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)

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Proper 9B, July 7, 2024

Remove from before our eyes, O God, the veil that hides your splendor, and flood us with the light of your Holy Spirit, that we may recognize your glory shining in the humiliation of your Christ and experience even in our own human weakness the sufficiency of your grace and the surpassing power of Christ's resurrection.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 6:1-13
"Would you agree that we are living in a world that is more and more characterized by unbelief? If so, doesn't it feel as if we are living in a Nazareth-world ? a culture that is, at best, disinterested in Jesus?"

Commentary, Mark 6:1-13, Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Whether among the travellers or among those who stayed in their community, Jesus called people to be and bear good news for the poor. No wonder the established power structures of family and land and religion saw only madness and did their best to tame him and his followers. The judgement of history is probably that they have at least succeeded with most of his followers to this day."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 6, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"By attempting over and over to make him ‘the Messiah,’ people were missing the point of his message, which was that the Reign of God was present and that they all were invited to participate in it."

"Mission Grounded in Rejection," D Mark Davis, raw translation and exegesis/questions, Left Behind and Loving It, 2012.

"Is there some area – some regret we can't get over, some grudge we can't let go, some hurt that has come to define us, some addiction that imprisons us, some anger that has taken hold of us – that we are having difficulty entrusting to God?"

"Something to Do," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

Last week the crowds loved this guy, this week they reject him in his home town.  Those who knew him the best, who saw him growing up, those who he perhaps counted as friends - they reject him. He is not able to do any work there in their midst. He is completely "dumbfounded." (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 377).

There are several powerful themes. The first is that the gospel is not easily heard by the insiders. This is true in the religious authorities and in his closest relatives.  The second theme is that God is at work here, just like the prophets of old.  The third is Jesus' rejection. He is rejected by the demons. He is rejected by the religious authorities. He is rejected by gentiles. He is rejected now by his own people.

God is patient. God is at work. Even though he is rejected here he is not fully without power to do miraculous things.  God in Jesus continues to make his way to the ultimate rejection and crucifixion. But it will be at the cross that he is victorious. 

The message this week is clear to me. God is at work in the world around us. God is at work wether we see it or do not see it. God is at work outside the walls of our churches and outside of our communities. In point of fact some miraculous things are happening inside, but the great work is being done out in the world.  The whole of creation is marching steadily towards fruition of the kingdom of God and his reign.  It is at work and miracles and works of power are being done by God through the power of the Holy Spirit as we speak.

The question is not unlike the dumbfounded Jesus might have posed to his hometown family: cannot you see what I am doing here? Do you not know me?  Don't you want to come with me?

What would it be like this Sunday to preach the newspaper and illustrate where God is at work in the world? Or in music, art, or film?  Where is the language of grace breaking into the culture?  What would it be like to show and highlight those places where the church is following Jesus and is actually out there and working with his miraculous power to change creation?  Yes, that is the inspiration and call to see again for the first time that we need from the pulpit this week. Inspire us to get out there an stop looking for Jesus to be the tame Jesus of our sanctuary.  Inspire us good lord to follow you out into the world and help us to see you at work and to join your efforts there!

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

"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). Christ's 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.

"It may be timely for the preacher to focus less on individual experience and more on a congregation's collective experience."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Sally A. Brown, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Gratitude and generosity - two virtues that acknowledge we are not all strength and independence, but also (and very basically) weakness and dependency - prepare us for better adjustment in situations of loss."

"Declining with Grace," Robert C. and Elizabeth V. Roberts, (other resources at)"Aging," Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2003.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Buried in the reading for this week is a real gem. Paul writes, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

As an Episcopalian this passage from Corinthians reminds us that we are broken and fallen creatures. Our reason is deficient to understand the divine intent its fullness and that we are always powerfully controlled by our ego and selfish desires. In this I know I am weak. I do things I do not wish to do - Paul claims. So my weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions (done to me and inflicted by me) and calamities are so very real. So very real are my weakness that I am saved solely by the grace of God. God's grace is sufficient.

We has Christians struggle though because while we understand that God's grace is sufficient for me - it is rarely sufficient for you.

Today, as we think and ponder the culture all around us we might be challenged to truly accept God's sufficient grace for ourselves and for others.

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

"With all the difficulties of this text, it is important that the juxtaposition that the text itself gives us of David's coronation, his conquering of Jerusalem and this oddly prominent prohibition of the blind and the lame from the house (of the LORD) be held together."
Commentary, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Samuel Giere, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"How do we know that God is with us? It all starts with our naming at our baptism."
"David Becomes King," Faith Element Discipleship System, "Setting the Bible Free," 2012.
Commentary, 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"...the lectionary choices this week, following on from last week, result in a picture of the kingdom moving from Saul's death to David's crowning as a relatively smooth transition. The David who graciously laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan appears this week as the natural heir. The intervening chapters present a much more complicated, interesting, if sanguinary, tale."
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Pentecost 5, 2009, The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Howard Wallace Audrey Schindler, Morag Logan, Paul Tonson, Lorraine Parkinson, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Oremus NRSV Text

David is now in Hebron. He is recognized as the leader and publicly anointed by the heads of the tribes of the tribes of Judah. This is important as it reveals the unification of the people...a unity that will not last long as a split will occur after David's reign. Saul tries to mess this up by having Abner create a kind of figurehead leader in Ishbaal. Too bad for him, for as they fighting breaks out it will be Ishbaal who will be one of the casualties. In the end, seeing the future potential, he is murdered by a few of his own folks. David though is quick to act and has the assassins killed for having murdered a "righteous man." David is eventually made king and he sets up a new city as a unifying capital for the province. There is a lot of trash talk and David's army prevails. As the narrative of the king goes this is a key chapter in the building of a unified kingdom and the wooing of powers and supporters.

Then David does a weird thing and prohibits the blind and the lame from worshiping with everyone else. Now we well remember this passage:
For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose … –Leviticus 21:17
Now, we know that when David came to take Jerusalem from the Jebusites they taunted him saying that the lame and blind could beat this guy! It is possible that the text is a play on words where by David is mocking the Jebusites themselves, but the Leviticus quote makes this unlikely. The truth is that such people were seen as unclean and so in context his pronouncement is not particularly odd - though it is odd to our modern hearing. But that is because living in the West does weird things to you and we think everyone should be able to go everywhere as free individuals and have largely cast off any sense of holiness codes like this one.

