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, March 2, 2015

Lent 3B March 8, 2015

Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, Cathedrale d'Amiens. 

"I read the cleansing of the temple as a stark warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed in the name of God are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours."

"Subtle as a Sledge Hammer: Jesus 'Cleanses' the Temple," The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation.

"Followers of Jesus confess that Jesus is King and the emperor is not. If the consequence of challenging the imperial powers is death, as it was for Jesus and many of his followers, so be it."

Commentary, John 2:13-22, Marilyn Salmon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Is the community good news for the poor or is it chaplain to the rich who oppress? Mark with telling irony contrasts the widow and her poverty with the oppression of the temple authorities who exploit widows (12:38-44). Lent is also a time for the church to take a good look at itself."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

O God, the living fountain of new life, to the human race, parched with thirst, you offer the living water of grace that springs up from the rock, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Grant your people the gift of the Spirit, that we may learn to profess our faith with courage and conviction and announce with joy the wonders of your saving love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you int he unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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


Some Thoughts on John 2:13-25





I guess I want to begin my reflection with, "Wow."  This passage never seems to get easier to read. It also challenges my thinking about who Jesus is for me...most days.  So, I think it deserves some very important reflection.

First, the cleansing of the Temple is a sign. It is a sign that the messianic age is upon us, and a call for purification in the presence of the Messiah.

Second, in the face of the authorities desire for a sign, Jesus gives them one by cleansing the Temple.

There are many mixes of imagery and theology. We cannot ignore the imagery that comes to mind about our own faith and religious traditions. We can imagine too the sacrifice of Christ's body in comparison the prophesy regarding the destruction.

But as I sit here on this particular day I ask myself what needs to be cleansed. It is Lent and I am wondering in a particularly reflective mood, what is it in me that I need to have cleansed by the Grace of Jesus, his mercy, and his forgiveness.

Not out of shame, believing that I will then be worthy...not out of a desire to be perfect...rather to ask myself the question where do I do things, or not do things, that need to be cleansed and transformed by God.

You see more often than not (I think - only you preachers can tell me) we spend time talking about how everything else needs to be cleaned out...our culture, our church, our politics, our...whatever.  On this day I am reminded of that habit I have of cleaning my desk before I do the work.  A necessary thing - sure - more often than not a diversionary tactic.

It is always easier to see the easy work of cleaning out someone else's temple than it is to clean out our own. Or to spend time shaking the fist at the organization, culture, or institution vs rolling up our sleeves, entering the arena and getting our hands, feet and face dirty with the sweat and blood of ministry.

Perhaps this is our way of dealing with the feelings and words of Jesus which are difficult to hear.

The tables that need turning over in my life are: my belief that there is no power greater than myself; that I can control people's reactions; that other people are responsible for my happiness; that cynicism is an appropriate response to believe there is no good in the world; that if I am allied with the right people I will be safe; that faithfulness means attendance; that my excuses are really pretty good; that what I most often do is my "best;" that I am right; and that politics will save us.

I have to drop my shields and move out vulnerably.

I guess I want Jesus to turn my tables. I pray for grace and wisdom so that my need for self-esteem is replaced with God's forgiveness and love.  I hope the tables are turned so that my sarcasm will be transformed into spiritual joy.  I hope God will help me replace my selfishness with self-giving and my dishonesty with honesty.  May I seek others instead of myself; seeing them as God sees them.  That my fear may be overwhelmed by God given courage.  That I won't blame but be accountable.  And that in all these things I will have a humble and contrite heart.


Yep, I need the tables turned cause there is work to get done.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."

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

"What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him."

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

"In this week's passage, he shows how the particular divisions plaguing Corinth can be given the same diagnosis. And here is where things might start to get a little more personal."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Epiphany 4A), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


Paul tells the truth - the non-comoditized Gospel of free love and grace does not make sense in our culture. A Gospel without shame and plenteous forgiveness is nonsense in a world of commerce where everything from feelings, narratives, personal journeys, and real products are traded based upon a supply and demand basis. 

The reality is that no matter what divides the church at Corinth or divides our own church there is a pretty simple understanding of conflict - people who are willing to argue their own perspective vs a humble perspective that begins at the foot of the cross, offers one's whole self to God and others in response to the grace of Jesus, and opens themselves up to the movement of the spirit. There have forever been and will forever be great debaters in the church - but debaters rarely get much accomplished.

