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.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost +1 / Trinity B May 31, 2015

"All are included, even God's enemies. God did not come to condemn, but to save. As Martin Niemoller once put it, 'It took me a long time to realize that not only did God not hate my enemies, he didn't even hate his enemies.'"

Lectionary Blogging, Trinity B, John Petty, 2012.

"What is crucial in our proclamation is the reality of God's activity in Jesus, God's only Son, sent and given for the sake of the salvation of the world. Only through the awakening of belief through the Spirit can this be known."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Ginger Barfield, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015

"When we become too sure of what we know about Jesus (or indeed the Trinity on this particular Sunday), when we believe that we have grasped him at last, that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Meda Stamper, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.



Prayer

O God Most High, in the waters of baptism you made us your sons and daughters in Christ, your only-begotten Son.  Hear deep within us the cry of that Spirit, who calls out to you "Abba, Father,"  and grant that, obedient to your savior's commission, we may become heralds of the salvation you offer to all and go forth to make disciples of all nations. 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 3:1-17



Nicodemus by Henry Tanner, 1899
Let me begin by saying how much I love this story and enjoy Nicodemus.  A pharisee, a righteous liver, he comes to Jesus and sits and has a conversation with him.  The early church thought this was about entrapment.  Maybe it was.  Regardless, there is deep wisdom in this passage and important thoughts for the follower of Jesus today.

First, let us begin in the beginning.  Nicodemus says that he believes that Jesus is from God.  He literally says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God."  But this meaning in English is better understood as "you are a teacher approved by God."  Jesus then corrects him saying, "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Often times we immediately go to the importance of this phrase in light of our won understanding of baptism.  (We will get there.)  But this is really a message to Nicodemus that Jesus is not himself just another prophet approved by God, but is directly from God, of God.

 Nicodemus does not understand and thinks Jesus is speaking about people. So he asks about being born of God.  Jesus answers in the language of the first century which held a mix of understanding that God was in you and/or that God adopted you as an individual. This language is very clear in the Pauline letters; and, I should say very important language in the Christian Faith.  Though theological in nature these notions are not applied to Jesus directly as he is one with the Father.  (Raymond Brown, John, vol 1, 138ff)

Raymond Brown argues that there is also enough language of adoption in the OT that Nicodemus as a righteous pharisee would have been able to understand that Jesus was offering a vision that the gathering at the end of times was at work in the world through Jesus' own ministry. (140)   There is a notion here that the Holy Spirit of God is begetting, if you will, new members of God's family.  In a time when birth had significant meaning to your culture, context, and religion, this is a radical all embracing notion.  Just as today for the righteous it is difficult to wrestle with God's all embracing drawing in of sinners.  This is a beautiful and mysterious thing.  We are not as human beings able to understand and fathom the depths of God fully and so this Holy Spirit begetting is strange.  Jesus says, ‘You must be born from above.’8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (vs 8, see also Eccles 11.5 "As you do not know how the spirit (wind) comes to the bones in the womb, so you do not know the work of God who does all things.")

This passage also has profound meaning for the Christian community within the context of baptism.  For the first Christians this is about God and the family of God.  It is about being born of water and spirit. It is about the ritual of Christian initiation.  It is important to note that this is completely foreign to the pharisee sitting before Jesus. Nicodemus might have understood baptism as a cleansing or ritual bathing.  Or, he could have understood this baptism or rebirth like the "proselyte" baptism of his own day where a person becoming a Jew went through a ceremony of new birth - literally a rebirthing.  Neither of these are Holy Spirit baptism. (142)  This is a hotly debated topic and can send us off into all kinds of scenarios.  Let me simply say that for the purpose of our reflection, the church has understood this as the necessary form of the sacrament of baptism in order to be reborn and that the stronger pieces of scripture to support this sacrament are found elsewhere and not here.

What is important, what is amazing, is again this notion of grace given by the Holy Spirit.  The idea so very difficult for Nicodemus is that being physically born into the family of Abraham, and following the law as a good pharisee, is not what matters in the end. Rather, the radical notion that the family of Abraham is being increased by the begetting work of the Holy Spirit!  Moreover, that the begetting Holy Spirit is falling on people who do not follow the law like good Nicodemus.  That is trouble for Nicodemus indeed!  For at the end of the day I think Nicodemus like us (when we are honest) is a score keeper. He has a good score.  He is born special and separate, and he has spent a life separating himself even more through his piety.

In the dark night of our souls when we come to Jesus what are we inviting him to bless?  Our score? Our piety? Our actions?  Our work of justice? Our right living?  What are we inviting Jesus to curse?  In the dark night when we sit at Jesus' feet what does he offer us? He offers us freedom from keeping score, keeping score on others; but most importantly keeping score on ourselves. 

Next comes the important part of the passage:  "If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man."  The message here is one of the resurrected Lord.  Jesus will be raised, the Son of Man, will be raised and this will undo the power of the law over us.  Jesus' resurrection and ascension will unify man with God in a new way and in so doing will unplug our score board. He will wipe clean the slate.  In the ascension, in his return to the holy community of God (the Trinity) he does so without any human effort. He does so without having asked our permission. He does so even though he is crucified. He does so purely as a measure of grace for the righteous and the sinner alike.