Also, as Christians we remember that Jesus goes to the Temple and undoes this prohibition.  After throwing out those who have made a living on religion we are told:  “Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.” –Matthew 21:14

Ezekiel 2:1-7

"Preachers may "understand" this text too quickly -- as in, Yes, I get it: The preacher is called, like Ezekiel, to proclaim a hard word of God to a recalcitrant people..."
Commentary, Ezekiel 2:1-5, Fred Gaiser, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Passages like this one can lead in two very different directions."
Commentary, Ezekiel 2:1-5, John C. Holbert, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Oremus NRSV Text

The prophet says that he has received a word from God, to stand up and listen. God has sent the prophet to the people with a message. And, well, it isn't good. The people are rebellious and in need of a prophet. They, like their parents, have transgressed. "When you are done, Ezekiel," God says, "They will know a prophet has been in the midst of them."

God invites Ezekiel to fear not. He isn't very hopeful as he says to Ezekiel, "though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions!" God promises Ezekiel that God will be with him all along the way.

I wonder sometimes if after preaching to our people if they think that a prophet has been among them? Who are the rebellious in our own midst? 

Now, I am not talking about fussing at your people. I have in mind here something more akin to what Walter Brueggeman offers in his book, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
When I ponder what the ancient prophets in Israel are doing as we have them in the text, I arrive at this judgment that will serve as my guiding thesis: prophetic proclamation is an attempt to imagine the world as though YHWH—the creator of the world, the deliverer of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we Christians come to name as Father, Son, and Spirit—were a real character and an effective agent in the world. I use the subjunctive “were” because such a claim is not self-evident and remains to be established again and again in every such utterance. 
The key term in my thesis is “imagine,” that is, to utter, entertain, describe, and construe a world other than the one that is manifest in front to us, for that present world is readily and commonly taken without such agency or character for YHWH. Thus the offer of prophetic imagination is one that contradicts the taken-for-granted world around us.
So, to answer what rebellion looks like, is to see clearly what in the world around us is acceptable/unacceptable within our society but is wholly unworthy the kingdom of God. I am thinking here of the separation of families at the boarder of the US. It can be all kind of legal to do so but, does this action represent the kingdom of God - the rule or riegn of God? And, if it doesn't how will you, like Ezekiel approach this.

Again, Brueggeman:
At the outset, it is clear that this way of putting the matter refuses two common assumptions. On the one hand, it rejects the more conservative assumption that the prophets were predictors, those who tell the future, with particular reference to predictions of the coming Christ. On the other hand, this thesis refuses the common liberal assumption that the prophets were social activists who worked to establish social justice. It strikes me that the ancient prophets only rarely took up any concrete social issue. 
More important to them than concrete social issues is the fact that they characteristically spoke in poetic idiom with rich metaphors, so that their language is recurringly teasing, elusive, and evocative, with lesser accent on instruction or didacticism.
This Sunday may not be a Sunday to preach prophecy but to actually preach about what it means to be a prophetic preacher, prophetic listener vs a rebellious one, and the meaning of being a prophetic witnessing church.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Proper 8B, June 30, 2024

Raising of Jarius' Daughter by Gabriel Max, 1878

O God, in the paschal mystery of Christ, who became poor for our sake and obedient even unto death on a cross, you have chosen to enrich us with every good gift and to give us a share in Christ's exalted life.  Let us fear neither teh cost of discipleship nor the inevitability of sharing in the cross but gladly announce to all our brothers and sisters the good news of life healed, restored and renewed.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 5:21-43

"Jesus called a woman unnamed in scripture from the shadows of anonymity. He called her 'daughter,' a designation that signifies kinship, relationship and lineage."

Commentary, Mark 5:25-34, Deborah K. Blanks, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

"Who knows what kind of story Mark is telling here, but the enormously moving part of it, I think, is the part where Jesus takes the little girl's hand and says, 'Talitha cum' - 'Little girl, get up' - and suddenly we ourselves are the little girl."

"Jairus' Daughter," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. "Funeral," from Whistling in the Dark.

"Can the Christian community alter the conditions of people's lives? Can it, too, bring healing into troubled circumstances? Must it not also cross boundaries -- whether they are related to ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, politics or any other boundaries that divide our society -- and advocate life-giving meaning and change?"

Commentary, Mark 5:21-43, Emerson Powery, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

This week we move from an act of God in Jesus' voice which stills the stormy sea to the work of God in Jesus as his power heals a woman and raises a girl to life.

This passage comes after the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac.  In our narrative for this Sunday we are on our way; and we might remember we are always in Mark on our Way to the cross.  Jarius, a man who led the local synagogue, approaches Jesus. We cannot help but see that in contrast to other religious leaders and other religious crowds, these are people flocking to Jesus and his teachings.

Jarius tells Jesus that his daughter is urgently in need of saving so that she might live again.  Urgency, resurrection, and living again are all very particular and clear words used in this passage.  We cannot but hear, perhaps as Mark's first readers, the parallel with the urgency by which Jesus makes his way to the cross, the death and resurrection which is to take place, and the opportunity we receive to live again.  If we read the Greek here what we discover, in keeping with many scholars, is that his daughter is not sick but dead!  (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 366)

As Jesus makes his way he is touched by the hemorrhaging woman.  She is aware of being made well, he is aware of the healing, and he tells her that it is her faith that has made her well.  Jesus looks at her.  We are reminded of his looking upon his followers and calling them his new family.  He looks upon her and he calls her daughter.  She becomes family, a follower, a believer, she is able to live life again; but in a new way.

The woman who is healed from her 12 year hemorrhage is paralleled in the new family by the other daughter of 12 years old who is healed and made to live again as well.  Unlike the pouring out of his spirit that takes place with the woman, Jesus' intervention here with the girl is more like the stilling of the storm or the Gerasene demoniac.  Here we see in the midst of the room, mourners cast out, death in power, a God of creation at work remaking the world.  Death is vanquished with powerful words and she rises.  (Marcus, 372)

This story is about Jesus' power and his authority.  It makes real his teaching that God is at work in the world and the reign of God is at hand. These works of power are creating, perhaps recreating, the family of God. While it is true that in the very next chapter Jesus is going to be rejected because of this work, we the readers and hearers of this Gospel lesson are perhaps set in a mindset of amazement at the power of God to make all things, all people, even myself, new.

