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.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Easter 3B April 18, 2021


God of Abraham and Sarah, God of Isaac and Rebekah, God of Jacob and Rachel and of all our ancestors in faith, you have glorified your servant Jesus and made him the atoning sacrifice for our sins, the source of peace and reconciliation for the whole world.  Open our hearts to true conversion, and as we have known the Lord in the breaking of the bread so  make us witnesses of a new humanity, renewed, reconciled and at peace in your love.  Send us as heralds of the repentance and forgiveness you offer to all.  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 Luke 24:13-49

"For Luke, to fulfil the hope of the resurrection is to tell the story of Jesus (testimony). That means telling what he did, how he was rejected and then vindicated; and it is at the same time to live it by the power of the same Spirit, by doing good and bringing liberation for all. This includes forgiveness of sins. It is radically simple."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that."

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

"Our experience of life in this world is such that we always have to keep learning what it means to have faith. That doesn't typically happen well when we try to go it alone. Faith is something that thrives and grows in the context of a community."

"It Takes a Village," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.

This Sunday we shift from John's Easter message to Luke's resurrection narrative.  Commonly called, The Road to Emmaus, our passage this week comes in both our reading cycle for Year A and Year B.  So if you are having Easter flashbacks you are not alone; and, that may be on purpose!

Jesus appears to two disciples outside the walls; some seven miles from Jerusalem. They are talking about all the things which have happened. In this particular testimony we are watching the transition from the crucifixion and the Easter resurrection become the mission of a new community. In Luke's Gospel we must remember we are marching always towards Pentecost and Acts. We are given in today's lesson a memory of the events. We are reminded of what our story is; and in the author's own way he gives us permission to be somewhat concerned and curious about the past and what lays ahead.

If we remember that this Gospel is written that we may believe and in believing be transformed so as to offer and communicate the same Gospel for others then the purpose of the author is clear. Luke Timothy Johnson captures well the event of conversion in Lukes' testimony. Conversion has a particular meaning for Luke and his community:
The Word of God demands the acceptance of the prophetic critique and a "turning" of one's life. Conversion is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely joined to the pattern of the prophet and the people. Jesus' ministry is preceded by the Word of God spoken through the prophet John, which called people to repentance. Acts opens with the preaching of Peter which also calls for repentance. Those who enter the people that God forms around the prophet must "turn around. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 23)
This reception of grace and turning from the course you are walking to a pilgrimage with Jesus births faith in the follower of Jesus. After hearing one comes to believe and one seeks to mold one's life to the shape of the prophet's life - Jesus' life. Here is what Luke Timothy Johnson writes about faith:
In Luke-Acts, "faith" combines obedient hearing of the Word and patient endurance. It is not a momentary decision but a commitment of the heart that can grow and mature. Essential to the response of faith is the practice of prayer. Jesus prays throughout his ministry; and teaches his disciples to pray. Luke also provides splendid samples of prayer, showing a people for whom life is defined first of all by its relationship with God. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 24)
In the Gospel story we are seeing these two disciples, who have converted, who are faithful, move through the enduring walk post Easter.  They are not unlike all of us wondering and maturing as we make our way with Jesus.  Just as we seem to loose ourselves from the Gospel, Jesus meets us again and calls us back.

So...they are walking and talking about all the events. They are wondering and one might even say wandering. As they do this (reminding me always of the prayer of Chrysostom, "when two or three are gathered in his name you will be in the midst of them...") Jesus is present, physically with them. He engages with them.

The disciples do not recognize him, the text implies they aren't able...perhaps not allowed to know him. We do not know why, it may be that their sadness and sorrow prevents them from seeing who is with them. They are sad because they had hoped in Jesus. The words seem here to play out two meanings. The first meaning certainly is the idea that Jesus was the new Moses to lead his people out of bondage. The second meaning is found deeper in the text and is rooted in the idea the the words used are of a more spiritual nature. Israel, the Abrahamic family of God, was hoping to be delivered. This reluctance to believe, this inability to see the triumph of prophetic revelation in the resurrection of Jesus is a failure of heart - Jesus says.

And, he opens up for them the story. He retells the story. One can imagine if we sat and read Luke all the way through in one sitting that we would hear and rehear the teaching that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all the scriptures and in and through his death onto the other side of resurrection had delivered the people of Israel from bondage.