I believe he offers us grace.  I believe he offers us grace to imagine the family of God as God sees it and to imagine the reality of our personal invitation to participate.  Will we follow this Jesus? This Jesus of grace? This loving Jesus?  Who is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven and unites us into the heavenly community?  Will we follow him when he says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."



"...the preacher will do well to bring up the fact that there is feminine, indeed maternal, imagery for God in the Bible also (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13). That imagery is also used to speak of God in an intimate way, not to define God by gender."

Commentary, Romans 8:12-17, Arland J. Hultgren, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"It is interesting that Paul, writing to what was probably a predominantly male audience, would have invoked the imagery of a pain that has never been felt by males."

"Labor Pains," Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

"Even self assurance is not based on fetching the certificate of membership or recalling an even of the the past, but a sense of oneness or otherwise with the being of God the Spirit moving within our lives (8:16)."

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

We continue our reading in Paul's Romans and we continue as he reminds us that our desires are not the desires of God and so we grate against God's pull upon us. We are ego centered creatures. At our worst we have very little room for anyone else. 

But the life of the follower of Jesus is not hallmarked by feeding these personal desires and wishes but instead by overcoming our brokenness to work on God's work. We are to press forward dealing with our own sins and thus building up the character of God within us. In other words those things that are in us, which we do but do not wish to do, which are bad for ourselves or others are the very things that build us up into the character of Christ as we work on them. So it is that we groan we suffer we carry our cross - but we are not condemned.

We have hope. We know that while we still labor the final battle is won. We know that while we chose to labor because of God's grace that we do so out of a great sense of wanting to life a life within God's Spirit. Yet we hope. We hope on our good days and we hope on our bad days. 

This hope of God's winning victory is what pulls us forward. Knowing that death and sin have met their match and God has been victorious sealing for us eternal life allows us to continue to live as "children of God." Knowing that we are heirs, that we are given as intimate relationship with God as Jesus had himself - we are able to apply ourselves tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. 

We are freed from hopelessness. We are freed from bondage to sin and death which kept us from hope.

It is here in this reception of grace, forgiveness, and love from God that we discover hope for ourselves, hope for our lives, hope for our relationships, and hope for our church. 

So let us awake! Let us see that God has won the day. Let us see that in the end sin and death are conquered and let us chose to work on ourselves that we might ever more grow into the character of Christ. For we are one with God, we are his children, and his heirs.





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day of Pentecost B May 24, 2015


"...the Spirit gives power to the community of believers not to identify themselves as abandoned or forsaken, but rather as empowered and sent to bear witness to the world that in the events of the Son God's love has indeed been made real and present for all the world. "

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), James Boyce, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The temptation when preaching Pentecost is to make the sermon a witness to something that happened."

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"Jesus is not left behind that we might soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion. John promises no such flights and is silent about future miracles. The task of the disciples and disciples after them is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. Transitional events are minimised. What matters is life and love."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons



Prayer 

Today, O God, you bring to fulfillment the paschal mystery of Jesus your Son.  Pour forth your Holy Spirit on the church that it may be a living Pentecost throughout history and to the very ends of the earth.  Gather all nations and peoples as one to believe, to hope and to love.  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 15:26-16:15



Jesus begins his teaching several passages before our reading today when he speaks to the disciples about the fact that because of Jesus' own intimate relationship with God he is going to suffer and die; and if they follow him they will certainly suffer and be persecuted as well.  They will be persecuted because the notion that the individual may have a personal experience of God was anathema to the people in religious power of his day and it is anathema to people in religious power today.  In point of fact (and as Bonhoeffer once put it) the grace and mercy received in personal relationship with the Godhead through Christ is the non-religious faith of Jesus.  Direct connection, unorganized, non approved, and unsanctioned, relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit is a threatening to institutional threat. For this reason, and for the reason that Jesus is a friend of sinners, he and all who follow him will suffer and many will die.

Jesus then offers to those who are listening, his closest followers, a message that the Holy Spirit will remain with them and that they will not be disconnected either from Christ Jesus or from God himself.  In fact the very nature of a personal relationship of grace, thereby unmediated by the world and its religion, will in point of fact prove the reality of his words.

This grace of the Holy Spirit is given by God alone. It cannot be earned.  This Holy Spirit comfort will put at ease all those who bear witness to it because it requires nothing of approval from the world.  Jesus in his words here is clear that living in the Holy Spirit is a way of life devoid of worldly approval and religious authority. 

One of the reasons that I love the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is that we are (when at our best) trying to live into the challenge of God's Holy Spirit.  We are trying to see it moving in the world.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our piety.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our lawlessness.  We attempt to be conscious of the Holy Spirit's presence in the midst of our context.  At our best our mission and ministry is not limited to our church campuses but is meeting the Holy Spirit in the world; both as it sends us out and as it transforms us through our experience of the Gospel in the world.

This Sunday we will, in many ways, mislead our people into believing that Pentecost is the birth of the church.  I want to suggest that at its best the Holy Spirit we may wish to remember is a Holy Spirit that offered relationship beyond the confines of our church with the sinners of the world.  That it reminds us within the church of our smugness and too often self-satisfaction which builds up barriers rather than offering an embrace.  May we on this Sunday, this Pentecost Sunday, be reminded not of God's having birthed a perfect community but of God having invited his people to leave the temple and synagogues in favor of a faith (a personal relationship) that leads the faithful followers of Jesus out into the street to meet the people where they live and in the market place. 