As I ponder these things I have in my minds eye the congregation that will sit before me as I preach. I am mindful of my own self presented before these texts.  I am aware that Jarius sits before me.  He sits in the pew and he is hoping God will save his daughter; save her from drugs, or alcohol, perhaps depression.  He is sitting there and he is praying.  The hemorrhaging woman is sitting there praying for deliverance from her physical ailing; her cancer, or her auto immune disorder, her pain.  There will be people there who have lost their children, their parents, their brothers and sisters.  I will be there with my own pains and desires for healing. I will be there with those things I have done which I am sorry for. I will be there with those things which I have not done and am sorry for. I will be there with my failings and my fear.  We will all be there; the wounded and wounding brothers and sisters of Jesus.

It is an opportunity to be reminded that Jesus loves us and is with us in our suffering and in our wounding.  That God is with us and that this story is about a God who loves and whose mercy is sure and steadfast. This is a story about a powerful God - yes. It is also a story of a loving God.  As Dr. Paul Zahl puts it, this is a story about a God with one way love.  Powerful, forgiving, healing, resurrecting love.  This is a story about a God who looks at us as we reach out to him and calls us brother and sister. This is a story about a God who offers himself for the recreation of our lives in this world and the next. 

In a conversation with Canon Kai Ryan we began to play with the ideas of who is part of this unfolding kingdom? We imagine that Jarius' daughter is worthy because of Jarius and that by the world's standards the woman with the hemorrhage is not worthy. Jesus is very much about making both worthy in the kingdom of God. This is true as we hold this passage up and turn it in our minds eye. But what is also true is that we see, we come to this passage from our own world's perspective. In other words we preach it from this view of worthiness. What struck us both is something similar to what Walter Brueggeman says about prophetic imagination...we don't often make the kingdom's story compelling. So, instead of coming at this from a binary perspective what does it look like to come to the text from a non binary unitive kingdom perspective? What does it mean to see that the reign of God is all encompassing and that she was worthy all along. How do we tell the story from a kind of Jesus perspective that sees not judgment for one and not the other, or scapegoats the world's perspective but instead proclaims a kingdom worth living in?

If we think about this regarding our own story in this country, we can see clearly that some people get access to this or that, or Jesus, and some people do not. People of means have power to get Jesus to come to them...think of that for a moment. People without have to hope to touch the hem of his garment. Both have faith but both don't have access. In one situation Jesus comes to you (Jarius and his daughter) in the other situation you come to Jesus. Both get healed but they are not the same thing at all and both have different meanings in the life of the individuals in the story.

After all, these are short time measures. Remember we are on the Way. The narrative tale of Mark's gospel reminds us quickly that the final deliverance from our sin and physical brokenness is in fact to be redeemed upon the cross.  It is there in the midst of resurrection that the new creation of our lives springs forth. This one way loving, forgiving, and merciful God heals the world's wound.  God is present with us in our sorrow and he turns it to joy.

This week I hope I can offer a gospel of God in Christ Jesus that heals the sin sick soul, and binds up the wounds of the heart, mind and body.  I hope I can preach a Gospel that is worthy and filled with worthiness for Jarius and the unnamed woman. May we all preach and teach a gospel that is healing and filled with grace!  That is what the world is longing to hear.  Yes. I think so. They are longing, as my own soul longs, to hear that God loves them and we are being gathered in as his family.  We are being embraced and held and loved.  We are being gathered in, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. 

From Psalm 42:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

"The answer just might lie in churches that are begging - begging for the privilege of standing with those in need and applying a holistic gospel to the systems that deprive people of their dignity."

Begging to Give," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2003.

"...for Christians, equality and justice are measured not only monetarily, but also relationally."

"Pressed into Service," Daniel Harrell, The Christian Century, 2006.

"While this text certainly forces us to think about what we do with our resources and, therefore, should inform our stewardship drives, Paul's passion in this text relates first of all to the gospel."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

What happens when people chose to fight over issues of great importance and neglect the mission of the church? We get a letter like the correspondence of Paul to the Corinthians.

It is typical for us to be culture-centric and believe that our problems are more severe than problems of the past. It is easy to believe that they really were not complex people in those days or that they didn’t understand what real difference means. When we do this or say these things what we do is create an argument that allows us to release ourselves from the call of unity in the apostolic age.

There are a lot of problems in the first one hundred years of the church’s infancy. People are arguing about a lot of substantive issues that they feel (I imagine as we feel) are key to the orthodoxy of the faith.

I imagine them saying if you believe this then you are redefining what it means to be a Christ follower. I imagine that they are saying if you follow that person or do these things you cannot call yourself a Christian. And, I believe they are desirous (as all human beings are) to have it their way and to go it alone.

Certainly this is the battle of wills that is essentially driving the correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians. Furthermore, Paul is not only trying to get them to come along he is pointing out in this passage that their using disagreements to release themselves from the shared and unified funding of the church’s mission is not faithful.

Paul is blunt, “Now finish doing it.” Finish raising the funds even if you disagree with the church in Jerusalem or disagree with me…

Paul is clear that the purpose of all that they undertake is the spread of the Gospel and that this work takes money and unity. Regardless of the circumstances and feelings about the wider church people in Corinth are to give. They are to give in accordance with their means, they should be eager and committed to the cause of the Gospel, and they should themselves seek a good balance in their own life helping others while not creating a financial crisis of their own.

Paul is very clear that the Christians, those who claim to follow Jesus, are to give such that people have sufficient to live on and that there are no huge disparities between the wealthy and those without.

2 Samuel 1:1-27

"After the death of Saul, David places himself by this lament as being close to Saul, a natural heir and successor, and from this position he offers fulsome praise of Saul?s prowess in battle, and of his conduct in the face of death. This is in part a generous act when the relationship between the two has been so strained. It is also, however, good politics, offering the best chance for reconciliation and the best chance for a unification of power under David."