In this retelling of the whole story from creation until Emmaeus, in the breaking of the bread, and in his very presence with them their eyes are open to recognize him. He then vanishes, he is no longer visible. In an instant realization, and in another moment gone.  Or is he? Are they really left alone?

They then quickly tell others.  Jesus is present in a living Word though as the Gospel itself becomes sacramentally carried by the human vessel - the mouth, the action, the embrace, the love.  In Luke's Gospel the Holy Spirit is coming to help with this work.

So the work of conversion and faith begins its cyclical manifestation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luke Timothy Johnson remarks on Luke's writing, "As people tell the story to each other, they also interpret the story." They make, in their telling, Jesus present.  And, they have the opportunity for their own lives to be held up against the Gospel message. So then both those who receive the message and the messenger are transformed.  He writes:
Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their conviction. The resurrection shed new light on Jesus' death, on hi words, and on the Scriptures. The "opening of the eyes" to see the texts truly and the "opening of the eyes" to see Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning....Luke shows us how the risen Lord taught the Church to read Torah as "prophecy about him." (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 399)
I have leaned on Luke Timothy Johnson a great deal in this passage as I think he does the very best with it. The preacher has many opportunities for topics. I encourage you to think deeply about speaking with your people about how we have come to understand and to know the witness of Jesus both through others, and through our texts. For Episcopalians we read the text in community. It is in our prayer book, it is in our scripture readings, and in our hymns.  We read the texts of scripture on the road to Emmaus, struggling together and inviting Jesus to be in our midst revealing the truth, the way and the life that lies before us as people of the resurrected Christ.

People in church on Sunday, or reading this (like myself) know the business of life.  How many of us, like the disciples, will leave church not to think about the meaning of the good news for our life until next week.  I wonder what would happen if this week we challenged our people to walk in life this week, with their eyes wide open, looking for the risen Lord.  How many times a day will they see him this week?  How many times an hour?  Can our sermons, our preaching, praying, singing open our eyes to the risen Lord in our midst?

Some Thoughts on I John 3:1-8

"The church's integrity wells up from, and is channeled by, God's calling (3:1b; 3:3). To be a saint is to live in the same love by which God has loved us (3:16-18; 4:7-12)."

Commentary, 1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints A), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"We get Christian hope confused when we think that our hope is based on now nice we are, or how well we behave, or on some hidden piece of us called 'the soul' that will survive through death and destruction."

Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Easter 3," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

In this second section of John's first letter to the beloved community we find that we turn our attention from the work of the pious individual to the nature of the beloved community itself. Using the ancient words we are reminded by the author that we are intended to be called the children of God the sons and daughters of Abraham - made heirs by the work of our savior Christ Jesus. God loves us and has given us this status through the ministry and work of Jesus.

We are promised, no matter what this age brings, that in the end we too will find our place wiht God in the heavenly kingdom. We will come into our fullness and hope becoming like Christ in his glory - perfected. So it is that we believe we are to live a life fitting this promise and in such a manner as it emulates the life of Christ.

The reality is that we are to be working towards the relationship with others. We are to strive for a righteous love of others and we are to undertake to follow Jesus' commandments to love God and love neighbor. We are to be reminded not to judge but to love.

Love One Another:
John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." 
Believe that Jesus is in the Father:
John 14:11 "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." 
Feed My Sheep
John 21:15ff "Do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."

In John's Gospel these are the key commandments: Love one another, have faith and see the work God is doing, and feed my sheep. Well, we all know that we will fail. We will fall short of the kingdom and this perfect life. So we depend upon God and throw ourselves back into life, confessing, accepting forgiveness, and attempting to live anew. This is what is meant by walking the way. Attempt righteousness with all your heart mind and soul. Fail righteousness. Confess. Receive forgiveness. Start over.

For human beings we tend to hear the word of righteousness and show how other people aren't doing it. We rarely immolate Christ's life of non judgement, forgiveness, sacrifice, and reconciliation. Yet this is the challenge that the Johnannine community felt was their call - their work. We must become like Jesus and work and be in relationship like Jesus.

Some Thoughts on Acts 3:12-19

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

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

"God healed through the power of faith in the name of Jesus. This does leave open a very significant role for us as participants in all healing."

Commentary, Acts 3:12-19, Mitzi J. Smith, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The challenge for preachers in the 21st century, then, is to break this biblical text. To preach against the blame that Peter wrongly, no matter how graciously, assigns. To preach against all the othering and blaming continues today in so many forms and so many spheres."