We will never know the Gospel through wisdom or some philosophical theological principle.  For all faith and belief is rooted in the context of hands on ministry. Knowing God is experiencing failure, guilt, brokenness, suffering, and rising in glory because of the hope that is in us and the grace given to us.

The very proof of this is God's saving work without the great debate! God acts. God depends not upon our theological wisdom. And, furthermore, God does not choose us because of what we know, understand, or are able to convey. God chooses us out of God's desire to have us as his very own. 

This is what we boast in our Gospel - God chooses us. God makes us, God chooses us, God dwells with us, God invites us to dwell in harmony with one another. That is a Gospel worth boasting.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent 2B March 1, 2015

A road leading to Ceasarea of Philippi
"For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment."

"Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human," Caspar Green, Scarlet Letter Bible, 2012.

"These verses are crucial for understanding the Gospel according to Mark as a whole and for fathoming what it means to be Christian."

Commentary, Mark 8:27-38, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"All we have to do is trade what we've been led to believe is life for the real thing."

"Preaching the Anti-King," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"I’m curious as to what role the “having turned and having seen his disciples” plays in this conversation..."

"Jesus Rejects the Title, 'The Christ','" D Mark Davis, raw translation and exegesis/questions, Left Behind and Loving It, 2012.



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer


God of all goodness, you did not spare your only-begotten son but gave him up for the sake of us sinners.  Strengthen within us the gift of obedient faith, that, in all things, we may follow faithfully in Christ's footsteps, and, with him, be transfigured in the light of your glory.

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


Some Thoughts on Mark 8:27-38



There are several things going on in this passage: Jesus is recognized as Messiah and then prophesies his death and resurrection; and his instructions to the disciples about what is gained and lost in their decision to follow him.

Here on the road to Philippi his followers take stabs at who he might be. These are certainly echoes of 6:14-15, a kind of popular notion of his ministry.  While they all contain within them some element of truth they are not the Truth.  Even if we were not theologically following this discourse we would see that a claim that they are lacking is evident in Jesus' follow up question: But who do you say that I am?

Some exegetes, trying to make sense of this, have disputed Peter's confession. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 612)  In fact his statement could be a Markan insertion of an ancient baptismal formula.  And, certainly the revelation of the exact nature of his messianic kingship is yet to be revealed. (Ibid, 613)  Nevertheless, what happens here is more than foreshadowing a future reality as you and I read the living word. It provides for us insight into the nature of the God we believe in, and the nature of the Son we seek to follow.

In these words of Jesus we receive several revelations. The first is that while these events that are to unfold are unexpected (perhaps in Paul's words "foolish") they are exactly God's will and desire.  God in Jesus has come to enfold humanity.  The cross, the great inevitability, will not stop either the proclamation of Good News nor will it keep salvation history from breaking into the cosmos.

The second revelation is that the scriptures of Israel, the Old Testament, reveal this march towards incarnation, crucifixion, and redemption.

Peter's reaction to this is normal, and in point of fact echoes our modern response to this notion. It doesn't make sense.  Typically, in the face of criticism the Christian either shuts down or retreats to a different understanding of God and Jesus.

Jesus then gathers the people towards him and tells them that there is a cost to following.The images here and the words used by our author are similar to a commander rallying his troops. They are summoned following the rebuke, gathered so they can be refocused on the work at hand.  The self sacrifice, the work, the difficult hardships to be endured as a follower of Jesus are manifest; some are as physical as martyrdom, some social, still others will be psychological.  Jesus encourages them to have the will, fortitude, and endurance to run this race.

This Sunday is an opportunity to preach the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus, the cross, and salvation.  While I think many will like the disciples offer some turned phrase that will lesson the meaning of who Jesus is to one of the disciple's responses.  We are encouraged to pick up our cross and be apologists for our theology.

I recently read an article that appeared in The Christian Century, April 19, 1995, pp. 423-428, Robert Bellah, (emeritus professor of sociology and comparative studies at the University of California, Berkeley) described the tension between Christianity and pluralism. He wrote these words regarding our current challenge of proclaiming a gospel in our Western culture:

…[W]e are getting our wires crossed if we think we can jettison defining beliefs, loyalties and commitments because they are problematic in another context. Reform and re-appropriation are always on the agenda, but to believe that there is some neutral ground from which we can rearrange the defining symbols and commitments of a living community is simply a mistake-a common mistake of modern liberalism. Thus I do not see how Christians can fail to confess, with all the qualifications I have stated, but sincerely and wholeheartedly, that there is salvation in no other name but Jesus.
Bella, then offers a challenge to those who would teach Christianity today.  It is a challenge well worth our effort!