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Pentecost 4, 2009, The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Howard Wallace Audrey Schindler, Morag Logan, Paul Tonson, Lorraine Parkinson, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

"We in the church can model the capacity to grieve and speak of people honestly when we are in those situations."

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Pentecost 4, 2009, Commentary, Background, Insights from Literary Structure, Theological Message, Ways to Present the Text. Anna Grant-Henderson, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The Amalekite messenger thinks the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan will be good news to David. He is wrong. This psalm tells us that David feels a deep sense of loss and sorrow because of their deaths. David genuinely grieves over the news he receives."

We skip a bit forward again. Samuel has anointed David King of Israel. Saul has been jealous. If we read straight through we would have seen a constant procession of people making their allegiances to David as the power is shifted in the narrative. David is parading around with a small army and building support among friends and enemies alike. Saul gets paranoid and is becoming weaker. Saul even tries to kill David but fails.

In the end Saul in his final battle chooses suicide. Jonathan too is killed. Though they save Israel there is a great loss. The passage we have is a lament by David over the loss of Saul and Jonathan.
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Deep within this text is an important theme of understanding who I am, who you are, who David was, Saul, Jonathan...all of the - all of the - people. Who am I? We often remember Moses' question to the burning bush: who are you?...we forget that his second question is: who am I? (Exodus 3) Once we have some notion of who this God is we reframe the question.  If you are this God...then whom I? Moses of course wants to know who is he that he should go and how can I be victorious? God says of course, "I am," or "I am who I am", and you will be victorious because, "I am with you." But God does not answer the middle question, the reflective question, "who am I?"

Moses answers the question for himself saying he is unworthy. Isaiah says he has unclean lips. Jeremiah says he doesn't know what to say, he cannot speak. Rabbi Sacks writes:

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik called this a covenant of fate, brit goral. It lies at the heart of Jewish identity to this day. There are Jews who believe and those who don’t. There are Jews who practise and those who don’t. But there are few Jews indeed who, when their people are suffering, can walk away saying, This has nothing to do with me. 
Maimonides, who defines this as “separating yourself from the community” (poresh mi-darkhei ha-tsibbur, Hilkhot Teshuva 3: 11), says that it is one of the sins for which you are denied a share in the world to come. This is what the Hagaddah means when it says of the wicked son that “because he excludes himself from the collective, he denies a fundamental principle of faith.” What fundamental principle of faith? Faith in the collective fate and destiny of the Jewish people. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 
In this great moment when David is giving voice to the lament over Israel he is making a proclamation: I am David, I am distressed for you. David in this moment reminds us that we are intimately connected one to another. Even though Saul tried to kill him, he loved him as family. God is who God is, and we are God's. This individual piece is true, but the greater truth in David's lament is that we are forever united to the community around us. We cannot separate ourselves out from the creation or from God's created people.

Here too then we hear the words of echoing through the Gospels about who this Jesus is... And, his own words to his friends, "Who do you say that I am?" The answer is that he is God who is with us. And, that this God who is with us, with our brothers and sisters, with our neighbor and our enemy, is a God whose community we cannot walk away from. We do not separate ourselves from the lowly, the oppressor, the victim, the rich or poor, the community is our concern because we are God's. We lament and prophesy, we feed and free, we live and have our being within the great relationship between God and humanity. There is no isolation.

When Paul writes in Romans 4,  in Galatians and Ephesians that we are Abrahams heirs. In becoming Abraham's heirs then one of the sins that is not given to us it the ability to shirk our responsibility for the wider community. We cannot shake lose who we are, whose we are, and who others are. We cannot walk away from those who suffer.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-2:24

Oremus NRSV Text

This is a passage about immortality and the notion that humanity is meant for it. Death comes into the world when Cain kills Abel. It is part of the memetic sibling rivalry that has perpetuated itself throughout the world. God, having not created it, does not delight in this invention. There is indeed death at old age but even this is not meant to be our end. We are designed to be with God in this world and the next.

For those who do not believe, who do not walk with God and are not God fearers, they make a kind of deal - die with the most toys. All is chance and all is fate.
For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat. 

This was Sir Isaac Newton's greatest fear - that the science of the universe be an uncaring godless and cold place left to the fates.
For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back. 
Newton writes, "[God] is omnipresent. In him are all things contained and moved; yet neither affects the other; God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies." He also wrote at the end of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (London, 1687), "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of His dominion He is wont to be called Lord God.” For Newton God is constantly watching over his creation though God is not tied down by it.

The author of our passage does not have any such hope for the philosophy of the fatalist and athiest. The one who is not a God fearer sees only emptiness and a non carrying universe. This passage offers an almost epicurean philosophy to such a non believer's life. It is filled with good things but if there is a God it is distant. Moreover, they are not even good to those who share their lot - their neighbor and common human.
‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass us by.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry;
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.
Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the grey hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless. 
We though, who have life and faith, who see that we are meant for more than this life and believe in immortality see unity with God at our life's end.

Lutheran pastor and author Clint Schnekloth writes:
It compares the unrighteous, who summoned death (1:16), to the righteous one who overcomes death (2:12-22). This is a Jesus text before there was a Jesus. It sounds like a Hellenistic version of Isaiah. “He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord” (2:13).
This passage is a great play on the notion that God may desire something else out of those with faith. In other words don't get too stuck on immortality. Yes we are meant for life. But the passage in reverse implies life lived differently for the ones who have accepted this notion of immortality. Here is what I  mean by this.

Because we see life as continuing and filled with joy we understand a purposefulness to life  - not mere chance. We live a life of the Holy Spirit. And, so we not only see ourselves marked for eternity but we see others marked as well. They may not chose to live this way...but we see them as people who have a larger purpose than managing their calendars and diaries in this world. They are called like us and invited like us to an eternal life. We then see life as opportunity and likewise we believe for the non God fearer there is an opportunity too.