The Politics of Acts 3:12-19, Amy Allen, There Is Power in the Blog, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text 

Here is the set up.  Peter and John were out and about and went to the temple to pray. This was normal daily practice for them. There is at the temple, as there were most days, people in need. There is a man who is lame from birth. He is asking for alms. He sees Peter and John and asks them for alms. Peter says, "Look at us.... I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter touches the man, takes him by the arm, raises him up, and he walks! The man jumps up and is walking and leaping and praising God.

A lot of people see this and the miracle that has taken place. The man is there with Peter and John in the great porch or portico and people are gathering around astonished.

Now, before we go on with the story let us be clear that part of the story of Acts up until now is not simply a story of how the Church received the Holy Spirit and became the church. It is about how the followers of Jesus, the disciples, became apostles and went out every which way and did good work among the people. They are raising the people's standard of living, they are feeding the least and lost of the community (widows and orphans), and they are healing people. All of this takes place outside the upper room where they gather and it takes place outside the temple. This is not religion as we have come to make Christianity, this is a movement of spirited relationships that is literally changing the world in which they find themselves.

Then we get to our passage. Peter sees all the people gathering around the man who has been healed. So he tells them the arc of the story. God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to go and be a blessing of peace to God's people. Then God in Christ Jesus came and became one of us and did the same. We are doing what God's missionaries have done since Abraham and Sarah left Ur of the Chaldeans.

Being a blessing, changing the way community works, feeding, and healing people is the work of God's messengers. And, it is threatening to the powers that be.

People out in the world proclaiming the Gospel willy nilly and without any supervision, improving people's lives, and giving real food to eat with out the government's help, and healing people without the medical establishment's supervision is what the community of Jesus is all about. The powers and authorities of this world do not like it. This is why the religious and political powers of the world will react negatively to those who do the work of Jesus.

They do what they have always done - they kill the messengers of God; wether it is Jesus or the prophets or those who go and work in his name today.

Peter Continues, God raised the one who became weak, even unto death, from the grave. In doing so God  redeemed all the weak, all the lost, all the least. God did what God has been doing since the tower of Babel, God has opened up the community to more and more people. God has invited us, as God invited Abraham, to be a blessing to the world around us. God has expanded the descendants of his people to include everyone - all means all. We are in fact all invited to not only follow this Jesus but to go in his name and be a blessing of peace to the world in which we find ourselves - healing, feeding, and sheltering God's people. We are to make our communities more like God's family and more like the reign of God than the reign of worldly powers that take advantage of the weak.

"So, yes." I imagine Peter saying. "I healed this man and we do this work all the time because that is the community of God at its best. You can join us if you wish." Mic drop.

[A NOTE: This passage and others like them in the bible have been used to do violence against the Jewish people and others. I chose a long time ago to refer to the "powers" and "authorities", "religious" and "political", rather than using words like Peter does. Part of this is because of the terrible record Christians have in doing violence - a violence which is not of God. Part of it is also to help us understand that it is the powers and principalities in every age that seek to keep the people subjugated. This is not a new story and it is present in our own society as it was in the land that Noah leaves. The Gospel reverses the way of the world of religious and political exchange. The Gospel reverses power and greatness and instead offers service and leastness in their place - as the highest models of sacrifice. When we put this story in words that lead to the demonizing of a people, or use a people to scape goat we disassociate ourselves from our present day realities that all of God's people face (Jewish, Muslim, Christian) and we allow the world of violence and memetic sacrifice that is not of God to continue. We allow religion to be a pawn in the game of violence and oppression. Does Peter miss this? Maybe. Maybe he is forever intombed by his context and language. The real issue though is that religious leaders and political leaders make dangerous companions that usually have very little to do with their faith or ethnicity and most often serve one thing - a principality's power. This is true for Christians as it has been for every world religion that has decided the state was a friend. So, to sum it scape goating a people or other religions. Keep the main thing the main thing.]

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Easter 2B, April 11, 2021


One in mind and heart, O God of glory, your people gather to proclaim your steadfast love, to proclaim the risen Christ in whom we are baptized.  Let the peace that Christ bestowed on the first disciples reign now over this assembly.  Let the Spirit breathed on them fill our hearts anew.  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 John 20:19-31

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

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

"Even though he said the greater blessing is for those who can believe without seeing, it's hard to imagine that there's a believer anywhere who wouldn't have traded places with Thomas, given the chance, and seen that face and heard that voice and touched those ruined hands."

