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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Monday, June 22, 2015

Proper 8B/Ordinary 13B/Pentecost 5

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

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

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

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


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

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


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

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

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 5:21-43



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

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

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

Raising of Jarius' Daughter by Gabriel Max, 1878
As Jesus makes his way he is touched by the hemorrhaging woman.  She is aware of being made well, he is aware of the healing, and he tells her that it is her faith that has made her well.  Jesus looks at her.  We are reminded of his looking upon his followers and calling them his new family.  He looks upon her and he calls her daughter.  She becomes family, a follower, a believer, she is able to live life again; but in a new way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Proper 7B/Ordinary 12B/Pentecost 4 June 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Prayer

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

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 4:35-41



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
"For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God 'in vain.'"

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.
"In the ancient world, responsibility for initiating the mending of a ruptured relationship was understood to rest with the injuring party. In political contexts, this work was normally entrusted to an ambassador. Paul sees that in Christ, God completely overturns conventional expectations."

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Proper 6B/Ordinary 11B/Pentecost 3 June 14, 2015

"The passage as a whole emphasizes the hiddenness and smallness of the quiet beginnings of the kingdom and also underscores the sense in which the sower does not make the kingdom happen by force of will..."

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

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

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

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

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

From your bountiful hand, O God, you have sown generously in our hearts the seed of your truth and your grace.  May we welcome with humility and confidence what you sow in the soil of our lives and cultivate its growth with the patience the gospel teaches, trusting completely and knowing full well that peace adn justice increase in the world every time your word bears fruit in our lives. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 4:26-34





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ephesians 1:3-14


Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Proper 5B/Ordinary 10B/Pentecost 2 June 7, 2015

"In Mark's Gospel, Satan is always behind the opposition to Jesus regardless of who or what the vehicle may be. In this case, it is his own family and a delegation of scribes from Jerusalem."

"Getting on the Right Side of God," Alyce M. McKenzie, "Edgy Exegesis," Patheos, 2012.

"When we rush to explain away Jesus' miracles, we risk overlooking the deeper message of his liberating power."

"Jesus Christ: Exorcist," Susan R. Garrett, Beliefnet.

"Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 3:20-35, David Ewart, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Creator God, we are fashioned, male and female, in the likeness of your glory.  Gather us around Christ, our teacher.  Grant that by doing your will we may truly become disciples, brothers and sisters of the Son.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 3:20-35



We return in this weeks passage to our readings of Mark's Gospel and of course will march through them until we reach the end of this season we call ordinary time, or the Sundays after Pentecost.  We begin our seasonal reading of Mark with 15 radical verses that reorient life.
In the gospel story of Mark we locate ourselves just after Jesus has called the disciples (including the mention of the one who would betray him) and we also are in the midst of a response by the religious leaders of the day to his first teaching.  In our passage for today his relatives also react to his teaching.

The parable of the "binding of the strong man" is a teaching about the Gospel's message for freedom from that which binds us.  In Mark this teaching is powerfully dualistic; nevertheless, the image cast in the story and the teaching of Jesus is clear: we are to be granted freedom from the one who comes to bind the forces that rebel against God. 

This is wonderful news!  What seems important though is to remember that humans are bound as well. That this strong man runs our house. That this strong man, who himself is in need of binding, is a destructive force that humans cannot be free from.  In fact, we are perpetually in the grasp of this strong man. It is always easy to blame someone for our own problems and I don't mean to do this here. I am simply saying that God in Christ Jesus comes because we are not able to do this ourselves and for ourselves.  We are dependant upon God's working this out. 

The image of disciples who will turn against Jesus, the religious home that turns against their own son, and a family that turns against Jesus reminds us of how unable to be free, truly free, we are.  He reminds them (similar to the passage from last week's Gospel of John) that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and that it cannot be stopped.  Strong words are used by Jesus, but it is as if to say, "woe to anyone who dares stop the spirit."  I am reminded of Emil Brunner's thoughts in his classic text The Church Misunderstanding, where he explains the difficult spot between the church and the ecclesia - God's church.  Religion is always attempting to point towards God but it is always something that is still bound by the strong man and our nature in this world and so a mere reflection of the ecclesia.

Then Jesus teaches about a radical new reorientation of creation.  He says: "Who are my mother and my brothers?”34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  It is those upon whom the gaze of Jesus falls that become a new family, a reordered family.  The faith and religion that Jesus grew up in demanded birth into the family.  Literally a lineage of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that was tied to the mortal body.  Here Jesus is offering a vision of the family of God that is based upon the gaze of Jesus, the working of the spirit, and the discipleship of the person which makes their will open to the movement of the will of God. 