…Thus it would seem that a nonsuperficial Christianity must be based on something more than an individual decision for Christ, must be based on induction into the Christian cultural-linguistic system. Without such induction the individual decision may be not for the biblical Christ but for a henotheistic guardian spirit. And that is true not only for so-called new Christians, but for many of us in our own allegedly Christian society who do not understand what Paul would have required us as Christians to understand.
Therefore it seems to me of the utmost importance on this Sunday, with the witness of Peter given to us as the gospel, to make our cultural-linguistic case for the Gospel we Episcopalians believe.

We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the very true nature of God.

Jesus reveals to us what I have said, and moreover that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God.

We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God's own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother.

We believe, what is foolish to man, that God became in Jesus human that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.

We believe we did what humans do to prophets and we killed Jesus. God knew this and yet freely walked to the cross in the person of Jesus, that through his death, resurrection and ascension we would be given freedom from the power of sin and be reconciled to God.

While the ability to glorify God and live in a covenant community with God was given to us so too was the gift of eternal life.

We believe God in the form of the Son descended among the dead and that they receive the benefit of the faithful which is redemption and eternal life.

We say and claim that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us and that we share in this new relationship by means of baptism into this covenant community – wherein we become living members in Christ.

In our covenant community we have a language of faith which directs our conversations and gives meaning to our words; through which we understand we are invited to believe, trust, and keep God’s desire to be in relationship by keeping his commandments.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We are to love one another as Christ loved us.

As preachers I encourage you to preach the Gospel that is in us.  Teach your people what the Episcopal Church believes of this foolish messiah, claim the cross as the symbol of our faith and Jesus as Messiah.


This is the good news of salvation we know in Jesus name.  So, take up your cross and preach.



Some Thoughts on Romans 4:13-25




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The law has always been a means of pointing the way toward God, an instrument that helps us to know and do the divine will. As such it is meant to liberate. But when the means is mistaken for an end in itself, the consequence can be a state of spiritual confusion in which all hope is obscured."
Commentary, Romans 4:13-25, Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"To this day, any time we are tempted to limit God to the size of our purposes or to doubt the breadth of God's generosity or the surprising power of God's activity we can return to Romans 4 as an astonishing elaboration of the familiar but life-changing claim: God is great; God is good."

Commentary, Romans 4:13-25 (Pentecost 4), David Bartlett, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Similar struggles emerge today when people ponder whether there can be such faith in God without the culturally specific reference to Christianity."

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

Abraham is for Paul an archetype of faithfulness. However, Paul does not believe that Abraham was blessed because of what he did - kept the law (even though it had not been given to Moses yet), was the father of Israel, and did all that God asked (left home, was willing to sacrifice his son). At the time that Paul wrote this Abraham was seen as an example of a person who kept all the laws. He was considered God's greatest law keeper. Paul is crafty in turning this argument.

Paul believes that faith is something larger than keeping the law. Faith is attached to God's gift, God's promise. 

Paul understands full well the human condition to be unable to achieve perfection. If faith and God's promise are dependent upon some kind of contract - covenant - then we are all in big trouble. God loves us because God has created us worthy of God's love. God gives us grace because we are made worthy of forgiveness through the work of Jesus Christ. Grace is given free to everyone everywhere and it is not dependent upon keeping the Mosaic law. 

So, Abraham becomes the father of the Christian faith - not because he kept a law - but because he believed in God's promise, he hoped in God's promise. It is here that Paul reorients faith not in keeping law or doing good and right things but in believing in God's promise. So it is with us. We will never be perfect. We will never keep the law. We may respond to God's love and grace by choosing how to live life differently - this is true. But we receive God's promise, God's love, God's mercy freely. And, our faith is our response to that promise.

What a gift in Lent to hear and receive these words. We are working hard to keep our Lenten laws that we have set down for ourselves. It will be interesting to preach and help people come to understand that faith is about believing in the promise and not achieving some kind of un-achievable standard of perfection.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 1B February 22, 2015

"Believe in the good news" is better translated as 'Trust into the good news,' since the whole point is not, 'Have an opinion about the good news.' Rather, Jesus is calling for a radical, total, unqualified basing of one's life on his good news."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 1:9-15, David Ewart, 2012.