"Thomas," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"In the end, this is not a story of absence and doubt. It is the amazing message that the good news of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is able to break through locked rooms, through the limits of time and space."

Commentary, Lucy Lind Hogan, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week,, 2012

Of Course this text appears regularly after Easter in our lectionary cycle. Furthermore, it also appears as the pre-story to the Pentecost lesson from John.  There is a lot in this week's text for consideration. I do think the preacher's challenge is to fix on one of the narrative pieces and preach fearlessly the resurrection.  So what I am offering today is a little about everything; ending with a few thoughts about where I think I am going with my sermon.

Every time we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of gatherings of people and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertake on his behalf.

Jesus loves gatherings. God loves it when people sit and eat and share. We might be tempted to steal the Gospel here and think that the only place is God is present in the gatherings of people is in our churches. But that would be to miss the point a bit. God is present in all kinds of gatherings, more visible when we remember him and gather in his name. Nevertheless, the God who created all things is present in the space between people - especially when they face one another and dine together.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week”. This suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

A challenging word comes from the blogosphere via Brian Stoffregen [Exegetical Notes (Easter 2 ABC) by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources]
The purpose of this resurrection appearance is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send the disciples as Jesus had been sent. Easter is not just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, it is being sent back into the (hostile) world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus.
So there is a sense of a coming, a witnessing, a filling or receiving, and a being sent or going. Not unlike Leonel Mitchel's thoughts that liturgy is always about making and drawing people deeper into Christ and the community of Christ at work in the world. Certainly echoing this liturgical theology and missional challenge are Raymond Brown's (New Testament and Johanine scholar) thoughts on this passage. His notes follow below from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshipers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).
So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday. This is a Gospel which clearly provides some marks along the pilgrim road. John gives us a sense that there is a reality to our being part of a community which gathers, receiving the witness of Jesus Christ resurrected, and then being sent to bear that witness out in the world.

And there is something stale in a community that gathers for itself only and does not go out into the world to see where God is gathering with others.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday begins with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cuing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

It is  more particular still. It is a blessing of peace. It is a reminder that they are to be a blessing of peace to others. Just as Abraham and Sarah were to be a blessing, so God comes into their midst to send them out to be a blessing of peace to the world. 

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

He is also here in vs 27 from our Acts lesson Jesus is referred to as God's holy país - son or child. He is Lord, but he is Lord by his woundedness and by becoming the least among them...a child. Yes, the woundedness reveals that it is the Lord but a particular kind of Lord which is different than the Lord's of this world.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. "Just as God sent me I am sending you." We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes:

Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission. (John, vol 2, 1040-1044)
This is the re-creation in action. The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic revelationary moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That seems the deeper point of the story. One scholar even remarked that John seems himself somewhat skeptical; perhaps not unlike our Thomas. Yet...Thomas comes to believe.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (John, vol 2, 1046)
Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life.

We make our witness as pilgrims of Shalom, of peace in the world, become the least (like our Lord) we serve the world in his name. We go out to feed and witness and to find God gathering with others in teh world around us. We go out to discover the marked children who are the persecuted in our day and wear the wounds of Christ.

This passage is not merely a passage about what is supposed to be our experience in Church but is a passage that speaks about what our experience is to be from Christian community - how we are to go out and discover God's suffering in the least and lost.

Some Thoughts on I John 1:1-2:5

"Certainly it would have been an exciting period full of fresh revelation, miracles, and the rapid growth of the church. However, texts like 1 John bear witness to the first century of Christianity also as a time of strife and the splitting of some Christian communities over differences. "

Commentary, 1 John 1:1-2:2, Nijay Gupta, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"The church need not gaze wistfully for a "someday" to come in order to possess the fullness of its identity. There is no need to wait until there are more members, or more resources, or more of whatever we might believe is necessary to be a good, or faithful, or missional (choose your favorite adjective!) church. "

Commentary, 1 John 1:13 (All Saints A), Audrey West, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

There is a lot of debate about the authorship of this text. I remember from seminary that the text is meant for general reading instead of to a particular community and context. I also remember that it is likely that the author of this particular Johannine text is closely related, if not the very same editor, as the one associated with the final edit of the Gospel of John. 

