Finding the Lessons

The latest blog post will be the bible study for the next week. 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. Enjoy.

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


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent 1 Year C, February 14, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I don’t think that a sermon on temptation needs to be either titillating or boring to be helpful. Rather, I think it needs to be both honest and realistic. In fact, I think that kind of sermon on temptation might be just the thing a lot of our people need and want to hear."

"Trust and Temptation," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

"Wilderness was the wild place, the waiting place, the place of preparation. It also connected then, as it does now, to very basic spirituality: a place to grapple with God, a place to learn dependence on nature and its provisions, a place of extremes or contrasts, of wild beasts and desert. It is the Lenten space par excellence."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Through all their desert wanderings, O Lord our God, you led our ancestors from toil and oppression to a land of milk and honey.  Through forty days in the wilderness, the Spirit led your Son from the devil’s testing to victory as your servant.  Lead us through these forty days of Lent and make that victory of Christ’s our own, till at the font of living water the elect find new birth, the penitent find pardon, and all rejoice to serve you alone. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 4:1-3
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

On the first Sunday of Lent we return to chapters which came before our Epiphany readings.  This Sunday we go back in time to the chapter just following the Baptism when Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. This pattern of reading the Gospel works well for our liturgical year, and helps to bring the modern Christian journey through Lent into perspective alongside the journey of Jesus in the desert.  Sometimes it isn't very helpful as far as the narrative is concerned.

In Luke's Gospel we are clear that it is the Holy Spirit who is the one who is leading Jesus from the moment of baptism throughout his ministry. Jesus is God’s son specifically and this “’sonship’ is mediated by the Holy Spirit.” (LTJ, Luke, 72)

Jesus is led then as God’s son into the desert, full of the Holy Spirit. He is led there specifically to be tested.  In the desert we find that it is Job’s tester who comes to Jesus, a little different personality than in the other two Gospels. This devil will offer much in a land without much. The idea is that here the devil is offering a different world to Jesus, a different reign. This reign is one filled with demons and minions. To many the “wilderness” is a place full of demons.  The reign the devil offers is not only contrary to but working against the reign of God. The testing begins long after Jesus becomes hungry. He is dwelling within this counter kingdom where scarcity rules.

He dwells there for forty days which is a holy number.  In Exodus 34:38, Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days; In 1 Kings 19:8, Elijah spent forty days on the journey to Mount Horeb. According to the northern tradition (in Deuteronomy 9) , Moses received the Law there, rather than on Mount Sinai, the location in the southern tradition. In Deuteronomy 9:9, Moses says “I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water.” “Forty days” appears many times in the Old Testament meaning a significant period of time. Recall also that Jonah predicted that Nineveh would be destroyed after “forty days” if the citizens did not repent.

This is an interesting tie-in for the discipleship journey. We, as disciples, live in a world tempted daily by the demons and minions of this counter-kingdom. When we live in the world we are hungry and find little sustenance. When we leave the life lived within the reign of God we will be tempted and it will be like a desert with living water ever more scarce and our own thirst and hunger increasing.

Jesus is first tempted to turn stones to bread. I am reminded first of all of John the Baptist’s words that God can raise up sons and daughters of Abraham from these stones, stones may be living, stones may gush forth with water. But Jesus is tempted here with the opportunity to use his “sonship” powers to try and sustain life in the “counter-kingdom.” (LTJ, Luke, 74)

Jesus responds by reminding the devil and us who are traveling along this desert journey with him that we do not live on bread alone. (Deuteronomy 8:3.) The message Jesus offers in not unique and yet it is always timely. We enter into this time of year to help us intentionally remember that we depend upon the bounty and grace of God for all that we have. This was the lesson taught to Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to all the prophets, kings, and holy people of God. As humans it is so very easy to believe that if we just have this or if we simply could have that our lives would be so much better off than they are today. We so easily forget in our hunger brought about in a world of scarcity that God’s love and providence is already there to be consumed.

The devil then shows Jesus all of the kingdoms throughout the empire and says that he can have them if he will but prostrate himself. In Luke’s Gospel this is more than bowing before the devil, acknowledging his power and reign over the counter-kingdom. It is worship he desires.

As I reflect on this passage it reminds me of all the false hopes of prosperity that are offered on late night infomercials. The promise looks good and it is inviting. The promise of the counter-kingdom is subtle and you and I buy into it pretty easily. “If I just had this or that,” we might say to ourselves. Just recently I read an article talking about the unfulfilled hope promised by technology. Jesus’ response is to reorient the conversation towards God. Jesus reminds the devil of the words of the Sh’ma: there is only one God of Israel and him we shall worship.

The first two temptations not having worked, the devil takes Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The devil offers a few quotes and invites Jesus to test his father. Surely the angels would save Jesus from stubbing his toe. Jesus of course “exhausts” the devil with his focus on the reign of God and his unbending mission to bring it to fruition. At the end of the day it is the tester of Job and Jesus who looses faith and withdraws.

Luke includes this phrase, “withdrew from him for a time.” The tempter will play an important role towards the end of Jesus’ mission. While the ruler of the counter-kingdom is quiet for most of the Lukan gospel, his minions are not. Luke Timothy Johnson tells us we should not pretend that the clash of the reign of God and the counter-kingdom of the world is over by any stretch of the imagination.

As we come to the end of this passage and I reflect on possible messages for the first Sunday in Lent, there are the obvious themes of desert and testing. There also emerges a theme on the faithfulness of Jesus to bring in the reign of God. Perhaps in our beginning of Lent we might not simply see our journey with Jesus in a desert or wilderness as a time to grow close to God, but rather a time to test our faith in God by stepping boldly forward into ministry and mission. Can we be driven into Lent by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the reign of God and see what it is that we discover along our own journey to Jerusalem? Can we fast, and pray, and be reconciled to the lordship of Christ in our lives?

Some Thoughts on Romans 10:8-13

In this lesson Paul substitutes the word for Torah with the word Christ.  Therefore what we are presented with is the transformation of living the law transformed into the Gospel of living out the Christ like heart.

We have a unique proclamation of Good News about Salvation and of Christ and his resurrection.  We cannot underestimate the reality that Paul's view that God's grace, mercy, and salvation preceded virtue was a radical notion.  The reversal of the economic nature of faith was powerful to the first century ears.  Today, most of us still live within a predominately exchange based faith practice; though a more subtle one.  We trade on "right belief" today or "right worship."  Paul's message is very important for us to hear.

Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is working God's purpose out in the world.  God as Holy Spirit is a spirit of love and grace which is breathing life into people.  They are receiving grace and this grace brings with it a deliverance from the old ways.  Shame is not God's way, though it was the way of the law.  We are freed now into a new life which makes all things and all people new.

This God is a generous God and Christ sees no distinction in the human family when he looks upon us with the eyes of grace.  Paul says it is no longer about marking the boxes and checking off your list of achievements.  Instead God has saved us.   Paul writes:

For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This is good news indeed and having heard it, we proclaim it, and we choose to live and be differently. We choose then to live out of our freedom and liberty a grace filled and virtuous life.  This is the new economy of faith, traded on grace and forgiveness from God to us and to all others.  Moreover, an opportunity to live life empowered by the Holy Spirit to give thanks for this salvation and to offer it to others; all the wile attempting a virtuous life of love.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In Jesus' prayer we are connected and bonded with each other. We find our health, our integrity, and our righteousness; that is true piety."

"Preaching on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-8)," Irving J. Arnquist and Louis R. Flessner, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1990.

"What are we praying for when we pray for God's kingdom to come?"

"Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord's Prayer," N.T. Wright, The Christian Century, 1997.

"That piety should be a private matter is a radical not to say revolutionary idea. It goes totally against the cultural grain. For traditional piety is something performed for others to see. In Roman culture, pietas referred to the public veneration of the gods. Without such a display from prominent citizens, what would happen to the traditional values that were associated with the gods? Pietas was the cultural glue, holding all things in place. How could there be law and order without it?"

"The Call to Secret Service (Matthew 6:1-18)," John C. Purdy. Chapter 4 inReturning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


At this, the acceptable time, O God so rich in mercy, we gather in solemn assembly to receive the announcement of the Lenten spring, and the ashes of mortality and repentance.  Let the elect, exulting, to the waters of salvation; guide the penitent, rejoicing, to the healing river; carry us all to the streams of renewal.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

If we were reading along in the scripture and we arrived at our passage for this Ash Wednesday we would see the continued conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.  The religious hierarchy have set themselves above the faith and have become, if you will, arbiters of piety. They are the intermediaries between God and God's people.

Jesus has been expanding and expounding on the nature of the law revealed by the messiah and now he turns to talk a little about how Christians should live with one another.  What we have in our passage are the characteristics of a Christian community according to Jesus; and they are contrasted with the practices of these other religious leaders.   Of course we are doomed to exhibit the same tendencies at our very worst but we have here some outlined behaviors that should at least set our trajectory.

Don't get in other people's faces about how you are better than them when it comes to prayer, believing, and the rest of it.  After all, living a Christian life benefits God and others.  Here are a couple of examples of what not to do...

  • Example One: Just be a good steward and don't brag about it.
  • Example Two: Don't be verbose in your praying.  It is a real turn off to God an others.
  • Example Three: Please pray privately and sincerely.
  • Example Four: God knows what you need so you don't have to always be telling God out loud.
  • Example Five:  Don't look dismal and sad.  Look happy and enjoy your relationship with God.
  • Example Six: Remember that what matters is the love of God, the love of neighbor - these are the treasures worth having.
All of this is because good works are done for God and on behalf of others.  This service is purely for the reward of doing what is good and well in the eyes of God and not for a community's lauds or glory.

What we have in our reading today is very good and it is the parenthesis between Matthew's teaching on the Lord's prayers.

I say this because in my mind it helps to frame what Jesus is teaching about prayer.  The reality is that Jesus' prayer is very powerful when seen through the eyes of the overall passage and its meaning is much greater than the by rote version we say without thought most Sundays. So, here is a meditation on Jesus' Prayer with an eye to Matthew's Gospel and to the passage for Ash Wednesday.

Jesus’ Prayer
In the Episcopal Church, the Lord’s Prayer--the prayer Jesus taught his disciples--is central to our common life of prayer. It is present in all of our private and corporate services of worship, and is often the first prayer children learn. With the simplest of words, Jesus teaches those who follow him all they need to know about prayer, as they say:
“Our Father”: Our Father, because we are to seek as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did. We are can develop this intimate love with God, recognizing we are children of God and members of the family of God.
“Who art in heaven”: We are reminded of our created nature as a gift from heaven. Life is given to us from God, who is quite beyond us. We recognize in this short phrase that we are not God. Rather, the God we proclaim is a God who makes all things and breathes life into all things.
“Hallowed be thy name”: In response to the grace of being welcomed into God’s community, bowing humbly and acknowledging our created nature, we recognize the holiness of God. We proclaim that God’s name is hallowed.
“Thy kingdom come”: We ask and seek God’s kingdom. The words of Jesus remind us that, like the disciples’ own desires to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, this is not our kingdom. The reign of God is not what you and I have in mind. We beg, “God, by your power bring your kingdom into this world. Help us to beat our swords into ploughshares that we might feed the world. Give us strength to commit as your partners in the restoration of creation, not how we imagine it, but in the way you imagine it.”
“Thy will be done”: We bend our wills to God’s, following the living example of Jesus Christ. We ask for grace to constantly set aside our desires and take on the love of God’s reign. We pray, “Let our hands and hearts build not powers and principalities but the rule of love and care for all sorts and conditions of humanity. Let us have a measure of wisdom to tear down our self-imposed walls and embrace one another, as the lion and the lamb lay down together in the kingdom of God.”
“On earth as it is in heaven”: We ask God to give us eyes to see this kingdom vision, and then we ask for courage and power to make heaven a reality in this world. We pray to God, “Create in us a will to be helping hands and loving hearts for those who are weary and need to rest in you. May our homes, our churches, and our communities be a sanctuary for the hurting world to find shelter, to find some small experience of heaven.”
“Give us this day our daily bread”: In prayer we come to understand that we are consumers. We need, desire, and just want many things. In Christ, we are reminded that all we need is our daily bread. So we pray, “O God, help us to be mindful that you provide for the lilies of the field and you provide for us. As we surrender our desires, help us to provide daily bread for those who have none today.”
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”: Sanity and restoration are possible only because God forgives us. Because of that sacrificial forgiveness--made real in the life and death of Jesus--we can see and then share mercy and forgiveness. Then we can pray, “God, may I understand your call to me personally to offer sacrificial forgiveness to all those I feel have wronged me. I want to know and see my own fault in those broken relationships. May I be the sacrament of your grace and forgiveness to others.”
“Lead us not into temptation”: As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and replaced God with their own understanding of reality, we need help turning away from our own earthly and political desires and turning toward the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. So we ask, “We are so tempted to go the easy way, to believe our desires are God’s desires. We have the audacity to assume we can know God’s mind. Show us your way and help us to trust it.”
“And deliver us from evil”: Only God can deliver us from evil. There is darkness in the world around us. We know this darkness feeds on our deepest desire: to be God ourselves. That deceptive voice affirms everything we do and justifies our actions, even when they compromise other people’s dignity. It whispers and tells us we possess God’s truth and no one else does. We must pray, “God, deliver us from the evil that inhabits this world, the weakness of our hearts, and the darkness of our lives, that we might walk in the light of your Son.”
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”: Without God, we are powerless. So we devote our lives to God, resting in the power of God’s deliverance. We humbly ask, “Help us to see your glory and beauty in the world, this day and every day. Amen.”