"To preach the temptation of Jesus in Mark is to call attention to our greatest temptation -- the temptation to think that God is not present."

"The Greatest Temptation," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

"The loneliness of God's servant, a theme that persists throughout the gospel, is already suggested in these verses. "

Commentary, Mark 1:9-15, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Gracious God, every true to your covenant, whose loving hand sheltered Noah and the chosen few while the waters of the great flood cleansed and renewed a fallen world, may we, sanctified through the saving waters of baptism and clothed in the shining garments of immortality be touched again by our call to conversion and give our lives anew to the challenge of your reign.

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



Some Thoughts on Mark 1:9-15





We move quickly from the image of Jesus resplendent in light at the moment of transfiguration in Mark's Gospel, Chapter 9, to his baptism and the immediate work of preaching the Gospel in Chapter 1.  This is the first Sunday in Lent and we are reminded as we make our way from Ash Wednesday that we are utterly dependent upon the grace of God - the Good News of God proclaimed by Jesus on the edge of his own wilderness journey of preaching and healing.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (vs 15)  Could our author have captured the words of Jesus and the words of an early baptismal formula? Perhaps both. What is very clear in the scholarship is that these words that Jesus offers in our passage today is key to the understanding of his message.  Joel Marcus (Mark, vol 1, 176) writes:

"Repent, and believe in the good news!" - at their baptism they would have heard this exhortation as a call to bury the moribund world in the water and to rise from it to view, through the eyes of faith, God's new creation.  They would in short, have been reminded by Mark 1:15 of the moment when they became disciples of Jesus."

Jesus' proclamation begins following the imprisonment of John the Baptist.  This is the first public ministry of Jesus recorded in Mark's Gospel.  We might remember from a previous Sunday that while Jesus has come to heal and to over power the evil of this world, ultimately he is here for this single purpose.  To bridge the divide between this world and the kingdom of God - the dominion of God.

Joel Marcus (Mark, vol 1, 175) gives us a very clear suggestion of what Jesus is saying:

time has been fulfilled  AND   dominion of God has come near
repent                         AND   believe in the good news

The time is now, the dominion of God is near.  Our response to that grace is repentance and to trust in the good news of God.

For those who now are making their way in Lent, and for those who are still seeking to be restored to the family of God,  the faith reality is one that challenges us to change. To be aware.  To take notice of our own selves and the way we do not live in the ways of God and to amend our lives.

I was interested recently in an interview that I did and the question that I was asked: Do you think that at times like this we especially need Ash Wednesday? Our culture is a mess the interview seemed to be saying perhaps we all needed this special day and season in order to make things right.

Human nature is the same. Ash Wednesday, as is Lent, a very personal discipline.  The confrontation of this ritual life of repentance we so carefully cling to during this season as Christians is one that is not just for today but true for us year round. It is not specifically more important today than it was when Jesus invited us to respond to the dominion of God and the good news.  It is only specifically so because you and I today choose to follow Jesus. Relevance to the culture and all of our want to be special is washed away somehow in this invitation of Jesus.  Our season is not a time when we are to critique others, a time when we are to find the splinter in another person's eye, or blame and castigate our culture, rather (and on the contrary) it is a time when we remind ourselves personally that we have not done what Jesus asked us to do.

I claim to follow Jesus but fail. I try to amend my life and fail. I make the kingdom of God my goal and do not reach it.  Yes the dominion of God is near and I rest fully upon his grace and mercy to discover it. I repent because of my continuing human frailty which is my nature. I take a moment on this Sunday to be reminded of Jesus' invitation to rise out of the depths of my failure and moribund world/life/relationships and to see before me grace, mercy, forgiveness and invitation.


Some Thoughts on 1 Peter 3:8-13




Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"In our text, Peter counsels a very different response to persecution. Rather than focusing on your persecutors and being overwhelmed by fear and hatred, keep your eyes on Christ."