The goal is right teaching focused primarily on a high spirituality with a low anthropology. We might say that the spirit is good and the flesh is bad. If the spirit is truly living in us, proposes the author, then we will see the good works as an out flowing sign of the saving work of God.

As we pick up the argument in this first chapter what we know is that the text tells us there is a debate on the incarnation. Did Jesus truly become human and did he really suffer? Or, as God was it all an act?  

The author is clear. Christ has existed as the Word since before the beginning. This living Word has been present in all of God's creative acts. At the same time this Word comes in very real flesh, lived and suffered with us. In this we have a very real fellowship not only with Christ Jesus but also with the father.

At the same time, the author continues, while the Word is truly human and was tempted in every way as we are, he did not fall prey to sin as we do.  

The author says one cannot live ethically as Christ does and do evil things. God's perfect sacrifice removes from us all sin and so we achieve a holiness of life. When we do fall and confess our wrong doing God will forgive us. We are sinful even though we are redeemed. Nevertheless, our goal to live a Christian life, an ethical life as Christ did, remains our goal.  Given our sinfulness and ability to always fail at this we are grateful for God's forgiveness. 

For those who believe, follow Christ's example, confess when we sin, forgiveness and union with God are ours through the gift of Christ Jesus on the cross. 

God does not promise that life will be easy, that we will be sinless, or that temptations will not come to us. God does promise forgiveness of sins to all those who truly call upon his name. 

The difficulty then becomes the human ability to point out other people's sins rather than focusing on our own. This is our way of dealing with this today. We would rather enter the confessional with our neighbor's list than to be about our own business repent and attempt an honest life of living out our forgiveness. When we are tempted to take the other person's inventory we avoid our own sinfulness by resenting others. The author is clear - God forgives. The ethical follower of Jesus is the one
focused on their own living of life rather than upon their neighbor's.

Some Thoughts on Acts 4:23-37 (Acts 4:32-35)

"The portrayals of Christ-following community in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 raise red flags for many Euro-American readers."

Commentary, Acts 4:32-35,Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,, 2017.

"The Resurrection calls and enables us to perform powerful tangible acts that coincide with human need."

Commentary, Acts 4:32-35, Mitzi J. Smith, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Reading this text as a chiasm may suggest that the 'spiritual' qualities of the community (one heart and soul; witness to the resurrection; grace) leads to the 'social' qualities of declaiming ownership, sharing, and liberality."

"Two Ways of Reading the Early Church," D Mark Davis, raw translation and questions, Left Behind and Loving It, 2012.

"But 4:34 offers the clearest reason why they found it necessary to hold all in common; they were primarily concerned that there be no one needy among them."

"Holding All Things in Common," John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2012.

Religion is over. This passage reveals further that the passage from 1 John and John's Gospel are not about religious affectations that take shape within Christian community but that God's Gospel mission of peace, of Shalom, is to take shape out in the world among God's people.

Peter and John are released from captivity. They can't believe it! They don't understand why the world has rejected their message. They see clearly that power will fear a Gospel of peace where the Lord of lords is the least - the child - the servant. Their Gospel makes the world and its values topsy-turvy.  They state that the power that came from this servant made the powers and authorities afraid. They are praying to receive a spirit that will hold fast the truth of the Gospel in the face of such powers in their own time. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and they speak the truth of the God who became least, who became lost, and who became weak and even died so that others may have life. They spoke boldly and powerfully.

The passage then tells us that they shared much among themselves. This is not to say that everyone became poor. But it reveals that in this particular Christian community that people shared what they had so that all might have what is needed. They held things in common. "There was not a needy person among them." 
...for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
The Gospel proclamation is one that takes root in action by the community. It is a Gospel that is not about supporting a church but the supporting of people and their common life together. 

Excerpts from my book Vocatio:

The church of Acts wastes no time pontificating about growth or obsessing over the health of their institution. Instead the Church of Acts puts its energy into going, sharing, caring, and serving in peace.