Using prayers like this one, Jesus modeled a life of prayer as work, and work as prayer. The apostles and all those who have since followed him have sought a life of prayer. They have engaged in prayer that discerns Jesus’ teachings and then molded their lives into the shape of his life. We can take up the same vocation and become people whose lives are characterized by daily and fervent prayer. Indeed we reflect and acknowledge the centrality of prayer and work in our own commitment to God when we say, “I will, with God’s help, continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”  [This is an excerpt from Unabashedly Episcopalian.]

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

One of the things that has happened to us in our culture is that we think not about whom we represent.  Yet, we represent (as Christians) Jesus Christ to the world.  This lack of mindfulness is complex; yet for the world in many respects God in Christ Jesus is not the problem for Christianity but rather it is his followers that create the stumbling block.  This passage is about the life of Grace which transforms the Christian first.

We are ambassadors for Christ.  In Paul's setting this would have meant that we are the oldest and wisest of Christ's children.  We represent Christ but not in the worst way but on behalf of him in the very best of manners.  This is difficult to do if we are always at war with ourselves.  It is hard to be Christ's representative if we can't represent Christ to one another; which means forgiving one another and offering Grace.  We are the great law givers rather than the donors of grace.  So what do we do?  How do we get there? How do we make room for the other?

We like Christ must give grace, make room for grace, and offer grace.  However, before we can do this we must receive Grace.  This is easier said than done.  We must really and truly receive the saving Grace of Christ; this means allowing God to love and save us in our mess and not waiting for perfection.  We are truly saved and perfected through the grace we receive. We are made a new creation by God if we will but let him.  Instead of performing for God or hoping that God will deliver us out of our "labors and sleepless nights" we are invited instead to live under the umbrella of God's Grace; within the saving embrace of God.  When we do this Paul believes the other things will fall into place.

We don't become the new creation and then we get grace.  Instead we allow ourselves to receive God's Grace and we become new.  We don't live and so we don't die.  We die to our desire to be perfect and so we live in the Grace of God who takes us just as we are.  It is this reversal of the world's economy of salvation that enables us to be alive, joyful, satisfied, and content.

When life is lived with the mantle of God's Grace upon our shoulders then we are beautiful and resplendent ambassadors of Christ to the world.  When we live in Grace we give grace freely, we share life freely, we embrace the other freely, we see there is enough and offer plenty of good things freely.  This is the life lived as a new creation, this is the life of Grace. This is the life of ambassadorship.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

February 8, 2016, Last Epiphany/The Transfiguration

Quotes That Make Me Think

"God promises us that through Scripture we will meet God, and our identities as individuals and a community of faith will be formed and transformed."

"Transforming Transfiguation," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

"The Transfiguration is an apt Preface to Lent and Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, because what lies ahead is both a confrontation between the non-violent justice of the Kingdom of God and the violent injustice of the Roman Empire; as well as the non-violent way of the Beloved versus the hoped-for victory by the Messiah."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 9:28-36, (37-43), David Ewart, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


O god, whose Son, your Beloved, was transfigured in dazzling light, with reverent awe we enter your holy presence.  Your presence cannot be contained in tents our hands have made but must be sought in your creatures and all that your hands have fashioned.  Lead us from the high mountain to seek you in the lowly of the earth, serving them, after Christ’s example, in peace and sacrificial love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 9:28-36(37-43)
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Epiphany begins with the visitation of the wise men, contains the prophesy of Simeon at the presentation, moves to the baptism of Jesus by John, then moved through several lessons in Luke’s Gospel which outline the mission of Jesus and what kind of Messiah he is to be for the people of Israel and for the Gentiles.  We conclude Epiphany with the transfiguration.  As Luke Timothy Johnson calls the passage “Recognizing Jesus,” we are then not surprised that this season of revelation and light ends on the mountain top.
If you are interested in how the other texts tell the story of the transfiguration you can find the parallels for today’s Gospel reading here:
vv. 28-36
vv. 37-43a
One of the things I want to draw our attention to as we begin to survey this Gospel reading is that the lectionary has divided it in an odd place. I very much like the division of the passage as 9:18-36.  Here we have a complicated disagreement between the New Testament scholar and the Liturgist.  Overlooking that, we see plainly as we open up our Bibles that Luke intends to begin the account by transitioning from the miracle of loaves and fishes to a private time of prayer between teacher and disciples. 

In the previous passage the miracle of multiplication and abundance concludes as we see the ochlos (mentioned above as "the crowd") transformed in the new nation of God’s people – the laos.  The revelation of the reign of God’s breaking into the world is then immediately followed by a time of prayer.  Jesus asks them in this time away from the others, who am I?  From Peter we receive the revelation “Messiah of God,” or as almost all scholars recognize: “God’s Anointed.”  While Jesus tells them to keep this quiet he also charges them to follow, deny themselves, and to die daily to self – living for Christ and for others along the journey of discipleship.

As before we see the revelation, and then a response of discipleship offered.  So we come to verse 28 and the test. Just how are our disciples doing? We might remember Simon’s response last week of humble repentance. What happens this Sunday?  Are we there yet?

We begin with these words, “as he was praying.” Many scholars focus in on the changes that Luke makes to the end time predictions of Mark and the imagery of Christ’s second coming and the number of days from the revelation of Jesus as Messiah (Mark’s 6 to Luke’s 8). 

What strikes me and seems so very profound is that the transfiguration occurs in the midst of prayer.  Specifically, while Jesus is praying the transfiguration takes place.  We have not ventured too far from Jesus’ baptism so we can remember that the moment of recognition of Jesus as God’s beloved came during prayer as well.  Again here we see the reality that the Holy Spirit comes in prayer; it comes when we present ourselves to God.  It comes in words and it comes in silence.