May we on this Sunday rediscover a missionary Holy Spirit that is articulating in the culture of the world (its images, music, economy, and culture) God's grace. And, like the disciples who on Pentecost were given the tongues of the culture which surrounded them, let us pray to be giving tongues to name and call out the Gospel as we find it in the world around us.

Acts 2:1-21

"Despite the theological attractiveness of seeing Pentecost as the reversal of Babel, there is little from the ancient historical and religious context to suggest that Luke or his audience would have made such a connection."

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost A), Mikeal C. Parsons, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Sources for this Sunday's First Reading

Luke interprets the events of Pentecost through the eyes of the covenant with Abram. This is an essential ingredient to the story of the Gospel and the mission of the community. Here we see the promise to Abram unfold in reality. All of the work of the Gospel and Jesus' reaching out to the sheep of other folds becomes clear as many are adopted into the family of God through the mission and ministry of the first followers. 

The event itself is worthy of the Old Testament with noise and fire and a great tremendous inbreaking of God into the realm of men. The work of Jesus and his life has moved to the cross, tomb, and into resurrection and now the fruit is to be harvested.

It is the coming of the Holy Spirit. This itself is the fulfillment of God's promise. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to share the Good News of Salvation to every people through every language, and in every context. Here the diverse vision of God is seen in the gathering of people from all over the known world to receive the first words the Holy Spirit speaks to the world. 

This will be fulfilled in the work of every story of the book of Acts and is shall be the banner call of the men and women who take up the ministry of Christ. 

The Holy Spirit is sending the followers of Jesus out into the world, to speak the peace of Christ, and to serve and care for God's people. The Holy Spirit working in these followers are to be the hands and feet of the God in the world. They are to baptize and proclaim a new age.

Romans 8:22-27

"This seems to be the thrust behind the Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words: a sign that the Spirit is present in our midst, even when no words are exchanged. That presence can make it possible for us to endure."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost B), Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"As children of God and joint heirs with Christ indwelled by his Spirit, we are one with creation in suffering, longing, and hope."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"It is our vocation to allow Christ to use our hearts. It is our vocation to come to maturity in Christ who is our Truth. We do so by attending to the Christ present in the truth of one another."

"Listening with the Ear of the Heart," Frank T. Griswold, Cross Currents, 1998-99.


Textweek Resources for this week's New Testament Lesson

Every creature, all of creation, is groaning under the work which is theirs to bring about God's plan in tension with the course that the present time has already set. Followers of Jesus, and the world itself are bearing witness to God's intentions for us. Our inner selves beats against our bodies/mind's desires. We have received grace yet our flesh is waiting its redemption. We are already adopted as Christ's yet we continue in the world and brace ourselves against its trends and winds.

Here is an interesting turn. Paul offers us the reality that the action of saving has already taken place. We see this in the work of Jesus. Yes, salvation is something that lies before us. But here Paul is quite clear - its evidence is behind us. Just like the fullness of our redemption and salvation awaits us, we still experience it here and now. We are drawn towards our being. We are becoming our truest selves.

We know the changes that have occurred in our lives because of our coming to faith. We see the movement of God and God's work on our behalf. We believe, we have faith, that this work is truly meant for us. Yes we see the cross, understand the cross, believe - in our seeing - that the cross is meant for me, for us. But we have faith that this working of salvation out in us is moving us towards God's intended purpose for our lives. This is something not seen but understood. The witness of the Gospel text, the witness of Jesus' own life in Paul's time, these tell us that what took place, what was seen by others and experienced by others, is meant for us as well. So faith brings hope and endurance.

The Holy Spirit bears witness to us that this is true. If we depend upon our Lord and we are open to his aid, through the Holy Spirit, so we receive mutual aid. We are part of the family of God now and so we, like all others, receive the Holy Spirit's support - even when we do not know what we need. Perhaps, it is important to go back her to our beginning. Our purpose lies in the work of God in creation - this life is not meant for our own ends but for the one who created us. We are groaning against the shifts and changes but God is moving us. We have faith that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. So it is that God's Spirit is with us, moving us, nudging us, guiding us, praying with us, and bringing us to our ultimate purpose.

On this Pentecost Sunday this reminds me that the work of the church, the community of Christians, is not the support of the church itself. The work of the Church and community is the work of God. In the same way the Holy Spirit is working God's purposes out in us and in our church. This is not the same thing as believing that what we experience as the particular flavor of church we have is the end of God's chosen expression. No, the Holy Spirit is moving. We are groaning even now under the stress and strain of a church which seeks to be what God called it to be on the one hand and what we want it to be on the other.

The church has already been saved we might say. We know this is true if we look back at the work of God in Christ Jesus. But that work is being lived out even as we speak.  We have faith that our efforts will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we seek to be faithful missionaries of God's reconciling work. We know that God is moving us, even if the steps of how we become who God invites us to be are unclear. We are groaning too. Oh dear Lord how we groan. But we believe, we have faith, that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction as a church. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. Where the church does not resemble the kingdom of heaven there we must open ourselves up to the Spirit's guidance.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Easter 7B May 17, 2015 and Ascension Transfered

"Another form of denial is to relegate the idea of unity to a very abstract level, where it counts for the oneness all Christians have in worshipping the one God and one Jesus, but is not allowed to affect how people work together and live together."