Yes, we will enjoy life, but instead of crowning ourselves let us crown one another. Let us share what we have that others may have. Let us leave more than signs of having lived, let us leave signs of having made a difference. Let us leave signs of having changed people's lives. Let us raise up the poor man, let us help the widow, let us care and visit the aged. Let us not use might as the wicked do but instead let us use love. As Christ dies weak upon the cross, let us take up our cross and show that in laying down our lives others may in fact gain life. In serving another, in helping, in not overpowering or killing, we see great purpose. (Wisdom 2:6-11)

Because we have been given life and life eternal, let us wait for the righteous, and let us support them. Let us in fact support those who have not yet come to believe. Instead of accusing the seeker let us come to their aid. Let us help others to see how a life of service transforms one's character. Let us embrace the unclean, as Jesus does. Let us not put God to the test nor the ones who do not yet believe. Instead let us support them. Instead of condemning them to death, let us discover in the unbeliever their own eternal life so that they may come to see it themselves. Let us walk the Way of Jesus and show those who have not yet heard of it how it goes. Let us become pilgrims together instead of seeking out each other's early death. (Wisdom 2:12-20)

I think with a little art this could be a great sermon. Don't simply preach on what the text says, preach on what the text implies for the one who has accepted life in Jesus.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Proper 7B, June 23, 2024

William Turner, The Storm
The artist once lashed himself to a mast in order to see for himself the storm at sea.

Make firm, Lord God, the faith of your Christian people, that success may not fill us with worldly pride nor the storms of life lay us low.  Rather, whatever may befall, teach us to recognize your quiet but calming presence and to count on you as the unseen companion who faithfully accompanies us throughout life's journey.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

"What are you afraid of? I ask that because I have a hunch that we're rarely aware of just how significant a role fear plays in many of our decisions, actions, and conversations."

"Faith and Fear," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"Crossing to the other side with Jesus may be a risky, unpredictable proposition, and in this passage, the wind and the sea create a visual manifestation of the dangers of being in the boat with him."

Commentary, Mark 4:35-41, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Even when the seas threaten to engulf us and human imperial posturing threatens our home and the heart of our identity, the Risen One is always in the boat with us. Christ's words, 'Peace! Be still!' still promise to carry us safely through the night."

Commentary, Mark 4:35-41, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"People know what it is like to be buffeted. People know what it is like to have no control. People know situations where only the divine can intervene."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 4. William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

In this passage from Mark we have the stilling of the storm.  Jesus has been teaching and teaching in parables.  The theme has clearly been the power of God and the coming reign of God. He then sets out with his followers in a boat.

In this passage we see the stories of God's power located in the person of Jesus. What seems important in the themes that have come before this event is the nature of God's power "hidden under an appearance of weakness." (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 335)  It is in Jesus that the power of God has entered the world and through him that the reign of God is taking shape.  His power, though in the weak shell of a man, is evident in his teaching, in his healing work, and in the miraculous work that bubbles up around him. 

Key to this understanding is the fact that Jesus not only stills the storm, but that he does so by commanding it.  In this story we see the image of God in Christ Jesus through whom all things were made. On behalf of his friends he commands and frees them from certain death at the hands of winds and a sea that is rising up against them.

The story is in some very real way an offering of revelation that God's mission is at work in the world.  God's power is at work in the world.  God's grace and mercy and strength are in the midst of the world around us.  Even though we see chaos God is present.

In the midst of our own lives we may even echo the words of the disciples: "don't you care that we are about to die!"  

We wonder about the meaning of our lives, and the day in and day out nature of life which is seemingly so meaningless.  We wonder about lives that are thrown back and forth in the midst of raging seas of politics, economy, and society.  Is fate and chance at work in this world?  Why do we even do this.  In a world driven by ego and my misplaced longing and love which is always perversed into some kind of consumation I find my life is in fact out of order. And, like so many of you and so many of my friends, I say in the dark hours when I lie awake and live with my fears and anxieties: don't you even care that I am dying?

That is the world. It was the world for the first followers of Jesus and it has been and continues to be the world today.  But Jesus says and questions us back: why are you so cowardly? why are you so fearful? Where is your faith?  I imagine he said even more:  have you not been listening? Do you think this is all about you? Do you think God is not at work?

We might remember God's words to Job from chapter 38ff:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

8 ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

12 ‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 ‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

And, I must answer: "uhhhhh, nope."  You and I claim a faith, an ancestral faith, that proclaims that God is at work in the world.  We claim that from the age of Abram when he set out from the land of the Chaldeans (Gen 12) that God has been at work and that as Paul tells us all creation is groaning towards its completion (Rom 8).

It is only when our human soul becomes miopic and focused upon our own ego needs that we close off the vision of the world of God's power and reign.  Jesus in this passage raises our eyes heavenward.  And, like the disciples we answer: who is this?

Jesus is our salvation, he is our grace, he is the one from whom all things were made but he is also the one in whom all things are being remade. 

What a different world  of possibility seems to be about me when my eyes are cleared from the storm of self-preservation and I can see the opportunities to participate in God's kingdom. 

It is our journey, our pilgrimage, that is frought with restless seas.  Mark's gospel is always pointing to the cross.  The demons on land and the demons in the sea are always defeated by Jesus, but the point of the narrative always raises our eyes to the defeat of these powers at the foot of the cross.  (Marcus, 340)  As Christians we proclaim the world renewed in the wake of the final Easter defeat. 

Yet, in the midst of life and restless travels we have difficulty in reminding ourselves of God's kingdom in our midst, of God's power at work in the world about us.  So as we come to this passage let us claim our place on the journey. Let us be honest about our faithlessness.  Let us groan and bewail our situations.  Let us wonder where God's power is.  And let us remember that it is in the weak, in our own weakness, that we discover God's power working in us.  Then let us also see that what is old is being made new, and what as died is being raised up.

This passage is an opportunity in the midst of a world in chaos to point out that God is at work. And, it is an opportunity to preach grace and mercy. And, it is a moment when the church might look outside itself into the world and see and name places where God is at work in stilling the storm.  Now is not the time for a cowardly church but a proclaiming missionary church which is at work offering a vision of a kingdom that is being built and a reign of God underway. Now is the time for bravery and commissioned missionary work where our hands join the hands of God to still the storm of the world and to heal the sick, help the blind to see, and the poor to have good things.  Now is the time for our voices to join the voice of God and still the storm around us.  It is our opportunity as missionaries to name God in the world putting down the forces which seek to destroy God's creation and the creatures of God. 