Jesus is praying.  As he prays his appearance is altered and his clothes become dazzlingly white.  Two men were seen speaking to him: Moses and Elijah.  They too are witnessed to be in glory.  And they were talking about the death and resurrection and events about to take place in Jerusalem. This account is one filled with images and words that would have resonated with the first Christians. They are images to be repeated by the Godly work of resurrection and in Luke’s account of the events that followed.

I believe the importance of this moment is highlighted by the very particular words used by Luke to describe the transfiguration.  The word for departure is a direct translation of exodus.  Jesus is God’s glory; he is the Messiah to lead the new nation out of bondage.  Jesus is like Moses and Elijah, he is a great prophet. But he is also God’s Glory, the revelation of the Godhead. Jesus is also the one through whom all nations shall become inheritors of Abraham’s covenant.

The disciples are asleep and miss most of the action.  Perhaps in their confusion, perhaps in that same way they did not want to go into the deep water, here they offer to build tents.  This of course is a tie to the feast of Booths.  However, we are told that Peter doesn't really know what he is saying. We have the answer to the question in Stephen’s witness (Acts 7:48-50), “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.”  So, quite frankly, this is a silly idea.

Furthermore, Peter is wrong. By offering three tents he misses the point. He has placed Jesus merely on a parallel prophetic course as Moses and Elijah. Clearly more is desired by God. (Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, 156).

So often our excuses and our ideas about why the reign of God must follow our desires are just silly.  They are foolish. I imagine like Peter, it is hard to see. I know for me it is difficult to see just how foolish they really are until I have some distance and can look back and see exactly what Jesus was doing.

God then proclaims that this is indeed his Glory, the one who has been selected, the one who is his beloved, and God instructs those who witness this event to do as Jesus asks.

Imagine in this moment the fear of witnessing such an event. Certainly the disciples are afraid as they are engulfed in this cloud and bear witness to a truly divine interaction.  Their response is silence, silent contemplation.

Luke gives us a very clear sense of the essential ingredient in ministry and how so very much hinges upon prayer:  prayer before the action of following Jesus; prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit; prayer in which God will speak; prayer that is revelatory; prayer that knocks you to your knees; prayer that gives you ministry; prayer is where you will hear the voice of God speaking and calling to you.

This makes me wonder.  When people come to our churches do they experience the transfiguration?  We have certainly built booths.  And, we work hard to keep God imprisoned there.  We try not to live into Jesus’ teaching much more than those of Moses or Elijah’s.  We aren't that different from Peter.  Such a message is important to contemplate on the eve of Lent.

What would it be like if when people left our worship services they felt as though they had been apart of witnessing the transfiguration?  What would it be like, Sunday after Sunday, if they left worship forever changed?  They left in quiet contemplation waiting to hear where Jesus was calling them to serve. They left the mountain top to experience Jesus in the world? 

I am not advocating a worship that is either charismatic, renewal oriented, modern, post-modern, or traditional. To believe there is only one style of worship that is missional or where God can be experienced is to participate in booth building.  But when we celebrate do we believe what we are saying? Are we in the moment praying or simply saying the words? How do we prepare ourselves to lead this kind of worship?  How do we prepare our laity to be leaders in this same way? How do we get out of the way and truly become vessels of the Most High God so that those who seek him find him, and don’t discover a tired worn out congregation?

As a leader of worship I wonder am I in tune with the sacred things being undertaken in this moment; or is this just another Sunday to get through so I can go on to the next thing?

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

In our passage from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians we have an argument being made about the law of Moses and the law of Christ.  Paul is using the word "glory" here to refer to the fact that when Moses went up to the Lord and received the Torah his face shined; so he veiled it.  Paul in the first words for this passage is saying literally that Moses face shines less now that the old law is passing away and the new law of Christ has been revealed.  

He then argues that to continue to spend a lifetime attempting to live out the old covenant will be a life wasted indeed because the law of Moses is unable to help humans see God's true and intended desire for creation.  Paul is arguing that when we try to make the law of Moses our guiding principle it is like we have a veil over our own faces and we are unable to see our created purpose.

However, those who chose to follow Jesus who brings with him the law of love will have the "veil removed."  In receiving the Holy Spirit (which is God's perfect love) we are able to look upon the Lord and discover that God intended humanity and all creation to be free.  We see, "with unveiled faces", in the face of God in Christ Jesus our true intended reflection.  The face of God in Christ, revealed by God's love in the Holy Spirit, shows us our "dispensation", our release, from the law of "stone" to a law of love.

This is God's mercy, that Christ has come as has our salvation, we are free.  When we live into our true being and when we love and become like Christ other behaviors fall away.  Paul is saying the opposite of everything his readers have been taught and we have been taught.  We typically believe if we will but do the law then freedom and love will come; then salvation will come. Paul has again turned this on its head.  Our freedom in Christ and through Christ brings love.  When we love, and follow this law of Christ, and see ourselves as beloved - as God sees us - we then behave differently.  When we love shameful things are renounced, when we love cunning falls away as useless.  When we love a truth is spoken more powerful than false teachings.  When we love we are vulnerable; but we are who God intended us to be.  We are who God sees and hopes we are.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 31, 2016 Epiphany 4C

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Do we really want a gracious God? Certainly we do -- for ourselves; but can we have a gracious God if we don't believe that the same grace is given to those sinners outside our church doors, outside our faith, outside our boundaries of acceptability?"

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"You see, it really is all Jesus’ fault – he goes and does the one thing you’re never supposed to do, even to strangers, let alone to friends and neighbors: He tells them the truth, the truth about their pettiness and prejudice, their fear and shame, their willingness, even eagerness, to get ahead at any cost, even at the expense of another. And so they want him gone in the most permanent of ways."

"Three Questions and a Promise," David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


God of the prophets your love reaches far beyond the boundaries of covenant and command.  Redeemed by a love so patient and kind, may we offer that same love to others and so proclaim you to the world by the witness of 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 4:21-30
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As the radio storyteller Paul Harvey says, “Now for the rest of the story.”  This week we continue with the story of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth.  We might recall the passage describes the kind of Messiah Jesus is to be, the kind of work he will undertake, and the people to whom he has come.  The reign of God in the Gospel of Luke is well underway and change, transformation, and restoration are coming.
The parallels to this passage in the other Gospels are: Matthew 13:53-58 and Mark 6:1-6.