The Apostles of the Church of Acts are not professionals. They are not climbing a career ladder. When apostleship becomes a career, we turn the Church into a principality or a power--an infection of violence that begins in the subtlest, most innocent of ways. Institutionalizing apostleship is a faithless means of ensuring survival. Stringfellow warns that institutions shape leaders more often than leaders shape institutions. In an institutionalized Church, authentic apostleship and the impulse for mission are the first casualties.[i] For the church to truly undertake its vocation, it must produce disciples whose apostleship looks like Jesus’s own, as opposed to bureaucratic paper pushing. The Church should always look outside of itself for means of reform. It must use the tools of vision and mission to reconnect with the narrative arc of the community of peace. While we must accept, as Stringfellow does, that the Church is a principality, we read Acts so that we might reform it in every way possible, in hope that it may become a most "exemplary principality."[ii]

[i] Stringfellow characterizes how the institution works in this way: "In truth, the conspicuous moral fact about our generals, our industrialists, our scientists, our commercial and political leaders is that they are the most obvious and pathetic prisoners in American society. There is unleashed among the principalities in this society a ruthless, self-proliferating, all-consuming institutional process that assaults, dispirits, defeats, and destroys human life even among, and primarily among, those persons in positions of institutional leadership. They are left with titles but without effectual authority; with the trappings of power but without control over the institutions they head; in nominal command but bereft of dominion. These same principalities, as has been mentioned, threaten and defy and enslave human beings of other status in diverse ways, but the most poignant victim of the demonic in America today is the so-called leader. Stringfellow, "Acolytes of the Demonic Powers," Keeper, 274.
[ii] William Stringfellow, "Acolytes," Keeper, 274.


The last quality of the apostolic shalom community worthy of note is their practice of sharing what they had. They shared the good news of Jesus’s resurrection and of the community and reign of peace. They shared the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14) They did mighty works to be sure. (Acts 3:1-7) All of this required no repayment. It was free to those who desired it, for those willing to be a member of the peace community and reject the dominion of violence and a world where fees were charged for service. There was no enrichment to be had in this endeavor of mission. We do know that this mixed community of the poor and the wealthy came together to share what they had so that all might have what is needed to live. Those who lived together in community (which may have been the twelve and their families) shared things in common. (Acts 2:42) We are told that everyone in one community sold all their possessions and this was placed in a common purse for the good of the community. (Acts 4:34-35) We are told that this was a key ingredient to belonging to the community in Jerusalem. So much so that they confronted those who did not trust the community or God fully and did not give over all that they had. (Acts 5:1-11) This is important because the community in Jerusalem as a paradigm understood that everything must be pooled together in a common purse and used for the good of the whole. It had to be redistributed. In still other parts of the movement different ways were used to take in money and redistribute it for the good of all. In the case of Lydia or the Centurion in Acts no requirement is made that they sell everything. At the core was an understanding that it was good to give and share what one has and to do good works. (Hebrews 13:15-16) Those who followed God in the community of shalom rejected the norms of consumption, wealth, and the oppression of the poor. The economic system of the day was rejected in favor of a community of peace where there was no hunger. The care of the needy among the Church was so important that the first “ministers” called into the fledgling community were tasked with caring for those who could not take care of themselves - the widows and orphans who were being neglected in the distribution of food. (Acts 6:1-6) The early Church’s rule of life was a direct indictment of the practice of the religious authorities. But the early Church wasted no time telling the authorities that they should feed these people. They simply fed the people. When the community of peace shares what they have with those who are going without they undermine the powers and authorities which prey upon the weak, needy, and vulnerable, holding them up as scapegoats for society's problems.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday
This is a sermon on John 20.19-29, the Second Sunday of Easter.  I preached the sermon at Christ the King, Alief.  In my prayers and study I was interested by the human desire to deal with our doubt by seeing and touching, and then wondered where is one of the places the risen Lord is present in our lives.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Easter, Year B, April 4, 2021

St. Chrysostom's Easter Sermon

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

Some Thoughts on John 20:1-19

"Three disciples. One sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes. One sees the same thing and there is no indication that he believes anything. One is surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her name. To all and each of these we preach."

Commentary, John 20:1-18, Barbara Lundblad, Preaching This Week,, 2016.

"It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. The part I mean, of course, is the part about the resurrection. They are trying to describe it as truthfully as they can. It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it."

"The Secret in the Dark," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"In the first creation story God drove Eve and Adam out of the garden. But in this new creation Jesus sends Mary out of the garden rejoicing."

Commentary, John 20:1-18, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"For hearers of the gospel read at a single setting, Jesus? words to Mary would have recalled the themes of the last discourses and the writer doubtless intended so. Without this insight our Easter celebrations can flounder about clutching onto the body of Jesus and getting bogged down into proving materiality."