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"While talk of principalities and spirits bound in prison may strike us as a vestige of a bygone world, we should not be so quick to discount the contemporary relevance of this text, especially during this season of Lent. "

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

The letter of 1 Peter is written in the midst of Christian persecution - many believe. So it is that the author concerns himself with the questions about how to be ready. Be ready to make your defense of your faith he offers. This is not to make some kind of argument though which wins the day. Instead we are to give, according to the author, our understanding of hope. We Christians have hope in our life when it is going well and we have hope in our life when we are suffering. We have hope because we know that we are not alone in this work of suffering - Christ too suffered and so God understands and knows what we go through on our behalf. But this is not where hope comes from. 

Partnership with God is not the locus of hope. Instead hope is in the certain faith that death has no victory. We share in Christ's death and in Christ's resurrection. So it is that we shall on the last day enter into our heavenly habitation. We will be forever united to God through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is our earthly entrance into this new life believes the author. In our own baptismal words we hear the hope of people delivered out of slavery, people delivered into freedom and the promised land. We understand that for the Christian, the follower of Jesus, pain, suffering, and death do not have the last word. And, that when the end does come, in hope we make our song to the grave: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Quotes That Make Me Think

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

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

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

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

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

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

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

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


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

Resources for Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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



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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Transfiguration - The Last Sunday in Epiphany

"Mark's use of the story connects so strongly to what follows that we can scarcely interpret it without reference to what Jesus disciples were to listen to in the chapters which follow, namely lowliness and compassion. It is not just any elevation of Jesus which will do, but this particular one, which we appreciate when we know the whole story. Mark's story reminds us that disciples, then and now, frequently get it wrong, through fear and ignorance and much else."

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

Prayer

God of life, in a blaze of light on Mount Tabor you transfigured Christ, revealing him as your Beloved Son and promising us a share in that destiny of glory.  But in a blinding flash we, children of the promise, annihilate life, disfiguring the face of Christ and mocking his Gospel call to gentleness and peace.  Let the beacon of that gospel pierce again the clouds enshrouding the earth, so that even in the darkness of these times we may believe your day will dawn.  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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.




Some Thoughts on Mark 9:2-10

The passages that come before this are filled with a pounding and unrelenting march by Jesus to proclaim the good news and to overturn the forces that now bind God's people. He knows this proclamation and action campaign (to use the military imagery of the Greek text) which is the Way will ultimately lead to the cross.  Therefore, everyone who is on the Way must be prepared to pick up his cross and follow. (8.34)

Yet here in this passage we have a vision of the God's glory and in the last two verses the connection of this mission with the resurrection.

Jesus in this moment of transfiguration is revealed as the new Adam, the new Moses, the great prophet, the Son of God and is clearly the Messiah.  He is God in all his glory revealed in the person of Jesus to the disciples sitting at his feet, to the first hearers of this Gospel, and to us.  And, this work is well pleasing to God.

We are reminded perhaps of the words of Enoch and his response to his own heavenly vision.

And there I saw another vision of the dwellings of the righteous and the resting-places of the holy.
And there my eyes saw their dwellings with the angels And their resting places with the holy ones...
And I saw their abode beneath the winds of the Lord of Spirits,
And all the righteous and elect were radiant like the brightness of fire before him....
There I desired to dwell and my spirit longed for that abode.  (I Enoch 39:4-8, trans. Marcus, Mark, 638)
While Peter echoes Enoch's vision in this world, the disciple and follower of Jesus along the way (with the certainty of the cross before them) sees instead the great hope of Resurrection and our eternal dwelling beneath the wings of our "father hen when he calls his chickens home" - to quote Johnny Cash.
The transfiguration is a theophany in which the followers of Jesus and the generations that follow are able to glimpse their future.

In the months to come our people will enter Lent, we are in tax season, election time, our economy is slow, people are suffering and hurting.  They are pretty sure that this is not heaven!

Our preaching is to so move those who listen that they may have a glimpse of the transfigured risen Lord.  That they may see the promise of their future and understand that the present sufferings in this world are ones that will eventually be swallowed up by the glory of God.

We are to so move our hearers that on this Sunday, they like Jesus and his first followers, will be moved through their vision of things to come to change the world around them. We are to move our people to understand that their glimpse of the heavenly family and our place under God's embrace is not something to be waited for in some distant future, but that we are to make our drum beat loud and to act in this world building up stone by living stone the kingdom of heaven.

A Little Bit for Everyone





Mark 9:2-10
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Epiphany 6B February 15, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think
"By the end of this story, Jesus has shown us what it costs to go where the people are and it is a cost he is 'willing' to pay."