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


"Perhaps the most significant of the themes is in the prominent language of 'giving' which in nine occurrences runs throughout and characterizes the theology of this passage (as in the 75 times in the gospel as a whole) in terms of a mutual extravaganza of giving."

Commentary, John 17:6-19, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

Prayer

You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.  Clothe us now with power from on high that we may proclaim the good news to the world, confirming our message by the sign of our love for one another, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  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 17:6-19
Jesus collage made up of people's faces.

Oremus Online NRSV Text


In the first part of this chapter (which runs from 1-8) Jesus asks for glory. That in his ministry glory will be given to God. That the weight of his ministry will bear fruit and draw people into the beauty which is God. In the next section (which begins with our reading this Sunday) Jesus speaks of his work as revealing vessel of God's grace. Then Jesus prays and offers hope to his disciples.


His disciples are already divided. They are divided over an against one another for leadership. They are divided about their support of Jesus; not all will deny him. They are divided by the desire of a kingly rule on the throne of David. They are divided on how the teachings of Jesus are to be interpreted. They are divided already as he prays for them. To this divided group of misfit followers Jesus offers a blessing of unity. Then he consecrates them for the mission of God. This unity is the bond provided by the Holy Spirit and it is called truth.

The truth is the truth of God and the truth of God in Christ Jesus.

We are of the same nature as the disciples. No matter how hard we work at our Christianity two things remain true: 1) That our sinful nature is not changed; we do not become less sinful by our own action. 2) Our salvation is completely dependent upon God in Christ Jesus; there is nothing in this world that we can do that will bring us closer to God's saving action.

God in Christ Jesus is friend to his disciples and he is friend to sinners; and we Christians are sinners.

Why does God bless us with unity? Because left to our own devices we would make some other standard our unifying principle. Our proclamation of the truth that God loves us and redeems us is to be the (THE PRIMARY) principle which unifies his followers. This is the truth.

As Anglican theologian and New Testament scholar E. J. Bicknell wrote in his hallmark book on the thirty-nine articles: the church and community of friends predates the Christian scriptures and it was belief in a man (rather than in a book) that offered the greatest impetus for mission. (p. 127, exposition on the sufficiency of scripture) We are unified in our Anglican Church because of our dogged principle of God in Christ Jesus and our understanding that we are saved by grace alone.

We are unified by the blessing of God in Christ Jesus and his life lived and crucified on our behalf. We are unified by his blessing of us in the Holy Spirit's guidance into the truth of this message. All else, all else, radiates from these central tenants of the Christian faith.

When they gathered around Jesus and asked him what must we do to perform the works of God, Jesus answered, "that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:29)

So I wonder preachers, as you look out upon the faithful sinners gathered for a small measure of grace this Sunday...what do you think their unifying principle is? What in fact, dear ones, is your own unifying principle?

I John 5:9-15

"If word count is any measure, the central issue in the assigned text is testimony (Greek =marturia, 'witness'), and specifically the validity and content of God's testimony about God's Son."

Commentary, 1 John 5:9-13, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The epistle wants to insist that the relationship between God and Jesus is entirely personal and entirely grown up. And the epistle wants to insist that the relationship between Jesus and those who believe is entirely personal and grown up, too."

Commentary, 1 John 5:9-13, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"Before we moralise, we need to understand that the author is preoccupied with conflict within the community and is not sitting back (or reaching out) to reflect on the plight of all peoples."

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


Textweek Resources for this week's New Testament Lesson


As humans we are always after replacing God with ourselves. Our hope seems to deny the work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. We wish to pretend as if God did not reach out to us through his one way outpouring of self and love - for to do so might command us to love differently. The second manner in which we attempt to deny this work is to pretend that not only God's external action is not relevant or real but neither is God's internal work upon our soul. This is the way in which our author begins this passage in the letter of John. We bear witness, through the Holy Spirit, of God's work when we are witnesses externally offering testimony to the work of God in Christ Jesus and the work internally on our souls. This is evident in our transformation from selfishness to other focused.

With eyes of faith we open ourselves up to God's act of love and we open ourselves up to others. We also know that this unity with God and with others extends into life following death. This is faith but it is also a "sure and certain hope." Our passage in this life is a symbol or sign of the life to come. 

The key issue is that we as church have all too often wounded others religiously. We have used fear and purity to gain access to their lives. This is not true faith but instead a tainting of the faith that is in us. God has loved us and God has unified us bring us to himself. God invites us to live in the community of love - which is the author's goal. And, God has desired of us a life lived out of an understanding of our own salvation and which mimics Christ's life in its relationships with others. We are given this Holy Spirit that we might be bound together despite of our differences. So let us not live lives of lies which deny the work of God and seek instead to place God within our religious box for the sake of human powers and authorities. Here we should find true religion, one that is all too often not in us.


Ascension Day Transferred


Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

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

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

General Resources for Lessons

Prayer

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

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



Some Thoughts on Luke 24:44-53

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for the Gospel

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

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

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

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:15-23



Resources for the Epistle

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






Monday, May 4, 2015

Easter 6B May 10, 2015

"The love of the Father towards the Son, and of the Son towards us, and of us toward God and our neighbour, are joined together with an inseparable knot: and there is nothing more sweet and pleasant than it is."