Then Jesus sits down and begins to preach and teach, “Today this scripture which you have heard is being brought to fulfillment.”  We certainly understand this as we think over the life and work of Jesus.  What I love though is that the Greek literally means that the prophecy was “in your ears.”  The idea that the prophetic message of Isaiah is being embodied in their midst and the words are inside them, in their ear, in their head, where they could not get rid of it.  The proclamation was so powerful that the message was in them and with them and they could not think of anything else. 

The people at first receive the words with grace, even commenting on the wisdom this son of Nazareth offers.  There does seem in their words to be some discrepancy between the child they knew and the grown prophet who stands before them.  Luke Timothy Johnson points out that this is quite minor compared to the scandal it creates in the other two Gospel narratives.

We might remember that we, like the first readers of Luke’s Gospel are surprised by this reaction of the people.  We know this Jesus as the Son of the most high (1:32), the holy one, the Son of God (3:21-22).  While no scholar I read picked up on the subtlety of this question in the minds of Jesus’ neighbors, I have frequently wondered if it is not possible that this is Luke’s answer to the skeptic new believer seeking to understand and reconcile Jesus’ earthly and homely beginnings verses the claims of his followers.
Jesus then offers the reality that a prophet is not often accepted in his own home town.  Jesus is pulling a very ancient tradition into his teaching, recalling Israel’s treatment of the prophets.

Specifically you can go to 1 Kings 17:1, 8-16; 18:1 (the widow of Zarephath); 2 Kings 5:1-14 (the healing of Naaman). Luke universalizes Isaiah 61:1-2 (part of Jesus’ reading in vv. 18-19). For the rejected prophet, see also 6:22-23; 11:49-51; 13:34-35; Acts 7:35, 51-52. The pattern of the rejected prophet theme is found in Nehemiah 9:26-31. The stages are:
  • The people rebel, and kill a prophet
  • God punishes the perpetrators
  • God shows mercy through sending a new prophet
  • The people sin and reject the prophet. [see Chris Haslam’s web page for more on this]
What is revealed here is the beginning of Jesus’ preparation for the mission to the Gentiles. What binds these stories together is that Elijah and Elisha are sent outside Israel to the Gentiles; Jesus will do the same. We already know from Simeon and from the Isaiah passage quoted earlier in the Gospel that the ministry of Jesus will extend to all nations. Here Jesus himself offers a prophetic vision of God’s reign. The people in the narrative are hearing this for the very first time.

Jesus is not accepted in his hometown because his mission extends beyond his hometown.

If Jesus was to enter our congregation today who would be the Gentiles? We understand of course as that as followers of Jesus you and I have become inheritors of the promise of Abraham and the great ancestral faith of the Jews. But I can’t get away from the idea that today we are more like the people in Jesus’ hometown. He is our boy. We know him. Can he really be calling us to go out into the world? Is it possible that Jesus’ mission lies beyond the church today? Is Jesus already working outside of the Church to bring in the reign of God? Certainly as the church we acknowledge and believe that we are filled with God’s Spirit and are the living Body of Christ in the world. That being said, I don’t want to be caught at home.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 13:1-13

Clergymen with brooms fight in Bethlehem Shrine:
Not a lot of love here.
Paul has been teaching the Corinthians that God expects a different kind of community for his followers.  It reminds me of his term used in his letter to Galatians, "the law of Christ."  The law of Christ is essentially the bedrock of Paul's faith, nurtured in his Jewish upbringing. The law of Christ is: love God, and love neighbor.  The Holy Spirit enables us to do this work. And, we might remember that the Holy Spirit itself is God's perfect love.  So it is that we see Paul's deep theology throughout our passages over the last few weeks.

The Corinthians are inpatient with one another, jealous of other people's gifts, boasting that they have it right and others have it wrong, they are arrogant, rude, insistent they have it right, irritable, resentful, highlighting and gossiping about what is wrong with their fellow members, hopeless, and they easily give up on one another, their community, and God.  In other words the Corinthians are exactly like us today.  The very characteristics of the Corinthian church also Characterize the modern Western way of being Church.  The culture wars which have divided our church are an epidemic of Corinithianitis.

This is not the law of Christ.  Paul lives in a time when the lifespan for most people was 20 years at birth; if they survived the first years, it might grow to 40.  Children ran a very high risk of malarial infection, some estimate 50%.  Regarding society: 5% enjoyed wealth and 95% lived in appalling conditions.  Life was hard - period.  And yet, here Paul is speaking about love.  His message is radical.

I can imagine these Corinthians thinking, "Our problems are much more serious.  Love, what a ridiculous notion.  How will love help anything?"  Yet it is Paul's law of love which pervades his message to the Corinthians.  More importantly he reverses the nature of doing and receiving   In other words Paul doesn't say to the impatient Corinthians, if you have patience then there is love.  This is essential to understanding this law of Love.

Love is the primary gift of the Holy Spirit; for the Holy Spirit is itself love.  Paul says to the Corinthians and to those with Corinthianitis today: God's love pours out and our response is love; love to God and love to one another.  Paul says, if you love then patience comes. If you love jealousy and boasting fall away.  If you love you will not be arrogant.  If you love you will not be rude.  If you love you will be a partner for the kingdom of God and not insist on your own way.  If you love you will not be irritable.  If you love you will not be resentful.  If you love you will not rejoice in the failings of others but you will rejoice in their best nature and their successes.  If you love you will be strong and have forbearance   If you love belief will come, hope will happen, and you will endure.

Hmmm. That is hard medicine because the key ailment of Corinthianitis is that I don't want to love the ones that are hard to love. I only really want to love the ones that are easy to love.  Deep beneath this is the reality that I don't believe or feel that I am loved.  But I read this passage over and over and I don't see that particular rule of life expressed by Paul.  Imagine have to be open to receive God's love from whence it comes, respond in love to whomever comes, and live love wherever it may lead; and that is the Law of Love.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Epiphany 3C January 24, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Luke 4:14-21 is the opening scene in the ministry of Jesus. It is Jesus' manifesto for the work ahead."

Commentary, Luke 4:14-21, Ruth Anne Reese, at, Luther Seminary, 2016.

"...the God of Luke-Acts intentionally and continually invades, initiates, and even invites any and all theological deliberation, exploration, and imagination. Such theological thinking takes time and cannot be straightforwardly encapsulated in convenient statements of theoretical intent. Rather, Jesus’ words are a call to real life, real people, real time. This is God in our present and in our reality."