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

We begin with  Mary discovering that the body is not there and reporting it to the disciples.  There is the famous disciple race.  The beloved disciple loves Jesus more and so he arrives at the tomb first before Peter; this is the intent of the story teller at least.  When he arrives he sees the burial clothes and he believes. He sees, he experiences, the resurrection and he believes.

Mary Magdalene then experiences the risen Jesus.  She has been searching for him; she sees him but does not immediately know him.  In fact she does not know him until her name is called.  Raymond Brown points out a number of reasons for this in John, vol 2, 1008ff.  Playing out the reality of Jesus' own words in John 10.3:  "The sheep hear his voice as he calls by name those that belong to him."  "I know my sheep and my sheep know me."  Her response is to announce to the disciples that she has "seen the Lord."

Two different experiences of the risen Christ from two loving followers are what we have to preach on this Easter.  They give us a sense that the risen Lord is known in many ways and experienced in many ways.  While true belief will come with the Holy Spirit, we are given here in John's resurrection account the beginning of the new creation story.

The Victory has been won on the cross. The chasm that separated the earth and the heaven is no breached.  The disciples begin to experience a new order and a new creation. They begin to understand the things which have been told them.

In these resurrection accounts we have the beginning of faith which comes from experiencing the risen Lord.  Their faith will grow even as Jesus continues to make his journey to the father. He remarks that we are not to cling to tightly to these experiences for the unity if fulfilled in the ascension which is soon to come.  Jesus is even now, as he stands before Mary, making his way to the Father.  Then, and only then, will the comforter and Holy Spirit be unleashed in the world.  Then, and only then, will the disciples come to a fullness of belief.

John's Gospel tells us clearly that resurrection is not simply a bodily, this world, experience but it is a resurrection into unity with God.  Only when Jesus is resurrected and unified will the new creation truly spring forth.  So now...on Easter we read John's Gospel we prepare and raise our heads for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of creation which is even now upon us.

"The first ones ever, oh, ever to know of the rising of Jesus, his glory to be, were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they are they who see.  Oh blessed are they who see the Lord, oh, blessed are they who see." (Hymnal 1982, 673)

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

"The entirety of this chapter is the eloquent center of Paul's primary argument for the Resurrection."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Whether then it is we or they (and may God make it both), so let us proclaim, that the world might come to believe; that Christ Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he we raised again."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Affirming that God raised Jesus from the dead (whether with a transformation model or a replacement model) is foundational for reading the story of Jesus as paradigmatic for us all: there is death and there is hope!"
"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter Day, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

This passage also appears on Easter Day in year B. 

Paul begins by drawing the readers of his letter back to the good news of God in Christ Jesus that he proclaimed to them...that Jesus died upon the cross for all and to save all people. That all people are reconciled to God through the work of Christ on the cross. What this means is that we are reconciled first to Christ and then to each other.

I have always thought that we reveal our relationship with God and Christ through our relationship with others. In other words, our relationships with others (good, bad, indifferent) are all rooted in our understanding of Christ's work. And, if Christ saves me and I truly have that hope, and it is not in vain, then I must see all others in the same relationship with Christ's saving act. And, in so doing I see the potential hope of our own reconciliation.

Paul then bears witness to how this extra-historical event of great magnitude was literally witnessed by others. He writes,

"Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Paul then writes that he received such grace that he himself became a missionary of this message. The power of Paul's believe, and reception of the good news is what has spurred him on.

I feel that Paul is deeply rooting not only his own mission and ministry in the cross of Christ, but he is reminding anyone who would call themselves a follower that they too are rooted here in this cross. Before we raise our banners high for our Christian sect or our belief that we have it right and others wrong...before we start to claim that the future of the church...this or dependent upon our actions...I feel Paul is reminding us that everything is dependent upon Christ and his cross and resurrection.

I wonder if things in church, our arguments, those things we think are so essential, would be approached in a very different manner if we started out where Paul starts out in this passage.

Some Thoughts on Acts 10:34-43

"Beyond stereotypes, beyond deeply seeded religious segregation, Peter obeys his command, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In a gesture of faith, a movement of complete trust, a posture of submission, Peter tells the story of Jesus, a story in which he knew very well."

Commentary, Acts 10:34-43 | Levi Holland | Post Coffee Co. A Plain Account | A Plain Account, 2017

"The goal is that people might be released from sin. The Greek word usually translated "forgiveness" is aphesis, which literally means "release." A pattern of sins often brings people to a point where the sins define the present and limit the future. For a person to have a different life, the sins must no longer define the person's situation."