From the Geneva Notes by John Calvin.

"Not that God's choosing us is a panacea, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. Rather, knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us gives us the courage to face the challenges and renews our strength to do something about them."

"On Being Chosen," David Lose, ...in the Meantime, 2015.

"We preachers would do well to recall that the Greek words for 'grace' and 'joy' share the same root. Joy may very well be a feeling of grace, the emotion of grace, even the response to grace. "

"Choose Joy," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.



Prayer

Your love, O God, is revealed among us in the gift of your Son Jesus, who laid down his life and bestows on us the joy of abiding in your love.  Baptized into Christ we pray that through the witness we bear you will bring forth fruit that will last and teach us, God of love, how to love one another.  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 15:9-17


Let me simply begin by saying that this passage in John's Gospel messes us up!  Jesus' words to his disciples are clear: "God loves me, I love you, you abide in my love, you keep my commandments.  The commandment is to love others.  I have love you and I lay down my life for you."  Then tying in last week's lesson about fruit we tie up this unit nicely.

This messes us up because we deserve love, we want love, and so we skip down to the part that tells us how to get it. We see the word commandment and we see that we are to love others. Then we figure this doesn't mean everyone. So we are good. As in the song by Stephen Stills: Love the one your with.  And, that means we are good in God's eyes. We are good, we obey the commandment when we love the ones like us, whom we are with, that cause no ripples in our world view, and create no conflict in our life.  Love the one you are with. 

This translation of the "love commandment" into the "love the one you are with Gospel" undermines and rewrites (it revises) Jesus' teaching. 

But let us think for a moment about the world in which this Gospel takes place.  It was a world where the righteous were understood by the faith and teachings of Jesus' contemporaries to be people who are closer to God.  In other words like the young man who comes to Jesus and has obeyed all the commandments.  He is automatically assumed to be close to Jesus; we find out he has a little more to understand. 

And this is part of the problem we live in a world where we understand capitalism. If I am righteous and follow the commandments I will receive God's love. It is an exchange policy. 

All people are created with an "irreducible need" for love and belonging.  We are "biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. " (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 26)

The hiccup in this line of thinking is that we believe we can be righteous and earn God's love.  The problem isn't the economy but the fact that Jesus spends most of his time with sinners and not the righteous. 

The "Love the One You Are With" Gospel
The particular message of Jesus is that God loves sinners.  God loves sinners. These fishermen and followers of Jesus, the tax collectors, the women and men along the way were sinners. He ate with sinners. He hung out in the homes of sinners. He even died with sinners.  God loves sinners.  This is a radical message in Jesus' time.  Because it means that God is with the unrighteous. Jesus says, "I have come to find the lost sheep of Israel."  After prophesying that Jerusalem kills the prophets, Jesus says, "How long have I wanted to gather you in."  Jesus and Jesus' love is meant for the sinner.  This was a radical notion and many scholars believe that it was this breaking of clear righteous law that got Jesus killed.

What is worse is that this love for the sinner is agape love.  Some of you reading this might remember a small footnote from seminary or your philosophy class about the eros and agape.  The systematic professor who is still considered (in my opinion) to have accomplished a work of seminal importance on this subject is Anders Nygren.  In it there are a few bullets regarding God's agape love which are very troubling indeed - to the righteous!
  1. Agape is spontaneous and uncaused
  2. Agape is indifferent to human merit
  3. Agape is creative
  4. Agape is the entrance to philoi - fellowship - with God (Nygren, Agape and Eros, vol 1, 48ff)
 For the righteous this is problematic.  You can't earn it and it is given to sinners.  No matter how hard you try you still can't get it and it is given to sinners who don't try at all.  It is creative and changes life for the sinner who receives it; did I mention they didn't do anything and God was giving this away free!  And, in receiving it do sinners become part of the family of God the friends of God.  Philoi is the word translated as friends in our text this Sunday.  So, agape invites all the sinners to the righteous one's party and that is REALLY uncool.

So here is what happens now.  What we do is that we now say, "Bishop Andy, You are right! I am a sinner. I am the worst sinner EVER!"  We immediately move quickly to the other side and try and create a new economy to earn God's love. We throw a pity party for our sin sick soul and we say "Hurrah!" we are saved by God's agape love because we are a really bad person.  In doing this we actually reverse the notion and begin to move ourselves into a place of earning the love again -- Causing God's love because we are sinful and gloating in the fact that we are more loved than the righteous. 

Jesus flips the table again though.  He tells us the sun rises on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  It turns out when we read the scripture (all of it) that God loves the righteous too. 

The reality that is difficult to live into is the fact that we are not either sinner or righteous. We are constantly moving between the two.  We are constantly creating God in our image and trying to make God work for us.  As soon as we are too righteous it is good to be reminded that we are really just sinners, and when we are too sinful it is good to be reminded of the work of righteousness. 

But God's love is constant. God's love is un-caused. God's love is never earned. Yet somehow, in being chosen (like the disciples) we experience this love; the sinner and righteous alike.  We experience unearned, unmerited, and undeserved love.  Evidently the kingdom of heaven, God's family, the family of friends, are made up loved sinners and the righteous alike. 