Commentary, Mark 1:40-45, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Jesus steps right into a terribly risky reimagining of social order."

"Lepers and Risky Love," Katie Munnik, Presbyterian Record, 2012.

"Maybe we don't need to choose between the two emotions, anger and pity. Pity and anger can intermingle."

"Blessed to Be a Blessing," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Cleanse and restore us, O God, and heal us continually from the sinfulness that divides us and from the sinfulness that divides us and from the prejudice and discrimination by which we degrade ourselves and dishonor your image in others. Help us to stretch out our hands in love especially to those our society scorns and to recognize in their faces the very image of Christ, blood-stained on the cross. 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 1:40-45

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Jesus made a noise like a horse - he was so exasperated and incensed!

A lot of preachers will be trying to figure this one out. We will turn to scholars and they will say, and we will typically preach:

Jesus was upset because his preaching mission was interrupted.

Jesus was upset because the man is unclean.

Jesus was upset because the man doesn't believe Jesus can heal him. (Marcus, Mark, 209)

I was struck by the scholar M. D. Hooker's thoughts (Commentary on Mark, 80). He believes Jesus is disgusted with the demon. One might expand this to include the system as well; as in Ched Myers' text Binding the Strong Man.

How often do we get exasperated with the person and not the illness? How often do we get exasperated because we have more important things to tend to? How often do we get exasperated because of how we might be perceived if we are with someone for whom they disapprove?

We are all guilty of this. Me included. We may however loose a great preaching moment if we simply take our exasperation and project it onto the text.

What if we reread the story this way: The leper comes to Jesus. He has, more than likely, already been to the priests to no avail. He comes to Jesus who is not a priest and simply says, "Jesus you could make me clean"; which given the last few chapters is true.

Jesus snorts like a horse because he is simply disgusted - with illness, with the powers that be, with the world...but not with the man. No with the man he is moved and so he acts. He reaches out and touches the leper, making himself unclean according to the holiness code.

Then he sends the clean man away, not in secrecy, but why send him back to the religious power that could not make him well in the first place. No, he can go and he not tell anyone.

How do we begin to move our congregations to snort like a horse when confronted by the brokenness of the world, to be incensed; and then move them to action on behalf of those who come to us and invite us to engage in healing?

So often we are thinking someone else more talented, someone more generous, someone more schooled, someone else will come along and heal the leper raising their hand before us and inviting us into their life. The reality is that we are being invited - you and I. There is just us. And, we have been sent by Jesus.
Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27



"The proclamation of the gospel, be it public or private, in front of an audience or one-to-one, can be difficult. As Paul says elsewhere it may seem like foolishness and folly to many who hear it, and this will, from time to time, reflect back on we who proclaim it. But this is our imperishable wreath, the life and salvation of those for whom and with whom we run this race."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"Paul's Lord, Jesus, was not a slave of patterns (or the lord of patterns!) and obsessed with being a lord, but one who emptied himself, poured himself out."

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


This is one of my favorite passages. I used to be a long distance runner. I even ran a marathon. I loved running. Somehow this passage really spoke and continues to speak to me. 

What I did not know until recently is that the games for which our modern day Olympics are modeled were held in Corinth! So Paul isn't simply picking up an image of running because it is generally known or helps him move back to the major content of the letter. He chooses it because he knew they knew this image quite well there in Corinth. We might even infer that it was an important image for them. 

Of course he uses the race as metaphor to his life and the work of all Christians. Paul uses it to help the Corinthians understand that a Christian life is not a magical fix but rather a lifetime of work. I have to say that in the midst of crisis, pain, suffering, grief, and trouble it would be great if Christianity WAS a magical remedy! 

I don't believe there are perfect Christians. Our perfection is rooted in the perishable world - not unlike the wreath. We must realize that we are a work in progress, our communities are a work in progress, our neighbors are a work in progress, and God has saved us and made us his own anyway. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Epiphany 5B February 8, 2015


Quotes That Make Me Think

"The healings and exorcisms reveal the effects of Jesus identity and divine power, but the good news is not reducible to them."

"The Secrets We Keep," Alyce McKenzie, Faith Forward, 2012.


"This passage is loaded with wonderful possibilities for the preacher."