What would the world be like if our churches, upside down ships that they are, were to sail out and offer a quiet powerful voice to the fearful and hopeless people of God.  How better to be reminded as disciples of God's reign and power than out of our weakness to be his voice and hands in the world?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

"For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God 'in vain.'"

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"In the ancient world, responsibility for initiating the mending of a ruptured relationship was understood to rest with the injuring party. In political contexts, this work was normally entrusted to an ambassador. Paul sees that in Christ, God completely overturns conventional expectations."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

We come back to Corinthians this week. Paul and others are eager for their friends to receive the grace of God and to do so for the sake of the work that is before them. This work is the sharing of God's love and the Good News of Salvation. No matter what comes: 
"through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true..."

Of course this letter is about the battle between false teachers and Paul. The letter is about supporting the Corinthians in their work to endure the bombardment of powerful preaching coming from the others. He urges unity. He calls for them to stay together. And, he invites all of us to be mindful that our dependence is not upon the best, brightest, or seemingly powerful. Instead we are always and everywhere to rely on Christ.

William Loader writes, "Much passes for religion. Much passes for Christianity. Much passes for spiritual success. Paul inspires us to keep returning to the way of compassion and vulnerability: Christ's - and also his own. The rest is idolatry."

1 Samuel 17:1-49

"The stone from David's slingshot caught him between the eyes, and when he hit the dirt, windows rattled in their frames as far away as Ashkelon."

"David and Goliath," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"And then when we face that enormous giant, whether sickness, family breakups, financial disaster, addictions, shame, the same God who protected and provided will do the same thing for you again."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49, Roger Nam, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"When it comes to our faith, I think we like David have the choice of whether we will live in fear or in trust. That applies to all aspect of our lives, but especially to what we do at Church. Seeking new vitality requires new directions; that's just as true for church as it is for life in general. And stepping out in new directions takes courage and faith."

"In the Name of the Lord," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2009.

"Sometimes the connection between religion and violence is tenuous, sometimes it is explicit. Sacred terror is almost always complex and bound up with other causes (social, historical, economic, cultural, political, etc). But at the end of the day we must admit that there is far too much violence in the world that is fomented with a specifically religious rationale, motivation, or justification. Christians should commit ourselves to do whatever we can to stop it."

"'After He Killed Him, He Cut Off His Head': David, Goliath, and Sacred Violence,"The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation, 2009.

"...we should not remain silent when we see attempts to legitimize sacred violence, but instead name it for what it is. We should learn the warning signs that religion has become evil and evil has become religious..."

"Texts of Terror and the Enemies of God: What Should We Do When Religion Becomes Evil?" The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation.

When I grew up there was a bible story Sunday morning TV show called Davey and Goliath. I loved the show. It shared bible stories, there was lots of learning, and Davey and his dog Goliath belonged to a happy family. As I think about the naming of the dog and the actual story it is very odd. That is for another day.

The enemies of Israel are eager to split the kingdom of Israel in two. The want to come up through the valley of Elam, the Shephela, through which armies have always fought and conquered Israel. Saul comes to meet them. The armies are on either side of the valley upon the ridges. Each army has calvary, heavy infantry, and artillery.

They were in a deadlock and in order to break the deadlock David and Goliath are sent down to fight. This is single combat. Big giant Goliath comes down and challenges them. Goliath is described this way:
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him.
Nobody wants to fight him. But David comes forward to Saul and volunteers. He is met there by David.

David wins. We know the story. This is a great story of the underdog!

I love the retelling of the story by Malcolm Gladwell in his very popular TED talk. In it Gladwell tells us that everything that he knew about the story was wrong. David is supposed to be the underdog. David and Goliath is part of our cultural language as a story about an underdog.

David is the underdog. He is little compared to Goliath, has no army, and only has the sling. What David has is not a toy. It is a very deadly weapon. The army has artillery which is either bow and arrow and/or slingers. The rocks in the valley are super strong. They are barium sulphate, they are twice the density. The stopping power of the sling is similar to a 45 caliber weapon. The velocity of the sling the rock are paramount. We know that slingers were able to hit birds in flight, and 200 yards away. When David lets the rock go, he expects to hit his enemy. Slingers were the decisive weapon against heavy infantry. Goliath's expectation is that he will fight to as infantry do. Goliath expects hand to hand combat. David isn't going to fight this way...even though Saul and Goliath expect him to do so. David is not an underdog, the outcome is not unlikely.

Gladwell in an interview says:
David had superior technology. I mean, once he decided to break the rules, he's the guy in charge. And then there's Goliath. There's all of these hints in the biblical story in Samuel that Goliath is not what he appears to be.
We don't only misunderstand David and his sling. We miss who Goliath is too. Gladwell in the same interview says:
In fact, this is where the rabbis come in – the rabbis have been pointing this out for years. He didn't sound like a big terrifying warrior. He is led down onto the valley floor by an attendant. He moves really slowly. It takes him forever to figure out that David is not intending to fight him in a sword fight. And he says these strange things, as if he's not perceiving the situation properly.
Goliath is led onto the floor by an attendant. Why is he being led by the hand? The bible tells us that he moves slowly.  Goliath is oblivious to what is going on. Goliath says you come to me with sticks? But David only has one stick. The medical community has tried to come to terms about this...Gladwell says that Goliath has a disease - acromegaly. It has side affects like poor vision because of compression of vision with double vision and farsightedness. He can't make his way on his own. He can't see David. He sees incorrectly. He needs him to come close to find. He sees double vision of two sticks. The Israelites thought he was a foe, what they saw as strength was actually his weakness.

Gladwell ends by saying: Giants are not always as strong as they seem and sometimes shepherds' boys have a sling in their pockets.