Christian community, and especially when it opens itself up to outsiders, has to contend with the incredible leveling of God's agape love where in the sinner and the righteous are chosen alike.  The commandment to love is not for the sake of earning love, but rather for the living in love.  The love commandment then is what helps the sinner and the righteous live together. 

The love commandment reminds us that our brothers and sisters, the sinner and the righteous do not cause God's love, and therefore are to be loved by us as God loves.  We are to treat one another as though (as Paul says) there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God - nor separate our neighbor from God's love.

The love commandment reminds us that we didn't do anything to earn God's love and that is called grace.  Therefore, we are to give grace to others who are struggling along life's road trying to find a little bit of love.

The love commandment reminds us that we were invited into community which has been created by God so that we may safely struggle with our fellow human beings in a life lived between complete depravity and righteous living.

The love commandment reminds us we are bound to one another, not out of our action our out, but out of God's agape love.  We are united in our Christian fellowship, our friendship, not by what I do or do not do, but rather by what God does; which is love.  After all, it is God's nature to love.
 "The Gospel, like its blessed Master, is always crucified between two thieves -- legalist of all sorts on the one hand and Antinomians on the other; the former robbing the Saviour of the glory of his work for us, and the other robbing him of the glory of his work within us." - James Henley Thornwell

I John 5:1-6

"Truly Christian faith conquers the world not by military might or doctrinal arguments or coercion, but by love."

Commentary, 1 John 5;1-6, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"In Jesus, God came to walk in our shoes, to experience the fullness of our suffering, our struggles, and even our loneliness. God did this to make it clear that we are not worthless, rejected, unloved people. Rather we are all of us and every single one of us the focus of God's unconditional and irrevocable love."

"Defining Truth," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2015.



What we believe is that all those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ are adopted into the family of God. And, likewise they love not only God but fellow believers. As in last week's lesson what the author believes is that this love is a sign of the inner love we have for God. If we hate our fellow believers and work towards their end then we are indeed not living in God. 

We also know that we are not to take this for granted and that loving God and loving our fellow Christian is sacrificial and requires of us the giving up of our own self interest and good. This is the kind of agape love that the author is speaking about. 

This is what the author is speaking about when he talks about how baptism and the crucifixion are linked. We are indeed daily dying to one another as we seek to live out our god like relationship. In other words, we are to die sacrificially for the other. This is not a burden but instead a privilege. 

What a different kind of way of doing evangelism is this. We are not to go out and require of others to come and serve us or bend to our ego and rule. Instead we are to convert them, bring them into the family, chiefly by giving up ourselves to them. 

Is it no wonder that our churches shrink the more we chose not to give up ourselves for our neighborhoods and cities? The more we turn inward and away from the other the less like God we actually become. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Easter 5B May 3, 2015


"In the promise of an 'abiding' presence God's Easter people find not some abstract speculation about a distant or imaginary Trinity, but an invitation to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a saving and liberating presence in the midst of our day-to-day world."

Commentary, John 15:1-8, James Boyce, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"I think one of the difficulties of living in our age is that we're offered a lot of things as substitutes for honest-to-goodness relationships, and while they may be pretty good at what they were designed for, they're finally not actual relationships."

"Getting Real," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
As a Vinegrower, O God, you have grafted us onto Christ, that we may abide as living branches joined to the true Vine.  Bestow on us the comforting presence of your Holy Spirit, so that, loving one another with a love that is sincere, we may become the first fruits of a humanity made new and bear a rich harvest whose fruits are holiness and peace.  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 15:1-8






Last week the church experienced Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This week we are offered a theological reflection on God as vine grower.

God in Christ Jesus is the source of living water, he is the bread of heaven that gives life, and he is also the vine and we are his branches.

This passage comes after Jesus has prophesied his suffering, death and resurrection and has promised to return and to not leave his followers alone.  Our passage, like the good shepherd passage, is a teaching about life in God and in Christ.

The image is of God the vine grower and the gardener. Jesus is the vine and we are branches bearing fruit.  The vine is trimmed and this certainly has eschatological (end time and judgment) implications but this is not the stress nor focus of the teaching.  This image offered to us is about abiding and remaining.  The image of vine grower, vineyard/vine and branches is one about the living Word existing as the life blood of those who belong to Jesus.

Raymond Brown in volume II of his work on John's Gospel, says that this passage is about the disciples remaining in Christ.  In our current culture we talk about following Jesus and that leading to a virtuous life. However, in the abiding language of John's Gospel and in Jesus words that notion of Jesus + me = virtuous life is simply not present.  The abiding leaves a notion of being; not the more modern idea of becoming.  God is, Christ is, we are.  Virtuous life is life lived in God in Christ.  Raymond Brown points out that this is not quite the notion that Matthew's Gospel offers.  Nevertheless, this Sunday we are preaching Jesus and the living Word; we are preaching about abiding.  I don't want to get off track. So I asked myself what is this abiding?

I am reminded of St. Augustine's sermon on the Ascension, wherein he writes:

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us; and we, while on earth, are also with him.  He is with us in his godhead and his power and his love; and we, though we cannot be with him in godhead as he is with us, can be with him in our love, our love for him. 
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; and he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again.   His own words show that he was in heaven while he was here: 'No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.' 
He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body.  The words 'no one but he' are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. 
For this reason Saint Paul says: 'Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is also with Christ.
We abide in God in Christ Jesus.  Unless that is we are abiding in something else.  The life of virtue described by John's gospel gives us a sense of what life abiding in Christ is.  Abiding/remaining in Christ is love and it is life in tune with the commandments of God.