Commentary, Luke 4:14-21, Karoline Lewis, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

"Luke necessarily turns the focus here to individuals who need freedom and salvation because such was the focus of many anecdotes about Jesus and this remains valid and real for all of us, but the broader vision is not lost, including Israel?s restoration (see Acts 1:5). Such good news, such peace, such liberating work of the Spirit, remains the core activity of the Christ (anointed) community."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

All pray in their distress;

And to these virtues of delight

Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is God, our father dear,

And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity a human face,

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,

That prays in his distress,

Prays to the human form divine,

Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,

In heathen, Turk, or Jew;

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.

Some Thoughts on Luke 4:14-21

In Luke's Gospel Jesus has been baptized in the river Jordan and then driven into the desert where he makes his way as his ancestors did in the wilderness. Jesus himself withstands the devil's attempts to draw his faith and so he like ancient Israel out of Egypt is raised out of the desert as a faithful servant to the most high God. He is dependent up on God and will not be deterred from God's mission in him.

So it is that he comes to Galilee.  In Luke's Gospel we see Jesus in the synagogue teaching. Unlike other Gospels, Luke's is clear that Jesus is continuing a long tradition and is the mighty savior Israel has awaited. So it is the foundation of the mission to Israel is continuously laid.

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah 61 and makes clear his mission. He has come with the spirit upon him. He is anointed. His work is to bring good news to the poor. He is going to proclaim the year of God's favor - a sabbath time in which the captives are freed from their yokes. He will be about the work of healing many and he will unbind those who are oppressed. He is to offer forgiveness of sins and the proclamation of Shimittah - a kind of cultural shabbat or Jubilee year.

In this passage we see Jesus as a prophet of old, a teacher, a person of authority, and with a clear mission in which we shall see the power of God in the world.

What I think we miss all to often is that Jesus is in the synagogue in order to reveal that God is to be at work outside of the synagogue - in the world with real people in the midst of real lives. It is not so much that we inside the church are to receive a special message but that we are to leave the church to go out to deliver the special message of God's jubilee and sabbath to the world.

Quite literally in the Gospels Jesus does the work of Isaiah 61. A church is no church at all if it is not also doing the work of Jesus out in the world. They will know the church by its works and if it is not working for the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the yoked, the bound, the blind, and sick then it is not a Christian community - it is simply a club.

In a time when we can blame a lot of our woes on shifting cultural trends - the reality may actually be that we spend more time in our synagogues listening than we do outside doing.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:12-31

"...we are meant to hear that this calls us not to some assertion of privileged status, but rather to the recognition of our responsibility for mutual care for the members of this body."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, James Boyce, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

"God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better."

"The Body of Christ," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"While our culture reduces 'hospitality' to friendliness and private entertaining, Christian hospitality remains a public and economic reality by which God re-creates us through the places and people we are given."

"Untamed Hospitality," Elizabeth Newman, (other resources at) "Hospitality,"Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2007.

We have been working our way through the spiritual gifts discussion between Paul and the church in Corinth. Last week Paul explained to them that spiritual gifts were given for the good of the whole community.  In this passage for the readings this week Paul undertakes to explain the nature of the church. 

Christ is the head of the community (we would call church) and regardless of our beginnings, culture, class, we are bound together as citizens and family members by our baptism. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is in fact acting within us as the body of Christ in the world. We all help to make up the body and we all help undertake the body's work in the world. Moreover, we are mutually connected and needed. 

Here is an interesting piece of understanding the body in Paul. We all come under God's lordship in Christ. We are all needed. And, we are to treat one another as essential. We are to treat even the "less respectable members" as essential. In this way we work together in the midst of "dissension" and we bear witness to Christ in the world.

Sometimes I wonder if we really treat those we think are "less respectable" with the same caritas and love which Paul intends...even in our disagreements.

Some Thoughts on Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10

"Here we see [Ezra] in a new role that looks both innovative and strangely familiar: reading and expounding upon Scripture. The passage emphasizes that this occasion includes not just the priests, Levites, or even just the men, but all the people, men and women. It also asserts that Ezra read at the request of the people themselves."

Commentary, Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Patricia Tull, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

"This passage is not about legalism and rigidity. It is about finding life, finding true joy. It would make for a great sermon or homily this Sunday."

3 Epiphany, Year C: Nehemiah 8:1-10, Biblische Ausbildung, Dr. Stephen L. Cook, Virginia Theological Seminary. Part 2.

"Do we believe in such a way that we are reknit as a body, members of one another, a commonwealth and not just people for ourselves? Are the words fulfilled in our hearing?"

"The Proclamation," John Stendahl, The Christian Century, 1998.

Of course you cannot read Nehemiah without also reading Ezra. Both are essential to understand the return of the exiled Jews to Jerusalem and their desire to rebuild the Temple. What we see in this passage today is that the Temple is remade and the sacred arts of religion reestablished.

The passage also reveals the struggle with between the exiled returnees and those who did not leave. Their division and desires for their homeland differ, though Ezra and the priests prevail.

In the midst of this the "book of the law of Moses" is found and so it is read in the midst of the people to remind them of the covenant with Yahweh. This is a feast day as the people are not only physically returning to the temple and the religion of the patriarchs and matriarchs, it is a feast because the people are reminded that they are to be holy as their God is holy. They are to keep the sabbath and to remember God's deliverance of them. 

So it is that the passage offers to us a sense of thanksgiving for the mighty works of God. Those returning and now free see their lives intertwined and connected with the people freed from Israel. The religion is restored, but greater than the acts of piety, is the knowledge that God will persevere and be faithful to his people - returning them to their homeland. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

January 17, 2016, 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Quotes That Make Me Think

"For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence."

From Augustine's Tractates on John: Tractate VIII (2:1-4)

"As John himself says in John 20:31, his goal in writing down this sign is not that we should be amazed, or even that we should believe in Jesus. Rather his goal is that we should bond with Jesus / abide in Jesus - and receive for ourselves the life that is in Jesus."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 2:1-11, David Ewart, 2013.
General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast.  Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine.  Make us your faithful stewards, ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 2:1-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we move into ordinary time, that time between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, we have in the Gospel of John Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana. We are going to see great things through the Gospel of John and we know that we will see and come to believe in even greater things after his resurrection. Remember, in John 1:50 – Jesus’ words to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."  Yet seeing and believing are only part of the work of John's Gospel.  John also hopes to draw us closer to Jesus, to love him, and to abide in him.