Sermons Preached On These Texts
Riders on the Storm, Jun 25, 2018, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7b, St. Luke's, Lindale 
Stilling the Storm: A Father's Day Sermon, Jun 23, 2009, Sermon preached on Mark's Gospel 35.34-41, Good Shepherd, Tomball, 2009 Father's Day. 
 Come With Me To The Other Side Jun 21, 2015, This is a sermon preached at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, Tx, following the Mother Emmanuel AME church shootings by Dylan Roof ( It is based upon Mark 4 beginning at the 35 verse. And, in some way tries to make sense about why we have a difficult time seeing this as an act of racism (despite Dylan's own clarity that it was an attempt to begin a "race war"). Why we want to make this about Christians. And, what we Christians might be able to do to open our eyes to the work that is before us.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Proper 6B, June 16, 2024


Jonah and the Gourd Vine by Jack Baumgartner
From your bountiful hand, O God, you have sown generously in our hearts the seed of your truth and your grace.  May we welcome with humility and confidence what you sow in the soil of our lives and cultivate its growth with the patience the gospel teaches, trusting completely and knowing full well that peace adn justice increase in the world every time your word bears fruit in our lives. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 4:26-34
"The passage as a whole emphasizes the hiddenness and smallness of the quiet beginnings of the kingdom and also underscores the sense in which the sower does not make the kingdom happen by force of will..."

Commentary, Mark 4:26-34, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"So what if we sent people out this week with a mission, Working Preacher. What if we sent them out to look for those places where's God's kingdom is sneaking in, or spreading out, or taking over little corners of our world?"

"Mission Possible," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"...we have the promise of Jesus that along with the call to repent and believe the good news, God in Jesus continues to equip and shape us as hearers who have all we need as God hears our prayer and the kingdom continues to take shape among us and in our world."

Commentary, Mark 4:26-34, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

The DIY [Do It Yourself] channel is fun to watch. It has shows like how to redo your bathroom or how to build your own log cabin.  It features shows about how to find or build your dream house.  Americans (and maybe people in general) love to "do it yourself." 

We do this with God as well. God makes us and God gives us grace through his Son Jesus Christ.  One of the most subtle manners in which we reject this is through a "do it yourself" theology.  If I am truthful, I am one of these types.  I turn my back on the gift of grace and say to God that I am glad to live a good earnest Christian life but I don't need God's charity, God's grace, I can do it myself.  "I got it from here God," I often say just before I fall.  "I can do it myself God.  Watch what I can do!"  The work, the law, the way, is all much better for me.  I like building plans and drawings on how to be the very bestest Christian. 

This is a very prideful stance.  It builds up my self-esteem.  As a "Do It Yourself" Christian I am more comfortable in the law side of things and in insuring others follow it as well.  But in the end this breaks the relationship with God provided by his grace, it turns it on its side.  In point of fact in my best "Do It Yourself" mode I am no different than the one who says, "I am going it alone without you God."  The righteous, like the lawless, are doomed because at the end of the day they do life on their own and by their own power.  (Personal reflections after reading On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde, p 26ff) 

In Mark's Gospel Jesus is teaching his disciples.  He is offering them stories, metaphors, and images of what the kingdom of God is like; and who they in the midst of its rule.  Jesus has just finished teaching the disciples about the seeds and a sower.  He then takes the image of seed and turns it a little to look at it in a different way.

The first few verses remind us that the seed grows in the ground and it does so not of the will or work of the sower or planter. It grows forth under the work of God.  It is the work then of the sower to be at work harvesting.   The sower does not grow the seed.

Then he gives another example: the mustard seed.  A weed to farmers, the mustard seed is a veracious unwanted bush that takes over fields and causes trouble.  Sown into the ground as a small little thing it grows with wild abandon; also not from the aid of the sower but of its own accord.

God is at work creating the conditions, God is at work growing and creating the circumstances by which plentiful fruit and veracious plant life springs forth.  Joel Marcus in the first volume of his text on Mark (pp 326) writes:  "For the real causative agent of the word's fruition is not the farmer who plants the seed but he ground, which "by itself" brings the plant forth and causes it to develop until it is ready for harvesting."  It happens automatically, meaning in God's time and upon God's working God's purpose out in creation.  God's kingdom is growing and "unfolding" before us.  The word is growing in us and around us by the working of God. It is small and it will grow large, it is tiny but it will overtake the field.

I am powerless to do it myself!  I am not the grower. I am not the one who makes life spring forth. I am not the one who creates the spirit for the building of the kingdom. I am not the one under whose power and direction the dominion of God takes shape.  I do not do this myself, for myself, or for others - God does it for us.  Our sins are forgiven and our blasphemies too! (Mark 3:28)

I am too often like Jonah, proud of Nineveh's conversion, resting under the little bush which soon shrivels and dies. (Jonah 4.6ff) I listen to this parables of the seeds and am reminded that God is at work and that it is God's grace working in me and in the world that brings forth the fruit of health and vitality in relationship to God. It is God who is making all things new. (Revelations 21.6)

The kingdom of God is not a "Do It Yourself" kingdom.  It is one that depends on having ears to hear, and eyes to see what God is doing in the world around us.  It is a relationship that recognizes God's working in our lives and that it is God alone who draws us close. It is God who directs our sowing and our harvesting.  It is not by the work of my own hands but by the grace of God that I am saved; just as it is not by their own work that others are saved. (Psalm 61.5ff) 

It would be a very interesting thing if the mission of the church were one where people left the premises to go out into the world to seek and discover where God is growing the harvest and his buidling up his kingdom. It would be quite a different mission all together if we left and planted ourselves in the world around us (in the midst of "do it yourself"ers and the lawless ones) and allowed ourselves to be grown by God's grace amidst his crops, fields and vineyards.  What a different church we would be if we sat and became rooted by God's grace in the living word which is making its way this very minute through God's creation. 

What would we find there? What would we discover? If we listened and learned? What new images of the Gospel and of grace would spring forth if our ears were open and our eyes could see the grace of God growing God's creation into the his new dominion?

It is both a freeing and disturbing thing to be freed from having to do it yourself.  It is even perhaps more fear and anxiety producing to imagine God unleashed in the world about us, at work, and drawing all creation to himself. 

Ephesians 1:3-14

"I believe that Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ's kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it."

"The Longing for Home," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"God's act of new creation completely changes the way Paul sees the world around him -- including his perception of death."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13]14-17, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We are obsessed with externals ? with youth and beauty, accomplishments and credentials, productivity and profit. We are constantly tempted to judge our own worth and that of others according to "a human point of view." We are tempted to view worldly success as a sign of God's favor, and conversely, to view weakness and suffering as a sign of God's absence or even God's punishment."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

So we switch from 2 Corinthians this week to Ephesians and we are presented with the scripture right after Paul’s greeting. We have perhaps one of the longest sentences in scripture.