What do we see then if we are abiding in Christ we see a life that forms a world around itself where God is central.  Not the false god's created by our ego desires, but God.  As Episcopalians we might describe this abiding life this way.  We would say (as we do in our Book of Common Prayer) that an abiding life is one where:

We trust our lives in God, and others come to know him by our life.  Nothing is put in the place of God, least of all our ego and our projections of desire.  God is respected in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions.  Life is lived out in a an ever flowing experience of worship, prayer and study.  As we abide in God we abide in our true selves and in the thin space between heaven and our soul.

To the other we are faithful as well – treating neighbors with love as we experience God's love for us and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; those in authority are honored, and we meet their just demands.  We as Episcopalians believe that life that is abiding in Christ is one that shows forth respect for the life God gives us; work and prayers for peace are always present; malice, prejudice, or hatred is not born our hearts; and kindness is shared with all the creatures of God.

Life abiding in Christ is a life where bodily desires are not used to fulfill our ego needs but rather are lived out as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God.

We live lives that are honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for and with all people; and we use our talents and possessions as people in relationship with God.  We speak truth, and do not mislead others by our silence.

Life abiding in Christ resists temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; and rejoices in other people's gifts and graces.  We share in our fellowship together as we all abide in Christ and therefore, as St. Augustine points out, with others and with God and the saints who are in heaven.

Abiding in Christ is in some very real way accepting our true nature as sinful creatures and then living in, remaining in, Christ; being Christ's own forever - as our baptismal liturgy tells us.  Accepting our chosenness by Christ (despite our behaviors) and abiding in love which then abides with others.  And, giving up our ego's desire for control and rather we live life that is birthed in grace.


Some Thoughts on I John 4:7-21

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."

"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"Much of the anger that erupts within the church under the banner of loving God and defending God's truth often seems to grow instead from love of self and of the power that comes from winning the argument, even at the expense of the church's unity in love."

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"'Love' is an abstraction and a quality of God's own self. 'Love' is personification and God is person. Love is some thing. God does things, sends a Son, atones for the sins of the world, and gives commands."

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


The beloved community is built around faith in God as revealed in Christ Jesus and in loving the members of the community. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enliven this faith and love. It is a rebirthing into a new creation that is brought about by the Holy Spirit's work.

God who is love and is bound to us in love and through the loving work of Christ is also at the center of the beloved community. The members of the beloved community love one another because of this God who is love. God is love and we learn to love all those whom we meet within God's community. This  is a kind of outward flowing of the inner life of the Trinity. 

This out flowing of God's love is also at the transformative center of the world. Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit enables those of us in the world to find a path not only into the beloved community but into the life of the Trinity itself. 

This means that God is working on the individual as they may their journey. The work of the Christian, the member of the beloved community, is to love those as they enter our community and point the way to God. In this we have an example of and an outward illustration of love. Our love for one another, as they make their journey, is evidence then of the Holy Spirit within us. 

Many people believe their is an important "but" that goes in here. We love you but...Whenever we get into the "but" business what is taking place is that we are working less on our path to God and more on other people's paths. We are undermining the fraternal love we are supposed to illustrate. We are in fact not fulfilling our invitation by the Holy Spirit and in the end we are eroding God's beloved community.

The natural response to the above paragraph is fear, anxiety, and concern.  The disciple is clear if this is present then we are not believing in our inter-related nature with our brothers and sisters. Then  we are not believing in the power of the Holy Spirit to work. Then we are not believing in the power of Christ Jesus to save. 

The fact is that our intolerance for one another is an example that we are not living into the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we are members of the beloved community, if God's Holy Spirit is with us, and if we are doing the work Christ has given us the we will be in the midst of love. One cannot love his fellow human and not love God. One cannot love God and not love his fellow human. We might add one who does not love their fellow human does not love God and one who does not love God will not love their fellow human.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Easter 4B April 26, 2015

"This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ -- to remind each other of God's promises and speak Jesus' message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other."

 "Abundant Life," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"Then Jesus said, "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep;' and you get the feeling that this time Peter didn't miss the point. From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again."

"Feed My Sheep," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"These are wonderful, comforting images, but this passage includes one other challenging thought. The good shepherd decides who is in the sheepfold, we do not."

Commentary, John 10:11-18, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ -- to remind each other of God's promises and speak Jesus' message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other."

"Abundant Life," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
Creator God, you make the resplendent glory of the Risen One shine with new radiance on the world, whenever our human weakness is healed and restored.  Gather all your scattered children into one flock following Christ, our Good Shepherd, so that all may taste the joy you bestow on those who are the children of God. 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 10:11-18






It comes as part of an overall scriptural unit.  Chapter 10: 1-21.  Most New Testament scholars break our reading up into two sections. The first section is made up of verses 11-16 where in the reader discovers the nature of the shepherd.  The second section is made up of verses 17-18 wherein we read about the specific work of this Good Shepherd.


Jesus is the model of the good shepherd because he is willing to die for his sheep - this is a unique Johannine theology.  This model is a shepherd who cares for all the sheep and for their very lives. This shepherd is willing to lay down his life for all; and all means all.