We begin our passage today with these words: "On the third day..." (v1) Theologically Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the image through whom all creation flows, and comes to be. Jesus is the incarnation of God and inaugurates in all the Gospels a new creation time. Here it is very possible that John is tying this theme to the creation story and its seven days. The "third day" is the third day after the first followers were called: Philip and Nathanael. So we have the evolving creation story renewing the world with the calling of new disciples and now a recreation miracle is about to take place.  The world is being remade in Jesus' ministry.

The setting is of course a “wedding." (It was most likely a Wednesday.  If you are curious- the Mishnah (Kethuboth 1) says that the wedding of a virgin is to occur on that day. R. Brown, The Gospel of John, 98). What is perhaps more interesting is that in the prophetic tradition of Jesus' own time, one of the images of the fulfillment of God's work, the coming of God's reign, and the recreation, was a wedding feast. ( Isaiah 54:4; 62:4-5, Matthew 22:2-14; 25:1ff; Mark 2:19).  Heaven and earth are married in Jesus; just as man and God are married in Christ.

So it is that Jesus' first miracle is to take place at a wedding feast in Cana, just about 15 km outside of Nazareth, and Mom is in charge. It is possible that Mary's concern regarding the shortage of wine comes from the relationship with the families being married. Some might say that Mary is persistent, maybe to the point of frustration, because Jesus uses a word not customarily appropriate for a son to his mother. I believe this is a common misunderstanding and stems from the English translation. Interestingly, it is the same word he uses when addressing the Samaritan Woman and Mary Magdalene. Scholars remind us that this was actually a polite way for a man to address a woman at the time of Jesus and that it is attested to in other Greek literature of the day.  So, as a preacher don't be lulled into a side argument on Jesus' frustration with his mother.

This very much changes the English reading of the text and allows us to see that it is not Mary's involvement in Jesus' ministry that is important but rather the revelation of Jesus' mission. His response in verse 4 is: “My hour has not yet come" or "Has my hour not yet come?” Both readings are okay, and help us to understand that the work of Jesus in and throughout John's Gospel is seen as the work of Glorifying God most of all. The revelation of who he is and what he is about is already charted in the heavens and will be revealed in the few short years to come.  At the same time it is clear that in this small episode as upon the cross Jesus is focused on the nature of his ministry: all that he does is to glorify God. This helps me to understand that both in the seemingly trivial things of life and in the great episodes the Christian, walking the way of Jesus, has the opportunity to glorify God.

Mary of course is assuming that Jesus will do something to correct the situation (v. 5). See also 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. So she says, "Do what he tells you."

There have been and will continue to be tons of paper expended on the ideas around the numbers given: six stone jars, and fifteen to twenty gallons. While the material they are made of (stone) may refer to Lev 11:29-38, the meaning of the numbers seems to miss the idea: a lot of water was turned into wine. A LOT OF WATER WAS TURNED INTO WINE; this is the point.  Some scholars further want to de-mystify the event by changing the amount or offering the idea that only the water drawn out was turned into wine. Again, this misses the point that Jesus turns a huge amount of water into wine quite miraculously.
Wedding at Cana, Paul Veronese, Louvre, Paris

This lesson was Friday, January 15, 2010's morning prayer New Testament reading, and a number of people in the office were struck by who the first witness of the miracle is and who proclaims the meaning of the miracle: the steward. The steward is the first to draw the wine from the containers, the first to taste the bounty of God, the first to see and experience the miracle.  In fact while those guests of the wedding party will enjoy the results - only the servants note that what has happened in miraculous.  

In this God is glorified. The greater glory of resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit following the crucifixion are foretold and we see a theme that will serve as a road map through this gospel. Perhaps a foretaste even of the Eucharistic feast.  God's work in Jesus Christ will be seen, experienced, testified to, and  born witness to by those who serve him and serve with him.  The intimacy of relationship between the steward who is drawn towards the Christ in this miracle is a paradigm for those not unlike ourselves who experience the miracles of Jesus and are even now drawn to him.

This story of Jesus' first miracle is dense and filled with theological themes and ideas about Jesus and his ministry. As I reflect on the passage I am reminded of the theological work of Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian. Each one of them sees in this miracle a tie between water and wine in this story and other symbols in the Johanine Gospel like water, light and food for God's providence in Jesus -- the gift of salvation.

Having said all of this, the themes that ultimately stand out for me are:

1. The charge as followers of Jesus to glorify God in the least and greatest of occasions along life's journey.

2. To embrace the call of others, the invitation to minister on behalf of Christ.  To be stewards of the good wine.

3. The expectation of the miraculous.  To see God's hand at work in the world around us.

4. To be witnesses, like the steward who tastes and sees, and proclaims the goodness and bounty and providence of God.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:1-11

A number of scholars believe that this portion of Corinthians is in answer to a question about the spiritual gifts.  It is perhaps a response to a group of people who believe they are special because they have been given specific gifts.

Paul says the Spirit gives many gifts.  And, not everyone gets the same gifts. People get many different and various kinds of gifts. They all are to be at work in the kingdom of God doing a variety of services.  Together these gifts make up the one body of Christ and act on his mission in the world.  They are not something to be boasted in personally.

Somehow, though we have gotten into the place of believing perhaps we need the gifts our neighbor has. Perhaps we covet other's spiritual gifts.  Perhaps we are rarely satisfied with the ones given to us.  That is certainly our scenario.  As Brené Brown says, "We steal worth from others."

Another part of the reality in which we live is that people feel they are not given gifts.  Perhaps we feel left out of the gift giving Spirit's work.  I believe people in our culture today more often feel worthless and powerless.

Lets face it: there are probably some communities that need to hear Paul's message directly - "don't brag about your gifts."   However, in today's western culture I think most communities need to hear that God has gifted them for the purpose of kingdom building.

Paul reminds us, as he does elsewhere, God's grace is sufficient. His gifts are sufficient and they are particular and unique to us as individuals.  We are sufficient with God's gifts and grace to do his work in the world.

So, perhaps today's lesson gives us the opportunity to "boast" in the gifts of others used for God's kingdom work; and to seek to better understand our own so that we might put them to good use for the sake of the Gospel proclamation - whether it be in word or deed.

Friday, January 1, 2016

January 10, 2016, Baptism of our Lord, Year C

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Jesus' baptism is not about repentance. It is about his identity being publicly, ritually re-rooted into God."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, David Ewart, 2010.