John Stott wrote about this passage, “A gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an operatic overture and the flight of an eagle: all these metaphors in their different ways describe the impression of color, movement and grandeur which the sentence makes on the reader’s mind.” (Stott, John R. W.: God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians: Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979)

As we pull on the string what we begin to understand is that Paul is offering a vision of God’s family – God’s dream for us.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that God intends God’s family to grow through adoption and that many are even now being drawn into life with God through Christ Jesus. It is Christ’s death and resurrection that we are brought into the family and specifically as we too are baptized.

We are the “forerunners” of this family – God’s dream of church, or the ecclesia. And, the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit is working on us drawing us near, giving us wisdom, and uniting us with God.

What is profound is despite our differences as Christians (across every spectrum from Protestant to Orthodox) we are to be one. Christ’s great act was intended to draw us together into one family and into the family of God’s embrace.

While Paul offers clarity about God's vision what we humans experience continually is the difficulty of holding our selves between the tension of deeply held beliefs where we are not in agreement and God's desire that we be unified.

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13

"While promise, covenant and anointing have become exalted terms in both Jewish and Christian traditions, ancient Israelites perhaps had a more realistic view of what they entailed."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Samuel would judge Jesse's sons by what was exceptional, what met certain standards, what impressed, what was beautiful, what was secure, appropriate and fitting. But the Lord?s choice and the economy of the Lord?s rule are not subject to such criteria. In fact, what the Lord sees can even offend such standards and break open what is misleading in such criteria."

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13, Pentecost 2, The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Our passage takes a huge jump in action. God and Samuel and Saul have been in a wrestling match. God is explaining to Saul in our passage that the time has come. While Saul is a leader, victorious general king, God is now regretting having appointed him. The reason? He is not carrying out the commands of god. God had given a particular prophecy through Samuel to deal with the Amalekites. But his soldiers have not followed God's command, and Saul has in the end fails God. 

Whenever we are confronted by a passage wherein God asks for vengeful blood I like to pause. Here I like Rabbi Maslin's conversation with Martin Buber and recommend it to you.
What bothered Buber most was the reason Samuel gives for his slaying of Agag: God commanded the slaughter of all the Amalekites. 
The portrayal of a vengeful God full of wrath has led many people to reject the Bible as the fountainhead of faith. Buber himself was moving in that direction when he experienced a chance encounter with an old Orthodox Jew on a train. Buber told him of being very troubled by this episode. He admitted that he did not believe that God had commanded Saul to kill every Amalekite. The old man responded in a gruff tone:

"So, you do not believe it?" "No," I answered, "I do not believe it." "What do you believe then?" "I believe," I replied without reflecting, "that Samuel has misunderstood God." And he again slowly but more softly than before: "So? You do not believe that?" And I: "Yes." Then we were both silent. But now something happened….The angry countenance opposite me became transformed…."Well," said the man with a positively gentle tender clarity, "I think so too." [Martin Buber, Autographical Fragments]
Buber concluded: "An observant Jew…when he has to choose between God and the Bible, chooses God." (
Our passage continues with the rejection of Saul tears the hem of Samuel's robe as a sign of being torn from the kingdom.  Samuel then does as the Lord requires and goes to find David. The people, Samuel, and many sons believe they are to be the ones. However, it is the boy shepherd who is chosen as the king.

One of the key issues in this text is that Saul was that Saul was not leading. In the dialogue between Samuel and Saul what becomes clear is that Saul has in fact simply done whatever his soldiers wanted. Like Aaron before him, Saul blames the people - in this case the soldiers.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes of the whole of the Jewish pilgrimage with God:
The truth is that when a crowd runs out of control, there is no easy answer. That is why the whole of Judaism is an extended seminar in individual and collective responsibility. Jews don’t, or shouldn’t, form crowds. When they do, it may take a Moses to restore order. But it may take an Aaron, at other times, to maintain the peace. (
I have learned from reading Sacks over these past few years, and my own study of vocation, that there are truly two calls. There is the call to be. This is the first call. The creation call, the breath call, that makes us God's. This is what we affirm in baptism - that we are God's. But then there is often the second call. This is a call to lead, to do, to free, to speak, etc. Saul had been chosen by God, but the call to lead was a greater responsibility. To be king, the second call, meant not to follow but to lead. His call from God was not simply to follow the people's good ideas.

Now, this passage and its themes are very important to both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. Why? Because it is here that we have a play on Jesus as the inheritor of David's rule. In Mark is it made clearly throughout that the Christ is the anointed one. He is the chosen one with whom God is well pleased.

The passage is also important in John's Gospel for a similar reason. Here though it is a more subtle play and an important one. Jesus reminds us in John 7:24 that God does not see as human beings see. Scholar Richard Hays points out that this connection may be purely accidental. However, it is clear that Jesus' words are meant to show that his teaching and healing are consistent with God's way of seeing the world. In other words, God sees the heart. God in Christ Jesus do not see with eyes and hearts but have a different righteous ness kind of view which will look first and foremost towards the meek, the lowly, the poor, the sick, the hungry and the imprisoned. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 298.)

I believe we are meant here to play with the Saul and David and Religious/Political leaders and Jesus dichotomies. Just as Saul has been rejected for not being a leader, a shepherd without care for God's people, one who goes along with the powers that too the religious and political leaders of Jesus' own day are to be characterized in this manner. The anointing is passing from them to Jesus.
Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.* 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God
The point I am here making is that the rulers that Paul is speaking about are those who reflect the rule of Romans 12. These rulers rule in a reflection of Jesus. These are the kinds of rulers appointed by God. The relationship with our leaders is not a blanket rule to be followed if the rule is evil.

Romans 12 and 13 are clear about how this is interpreted by the first generation of Christians.

Here is a great piece by Stanley Hauerwas on this new kingdom rule of the anointed one, and what citizenship is to be like.

Sermons Preached on these Texts

Pleasant Valley Sunday, Jun 17, 2018, St. Francis, College Station, 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6B

Confession: I am a Do It Yourself (DIY) Christian Jun 19, 2012, Sermon preached at St. Thomas Episcopal, 2012