Commentary, Mark 1:29-39, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"You could surmise that Mark is making a point here by having the kingdom start at home. That may not be in Mark?s intention, but its truth stands nevertheless."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Epiphany 5,William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

With a father's care and a mother's compassion, you embrace as your own, O good and loving god, the sufferings borne by the whole human race, and you join these to all that your Son endured in his Passover from death's bitter pain to risen life. In all our time of trial and testing, purify our hearts and fortify us deep within so that, bearing the light of unfailing trust in your power to heal and save, we may hasten to the support of our brothers and sisters as they face the mystery of illness and pain. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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


Some Thoughts on Mark 1:29-39

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

After reading and studying this passage I have these two questions for us preachers: Are we bringing people a glass of cold water on the battlefield of life? Or are we delivering them off the battlefield?

Jesus is here to teach (vs 38) and specifically to offer Good News. Joel Marcus points out that this is decidedly the most important message of the verses which follow the healing of Peter's mother-in-law.  (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 201ff)

Jesus is invited to come and heal Simon Peter's mother-in-law. He touches her hand and she is healed and is so revived that she begins to serve them. Jesus does many works of healing and casting out demons and these are important to show his power and his might over and against the strong man of this world. He is a doer of great deeds. Yet this is not the purpose of his coming (vs38).

Jesus does not come to heal us. He does not come to cast out the demons. He does do these things but they are specifically acts that show his strength and his power. And, in so doing draw us to his teaching and preaching. He has come to proclaim a gospel of Good News. As one scholar put it, to give us the good news from the battlefield. (M. E. Boring, Beginning, 56; see also Marcus, Mark, 146) This ties into Isaiah's prophetic voice of offering good news for the captives.

He has come to tell us the good news. And, that good news is accompanied with mighty acts that free people from their lives. Lives are changed, the world is different.

I wonder what battlefields will be brought into our churches this Sunday morning? What battlefields will you be bringing in with you? How easy it is to stay on the battlefield and to remain captive to our fear and anxiety. How easy it is to be imprisoned by our anger at someone. How immobilizing it is to be so angry that we might avoid our real work.

What about the battlefield where people are hungry, naked, and in prison? What about the battlefield of raising kids alone? Yes...there will be many battlefields carried laboriously into the church sanctuary this week. Can we let the mighty Jesus heal us as he heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law, so that we may hear the good news of deliverance, and serve him in mission?


Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23



"His evangelism is not a numbers game, but one of drawing people into a relationship with this God who loves, and produces in people the fruit of the Spirit, which is love."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Preach, or be damned - what would you choose?"

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

Paul believed that he was called to be an apostle. He was called to be one who is sent - that is what apostle means. He believes that he was given a ministry. Yes he has a family and yes he needs the support of the church to do this work. But his family and receiving funds are not about him being an apostle. It is not why he does it.

He has done good work - he believes. People have been drawn to the living and loving God through him. Yet he will not count the numbers. He will not notch his belt for each person saved. Again, being an apostle is not about the numbers. It is not why he does it.

Being an apostle, a preacher, a teacher of the Good News of Salvation and God's love is about being authentically himself. God has given Paul a work to do. He is to carry out God in Christ Jesus' mission. 

This is who he is - an apostle of God. He is sent to people who do not know the living God and his work is to introduce that God to them.

Moreover, Paul says he will chose to do certain things and to not do certain things based upon the sharing of the Gospel. If he does things that keep others from hearing the Gospel he will refrain. For instance, he will not eat meat. Paul is a man who is clear about his ministry and the fact that God has given it to him - just as God called the others along the shore of Galilee and appointed them to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul believes this is his nature and at the core of his very being.

What is amazing is that Paul offers a vision of ministry which is so God centered. It is about God, what God is doing, how God is using him, and what God is doing through him. Sometimes I feel as though I am the one who has to do it, it is my burden to carry, I have to accomplish it, and if I don't then I am not worthy. The truth is that like Paul I am worthy. God loves me. I am worthy of that love because I am a creature of God's. I am also invited to stop hustling for God's love - as Brene Brown puts it. I am instead, through Paul's example, invited to do the work God is doing through me. I am invited to be a vessel of his grace and mercy and kindness to others. I am invited to share the God of love with other people who do not yet know this God. I am called to remove those obstacles that keep others from coming to this God. 

Finally, I am invited to remember it God doing the work not me...I am only a faithful apostle. I am sent. So... I go.