"I don't think that Luke tell us about Jesus' baptism just to inform us about what happened to Jesus. He relates this story also to indicate something about our baptisms, our need to be in prayer, our anointing with the Spirit, and our subsequent battles with evil and ministry in the world."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Father of great and everlasting glory, by the power of your Holy Spirit you have consecrated your Word made flesh and have established this Christ, our Savior, as the Light of the world and your covenant of peace for all the peoples.  As we celebrated today the mystery of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan, renew in us our own baptism: Pattern our lives on this Christ, the One you have specially chosen, the Son on whom your favor rests, the Beloved with whom you are well pleased.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 3:15-22
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We began our lesson with the Advent theme of expectation. The people were filled with expectation. This expectation and hope for the Messiah is pricked with the emergence of the prophet and Baptist -John.

In Luke's Gospel John clearly points forward to the coming of Jesus and the baptism of fire promised and fulfilled in Luke's second book Acts. (Notice in our Epistle reading the people have been baptized yes, but not with the spirit.) We cannot get away from the Gospels work at defining Jesus' ministry over and against John's. We may guess that both had followers and that the question may very well have remained alive well after John's death and Jesus' resurrection. We might also remember here that Luke's Gospel tells us that John the Baptist will send two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Luke 7. This of course correlates with Paul's later proclamation that indeed he is the promised one in the Book of Acts in the synagogue in Antioch. Acts 13:25) It is quite the switch from Mark's Gospel where John the Baptist makes the proclamation and from John's Gospel where-in the people ask the question of John the Baptist. So a key thing that is being offered in this passage is the revelation of Jesus Christ as God's chosen one.

The themes of power and might are also present. They are apocalyptic themes and again highlight the transformative power of Jesus and the transformative power of baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is a transforming fire. Fire of course is prominent throughout the Old Testament proclaiming the presence of God and returns again in the fire of Pentecost in Luke's telling.

Leaning on Isaiah 21:10, 41:16, and Jeremiah 4:11, 15:7, 51:2, John the Baptist reminds those gathered around him that God is sending this great and powerful prophet with a winnowing fork to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat, burning the chaff in an unquenchable fire. This always reminds me of how John the Baptist's message is a corporate one. He is not the one deciding who is wheat and who is chaff. Rather, he is reminding the nation and all the people that this is God's work and each will be judged and that the whole nation shall be judged. There is mutuality in this judgment and a reminder of whose judgment it is that is often lost in our modern day discussions on matters of the church. In our day we enjoy sitting in the judgment seat.

Now something interesting happens here in the text. Herod imprisons John. Some scholars argue that Luke's text does not say that Jesus was baptized by John. I find this a difficult proposition. It is true that this particular Gospel says Jesus was baptized sequentially after John's imprisonment. But is certainly not clear and in the different texts that I have looked at I am more apt to read that simply Luke has removed John from the baptismal event to highlight the actions between the Father and the Son, rather than to imply that John did not baptize Jesus it is more about God action. This should be true for us as well; it would be good to remember as sacramentalists we do the actions - God does the work. It is an interesting thought and may simply have been a literary way of ensuring that Jesus' baptism is a Spirit baptism depending upon no one else. I categorize this as things in the bible that make you go, "Hmmmmm?"

What is important though, and highlighted by Luke, is that the baptism has happened. It is over. And, Jesus is praying. This seems integral to an understanding of Lukan spirituality. It is only when Jesus is praying that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the bodily form of a dove, and God's voice speaks. Heavens are opened in prayer, and you can hear God's voice in prayer.

The image of the opening of the heavens is an image of new time. This is a new moment in Luke's Gospel, a new moment in the life of the people Israel, a new moment in judgment, a new moment in the unraveling and gathering of "all the people" including the gentiles (as we will see in Acts). So this is a new moment, enabled by baptism, but triggered by prayer and the descending of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about the imagery and details of the words used by Luke here:
The last thing that stands out for me in the Gospel reading this week is the "Beloved" proclamation in verse 22. Beloved is an act and not a feeling, it is a charge if you will to Jesus as Son and servant to take the power given to him and to begin to use it to restore creation and transform the people of God.

So I have been thinking and praying about this text and I am wondering about myself and for us. As we, you and I, look forward into the year, as we look forward into our lives we must be ready to do the work God has given us to do? We are baptized. Are we praying and are we receiving the Holy Spirit given to us in the grace of that prayer conversation with Jesus and with God? We have been expecting; now we are ready. Will we take up our charge as Jesus did, to restore creation and transform the world even as we are being transformed? And, most of all are we ready to do this in partnership with all of our brothers and sisters and most of all with Jesus?

Some Thoughts on Acts 8:14-17

Continuing in our Baptism themed week we have this reading about the mission in Samaria by the church in Jerusalem.  Luke seems very keen to show that the church is acting together (this is not news to those of you familiar with the last two decades of studies on Peter and Paul in Acts).  So here we have the idea that people in Samaria are becoming followers of Jesus, they have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the church in Jerusalem must send along missionaries to pray for them and to place hands on them.  This is an essential part of receiving the Holy Spirit - the laying on of hands by the apostle. 

In some way our own tradition has moved away from this as an essential role and part of the work of baptism.  We have moved more clearly towards a protestant understanding where the apostles are not necessary for the laying on of hands in order for the newly baptized to fully be received into the church.  It is worth a pause then on this Sunday to give a nod to our Episcopal tradition of Confirmation - which is this very symbol of giving the Holy Spirit.  The bishop, as one of the apostles, comes to the community (not unlike Peter and John) because people have chosen to follow the Lord and have even been baptized in the name of Jesus.  But full incorporation historically has included the giving of the Holy Spirit to the people of God by one of the apostles in the great line of apostles. 

Here is a picture of my own lineage of apostolic succession.  It is the family tree of my ministry. For those that are confirmed it is in some way their family tree.  And, it illustrates the very real physical and spiritual connection the baptized and confirmed of our day have to those in Samaria and the first followers of Jesus.

All of this being said what is clear that the Holy Spirit is what inspires the church and it is essential in the work of baptism.  The language of baptism centers around forgiveness of sin, living the new life of grace, sustenance for the pilgrim journey, inquiring and discerning heart, and courage to will and to persevere.  The language of confirmation in our tradition, or the laying on of hands in apostolic succession, is about God's blessing of the Holy Spirit, the giving of wisdom (knowledge and obedience), especially to God's word, and most of all service to God.  We are in the laying on of hands and the Holy Spirit bound to service, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we work to fulfill the service that is set before us by God.