So, we are remade in Jesus brothers and sisters one to another.  We are to view ourselves through the eyes of Jesus and see in one another the Holy Spirit moving and drawing us ever closer together in a new family, an ever expanding family.  And, we are to be known as those who do God's will.  We are known as people who do not rebel against God's spirit but embrace it and are formed by it. 

I believe for Jesus, for our author Mark, and for his community this notion of communal life as a new family, which is at work doing God's will is essentially the binding force of life lived following Jesus. 

Now here is the thing...and it is an important thing of which we should be aware.  And that is, because the strong man is in us, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  That is right, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  Aristotle in his Ethics writes:

Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it: people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones. This view is supported by what happens in city states.  Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator, and those who do not carry it out fail of their object.

We immediately move from understanding the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, and Jesus' gaze upon his friends as the marks of the new family and take the last little bit of this passage out of context and we say, "If you do not do the will of God then you are not true believers."  Wow! It happened so quickly, we Aristotle-ize Jesus' teaching.

The problem is that the strong man within us understands this is the way of the world.  You do it, you become it.  It is a way of being and becoming.  That however, is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus and contrary to Paul's arguments. Righteousness is NEVER acquired by action, even the action of believing.  (Rom.1)  The reality is that the strong man is in us, we are him, and so our action and our believing flow out of our ego's desire, our self concern, for salvation.  No one may be a member of the family by doing good works or obeying the law.  One is not justified into community by being good or by doing...but by God and by God's work on the cross.  Actions flow from the love affair with God.  They flow out of being made family by God and by God's Holy Spirit. God makes us a vessel of Grace.  (Romans 3, 1 Cor. 1) 

To be named brother and sister in God's family is not something that takes place because the church says so, it takes place because of God's gaze and the Holy Spirit's blowing this way and that.  The Church recognizes this reality in sacrament but does not make it so.  God's grace and love, God's invitation to be family, is free, as free as the gaze of Jesus upon those friends gathered around him.  It free to those who do good works and those who do not.  It is free even to those who reject him out of their religious convictions.  It is free to those family members who wish he would stop causing so much trouble. It is free to those disciples who will deny and betray him and run away.  It is free.  To be made a member of the family of God is pure grace and pure love.

So we might preach and pray, come Holy Spirit, gaze upon me Jesus Christ, bind the strong man within my soul, and open my heart to your love, that your will may be done in me.

[Thanks this week to Collins book on Mark, for Marcus' book on Mark, and for Gerhard O Forde's reflections on grace and the cross from On Being A Theologian of the Cross.]

2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1


Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle

"Amidst real hardships and suffering, Paul expresses hope in God's work to redeem and to transform."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Paul's confidence rests not in the details - they don't bother him - but in the fact of God."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The self can die only if and when it loses all wonder, either this side of the grave or beyond."

"The Gift of Aging," Caroll E. Simcox. The Christian Century, 1987. Republished atReligion Online.

In this passage Paul is using Psalm 116 vs 10. This is a psalm about suffering and a near death experience. Like many people who have used the psalms for comfort Paul too draws on their wisdom to offer a sense of his struggle. He too fears he is close to death. Yet he believes that is work is still before him. He is to continue to proclaim the Gospel. He has kept his faith despite the afflictions and sufferings of his time. 

Paul is relying on the foundation that he is working towards God's future. He has hope because he believe God will be victorious. This refrain of doing the work for the sake of Christ and the sake of the Gospel is constant in Paul's writing. I only imagine this is because of his profound feeling of grace placed upon him by God. 

This is what enables him to not lose heart in the midst of his ministry. 

What is important here I think is that Paul is failing physically AND he is heading into very strong opposition. In fact as we read the whole text what we know is that the Gospel he is proclaiming is being pounced upon and defeated at many a turn - in Philippi for sure and doubts have crept in elsewhere. 

Paul though has faith, he believes in his message, he believes the Gospel will win. 

As I think about this I wonder about my own feelings when I receive criticism. Do I believe that the Gospel will win (in spite of my weakness)? Do I have faith that if I do my part and offer the vision I have inherited - believing it from the Holy Spirit - that God will correct it, mold it, shape it, reform it as needed for God's cause? 

Here might I rely upon God! Here might I find a bit of strength to be human and allow God to be God. Here I might find and discover that I will make mistakes and speak out of tune but that the Gospel will work and win. The work of Christ on the Cross shall be victorious. 

Humbly we pray as church leaders then:

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.





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 one 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.