it works.  Humans live in constant tension between their action and their inner self - the mind or will.  Humans desire good and to be good; they desire to live by he law.  As creatures we are created to live by God's ways explains Paul.  YET, and it is a big yet, humans understand that what they do is not what they will to do. There are many things you can will yourself to do and still fail to do them.  I bet you and I could come up with several things right now on our list of "I will do but don't do."  This is sin - that I do the things I do not wish to do - no matter how hard I will it.  Paul says this is sin.  You and I can will ourselves to obey God but in the end we just aren't very good at overcoming the sin that is in us.

This is a key element in theology because what it offers is that humanity is not going to get better - we are continually going to be at war with ourselves and one another. We will do things we should not do and we will leave things undone which we should have done. We will hurt others, hurt ourselves, and even allow others to hurt others on our behalf.  

We might well remember that this does not negate our action to try and be different; this does not negate our response to God's grace, love, and mercy.

Paul is highlighting for us that we are utterly dependent upon God to save us. We are dependent upon God in Christ Jesus to forgive us. We are dependent upon God to be a power greater than ourselves to restore order and sanity into our lives. Our response to this sorry state of affairs and God's salvation is true gratitude.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Finally, the fact that God is considered to be not above the ordinary life events with which people busy themselves; the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one's soul mate offers an important theological perspective regarding a God who is a personal God; a God who is deeply committed to and involved with God's creation.

"Now in truth, like Rebecca, we often have little idea where our Lord is asking us to go. Our people and our father's house can look very good indeed if we find ourselves, as Rebecca did, in the desert on the back of a camel wondering who that strange person was who was coming her way. We may begin by thinking that going to church is not such a big deal, but before you know it we are in Lithuania... so it is we discover our most passionate desire is to be desired."

Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time

The story of the beginning of Isaac's life with Rebecca is one that is tied deeply with other such narratives and typologies of the Israel's beginning - including Jacob and Rachel. For the early Christian this appears to have two important allegorical offerings for the preacher. 

The first is that the image of the continued linking of the Gentile mission with the inheritance of Abraham. Just as these stories of groom and bride play a natal part of the story of Israel, so they are to become the stories of provision and searching and desire for the ever expanding Christian mission to those who are to be wed into the Gospel narrative. It also prefigures Jacob and Rachel, and therefore is tied to Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, and it prefigures Jesus at our wells. 

God indeed desires us, and is willing to come after us. God invites us and we go. Though where we will go with our groom is unknown.

Now, I wish to offer a suggestion that the preacher takes this passage in a different way, not from the angle of Isaac but rather with a focus on Rebecca.

Rebecca is one of the great matriarchs of our faith. She is a matriarch of our inheritance - as in the line of Abraham and then Isaac. She plays an important role and is a very strong personality. She is courageous because she leaves her family. Sharon Pace Jeansonne writes, "Her life is detailed from her betrothal as a young woman through her death, and it is developed much more than those of her husband Isaac. The qualities of hospitality and forwardness which Rebekah lays as a girl carry over into her life as a matriarch. Rebekah's actions attest to a certain degree of female autonomy in the biblical world".  (Jo Anne Davidson, Matriarchs of Genesis) In this way when we read the passage assigned we are able to highlight such characteristics, wisdom, and courage. 

Rebecca prefigures then the Christian life...not simply as something or someone to be desired by God...but to be a person who is a champion of God. Courageous to go where God leads, to work for the purposes of God, and to live out a faithful life with God.