The hired hand and the wolf prey on the sheep. They care only for themselves.  They steal and consume the sheep.  What is interesting here is the parallel drawn by scholars to those religious leaders who betray their flock.  Certainly, in the early tradition there is a notion of being sent among wolves.  In Acts Paul reminds church leaders they are to feed their sheep.

I think that the next section is important as a defining boundary for the care and tending of sheep.  The shepherd here does not only know their work, but also knows their sheep intimately.  They know all their sheep intimately.  They recognize the shepherd's voice.  And, that there are sheep who are being added to the fold (the gentile mission).  Therefore the shepherd knows his sheep and knows sheep who are to be gathered in.

This tradition falls in the long line of prophetic witness wherein the leaders of Israel have been seen as shepherds of their flock.

As I read through a number of texts on this passage (including my own preaching) I am ever mindful that the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep; and that God takes up his life for him when his work is done.  Resurrection, new life, transformed life, comes to the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep - those in his fold and those without.

Today we live in an age where we protect ourselves at all cost. We do this by projecting out into the world our own desires. We disguise this protection by gathering around us like minded people.  So we get our cause (political, religious, social) and we gather with people who have the same interest in maintaining ego protection on any given topic.

Paul Zahl reminded me in a recent podcats (PZ's Podcast available on Itunes) that one reason why when people accomplish what they set out to do on any given agenda and they usually feel unfulfilled is because they set out based upon ego protection and not based upon their own true nature's need for salvation, grace and mercy.  They set out to change the world because they were sure everyone else was wrong not because their own heart needed transformation.

The shepherd is in need of resurrection when the life is laid down; this mimics the Good Shepherd's own death and resurrection.  The individual who truly lays down their life and loses it will in the end find it.  But it is real life that is lost, a costly ego death, that must be allowed to take place.

This means more frequently a non-heroes death and/or the failure of perfection.

What does it really mean to be one of the good shepherds, serving the One Good Shepherd?  It will mean being shepherd to all.  A leader must lead and be a shepherd for all the sheep.  All the sheep include: those who agree and those who disagree; those who love you and those who hate you; those who are pleased with your action and those who are pounding down the doors of your fortified ego castle; and the unseen sheep not in our fold.

So as I prepare to preach this week I have a lot of questions running through my mind.  None of these questions have much to do with the loving shepherd finding me in the darkness and carrying  me off to the sheepfold.  Rather, the questions I am asking are based upon that redemption already being underway:  What part of myself must die in order for me to be shepherd (in the mold of the Good Shepherd) for all the sheep?  How shall I lay down my life for them?  Am I willing to die a hundred thousand deaths (not as vanquishing hero) but as a lonely herdsman in the midst of a valley of wolves and thieves?

Ah yes, perhaps that is the real work after all.  You and I if we brave this sacred journey we should be prepared for the silence, the lack of followers, a shameful death, and...and...in the end God's hand snatching us from the grave.  It is the silent waiting of the dead in which God's love, grace and mercy resides.  That is the meaning of life as a good shepherd; would that we had a church full of such men and women!

Some Thoughts on I John 3:14-24

"The whole idea behind this week's reading from 1 John, and indeed the entire book, is that in the sacrificial love of Christ we see and experience God; in doing so we are compelled to live out that love in word and deed."

"What's the Catch?" Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

"This epistle, really a sermon, was written for a community that defined itself over and against the world around it."

Commentary, 1 John 3:16-24, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"The writer clearly envisages a relationship with God where people are not diminished but encouraged to stand on their own two feet with confidence."

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




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


Powerful words from my fellow blogger who encapsulates the beginning of this passage very well. Here it  is from Chris Haslam: 

1 says “For this is the message ... that we should love one another.” Abel’s godly deeds (Genesis 4:8) stirred Cain’s hatred for him, even to murdering his brother, so don’t be surprised if the “world hates you” (v. 13). For a Christian to hate a fellow Christian is equivalent to murder. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (v. 14).
God is love and Jesus is our great icon of God's love. True love lays down one's life for the other. For the author of John this meant real action.

This is so very unlike a lot Christian behavior today. We tend to tell people what to do and how to be. We expect them to lay down their life for the Gospel. We tell them how they are to act and what they are to do and not do. We make lists and we judge them unequal to the task.

This is all a way of masking our own lack of love for them - our own inability to follow God's second commandment.

The Christian Gospel says that we are to lay our life down for the other. We are to lay our life down for the neighbor. We are to lay our life down for the one we disagree with. We are to lay our life down for the one different than us.

Only, when we do this are we truly moving closer to God. Only when we lay down our expectations and our life do we find it. This is the cross and this is the commandment. As a good friend says, "As soon as I hear the 'but' we have moved away from grace." How true!

There is a lot of hatred, there is a lot of fear, there is a lot of anxiety all of which moves to anger and violence very quickly. This is the evil in our midst and it is deeply rooted in our inability to lay down our lives willingly for one another. What evil schemes we will deploy which kills our brother all in the name of protecting ourselves. It sounds reasonable - but it is not the Gospel. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easter 3B April 19, 2015

"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.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

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





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, WorkingPreacher.org, 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,WorkingPreacher.org, 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.



Resources for Sunday's Epistle

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.