Commentary, Acts 10:34-43 (Baptism A), Craig R. Koester, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Luke's trim speech given to Peter ends by noting the promise of forgiveness and declaring that Jesus will be the one to judge the world. This is also part of what it meant to say, 'Jesus is Lord'."

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

"In Luke's writings the ancient practice of hospitality, the custom of welcoming travelers or strangers into one's home and establishing relationships with them, becomes the prism through which Jesus? disciples can view one another and others as valuable children of God."

"Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts," Andrew Arterbury, (other resources at) "Hospitality," Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2007.

We are reading from the book of Acts during Easter. Luke is believed to be the author of this book and so it is a continuation of the story of the Gospel. When we look at it this way we see an important story arc that has been in effect from the earliest passages of the Gospel – Jesus is Lord of all.

Easter's First Light at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Drawing on Richard Hays’ work we easily see a narrative that begins to portray Jesus as Lord – as the Kyrios. Luke begins in 1:16 and carries the term to our passage for today. Of all the Gospel authors, Luke uses the term the most. He ties it into Isaiah’s prophecy and the suffering servant as we discussed in the readings during Holy Week. (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 253ff)

In this Easter reading we have the high point of Luke’s arc in the words of the Peter:
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
…All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What is revealed here is the immortal nature of God’s Word – the Immoral Word – the second person of the Trinity. God acting through the word, in this case Isaiah’s prophetic word, long before the unique person of Jesus. God reveals the ultimate unity of God and that just as this God was Lord of Israel so this God in Christ Jesus is Lord of all. The incarnate Word made flesh reigns because God reigns. Jesus is Lord of life and Lord of death it turns out on this Easter day – of all.

We should probably be clear before moving along, we humans are the ones who put boundaries on God. We, the religious, like God to be lord of insider our church walls but not outside. We like our God to be lord of us but not them. We desire a God who is lord of our country but not theirs. We confuse this lordship (with a little “l”) because we think we get to be in charge of God. We believe we get to decide who God likes and doesn’t like. That is of course is all very silly nonsense. We have no control over what God is Lord over. It turns out, as our passage tells us today, that God in Christ Jesus is Lord over all. The scripture says something about this: the son sun rises on both the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

Sermon preached on Easter 2015 at the Great Vigil at Canterbury A&M. Here is a video of Ray singing:

This is Easter

Sermon preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Easter, 2014

Easter Sermon: Go to Galilee

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston Texas, Easter 2011.

Christ is Risen...forever and forevermore

Preached Easter Sunday, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, 2010.

Here are Other Choices for Easter Sunday Readings

Some Thoughts on Colossians 3:1-4

"The reference to 'all' may also have a much wider focus: all people and all of creation. That is at least the goal of this love which flows from the heart of God and that needs to be the goal of that love in and through our lives as well, so that no one is beyond it and no part of creation beyond our care and concern."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Since the author recognizes the ongoing reality of slavery in his instructions to slaves in 3:22-25, the final contrasting pair, slave/free, in 3:11 helps show that for the author what has been negated in baptism is not the existence of such contrasting groups. Rather these contrasts no longer serve as the prime identity of people's separateness since they are all in Christ who gives them their prime identity."

Commentary, Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text 

The passage we have for today from Paul's letter to the community in Colossia comes after a concern about a bunch of rules or ways of doing ritual that are drawing the members from the real focus of worship and life in Christ.  (2.21ff)  Some scholars believe that these may be rooted in purity laws. Paul offers a very important vision of Christ - he offers freedom and reconciliation. The Christ that Paul and I believe in is one who is not an oppressive liturgical fundamentalist!  Worship itself should mimic a God of freedom and liberation.

Paul then says (in the beginning of our passage) Christ has left the ways of the past behind, we are now able to be joined directly with God through Jesus's work on the cross.  Evil has been trampled and so too any distractions which draw us from the love of God.  So we are to "rise up" as Ray Wylie Hubbard sings and become united to God in Christ Jesus.

Certainly the images of "above" language are about "harmony, justice, and peace" says William Loader.  The things that are below are of a more worldly nature.  These will get in the way of our worship and life with God.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)...8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Paul's view is that when these things are set aside, not as new rules or laws, as a way of living together new life is revealed - resurrection life is revealed.  And in this we receive the poetry of love and unity that is found in the last verses:
11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!