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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Sunday, Year A

Quotes That Make Me Think
Easter's First Light at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre


"We should not see the event as proving resurrection as a belief, since that would have been widespread. It was more that this Jesus had been raised, had been raised first of all, and, as follows later in the chapter, has a role to exercise and a commission to give. That commission, in turn, directs attention to the ministry and teaching of Jesus as the good news."

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

"It is only fitting that just as the tomb will not contain Jesus, neither can Mark's story. Jesus is not bound by its ending; he continues into the future God has in store for the creation."
Commentary, Rolf Jacobson, Matthew 28:1-10, Easter A, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
(From wikipedia: "The Paschal homily or sermon (also known in Greek as Hieratikon or as the Catechetical Homily) of St John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE) is read aloud on the morning of Pascha (a.k.a. "Easter" in the West), called "the Great and Holy Pascha of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine rite. According to theTradition of the Church, no one sits during the reading of the Paschal homily. Portions of it are often done with the interactive participation of the congregation.)

Are you God's friend and lover?
rejoice in this glorious feast of feasts!
Are you God's servant, knowing God's wishes?
be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing!
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
now is your payday!

Have you been working since early morning?
you will be paid fair and square.
Have you been here since the third hour?
you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
come up without fear, you will lose nothing.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
come forward without hesitation.
Even if you came at the eleventh hour?
have no fear; it is not too late.

God is a generous employer,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
God gives to the one and gives to the other:
honours the deed and praises the intention.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master's rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come now and collect your wages.
Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

 The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There's hospitality for all, and to spare. No more
apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the Master: but he has mastered death

Isaiah knew this would happen, and he cried:
"Death was angered when it met you in the pit."
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered, for it was bound in chains.

Death swallowed a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took what is seen and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Grave, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen and evil has fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life reigns.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.

Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
the first of all who had fallen asleep.

Glory and power to him for ever and ever!


Some Thoughts on Matthew 28:1-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" are the principle actors throughout Matthew's Gospel. They arrive at early dawn.  He omits their purpose being the anointing ritual because as we might remember this was done in chapter 26. (Daniel Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 409)  Earthquake as sign and motif runs throughout this particular gospel as a foreshadowing of apocalyptic events.  While Mark's Gospel leaves the disciples with the question, "Who will roll away the stone?" as a moniker for the work of Gospel sharing, here the angel (not unlike the infant narrative) explains the stage that is set before the women as they arrive.

We therefore are told and are led to understand the events, how the soldiers are powerless and how all this has happened as a completion of a long awaited re-creation moment. The angel tells them to go and tell the Good News and to go to Galilee.  We might well remember throughout our journey with Jesus in the Matthean narrative that Galilee is where the action is!  So go....we are charged with the women and see that the resurrected Lord goes before us to meet us there, out there, where the ministry and mission field lies.

As they are leaving, Jesus immediately appears to them as the resurrected Lord.  He too charges them to go to Galilee...there is the climax of our story.  The action is there. The work is there. The mission is there. Go and I will meet you there.

The Matthean scholar Daniel Harrington points out that so important is the message of he is not here, go and tell, go to Galilee that the words of the angel and of Jesus appear almost as a "doublet." (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 410) We can see it here:

The Angel:
1. He is not here; for he has been raised,
2. go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,
3. he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’

Jesus:
1. [He is the risen Lord] they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
2. go and tell my brothers
3. go to Galilee

It seems to me a number of scholars will tend to write a lot about how Matthew "tidies up" Mark's account.  The problem I have is this too often takes us deep into a historical critical deconstruction of the text. It too often assumes that Mark has no reason for making his testimony in the particular manner to serve a particular mission context or based upon his own understanding of eyewitness accounts.  Both Matthew and Mark give clear testimony and each should be taken in their own right; neither is less or subservient to another.  I guess I am on my soap box now but Mark and Matthew have integrity unto themselves and we sometimes miss the very important witness when we over compare.

The second thing that seems to be dealt with in the literature is Matthew's own section of material which serves to prepare the disciple for this message:
17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
You and I cannot preach (I don't think) with a sense of purpose if we do not preach the testimony of the resurrection in Matthew's Gospel for the purpose of bring people to:

1. Worship the risen Lord
2. Aid people with their doubt
3. Proclaim the risen Christ as Lord
4. Make disciples
5. Understand, articulate, and offer baptism as the primary way of becoming a member of God's family
6. glorify God and love neighbor
7. walk with Jesus through life's pilgrimage
I love what Daniel Harrington writes when he describes the nature of what has taken place:
The empty tomb is the necessary presupposition for christian belief in jesus' resurrection.  By itself it does no prove Jesus' resurrection, for the emptiness of the tomb can be explained in several ways. Christian must also appeal to the appearance stories and tot he growth and development of the Church as additional supports for their belief.
The controversy surrounding the empty tomb ought not to obscure the starling content of the early Christian proclamation about Jesus...An event reserved for the end of human history [as believed by most in Jesus' time and in our own] has happened in the midst of human history....To this extent the kingdom of God is among us. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 413)
This it seems to me is the proclamation of Easter Sunday - Jesus is risen for a purpose.  This resurrection is an apocalyptic event in the lives of those who experience it such that they in turn do these things.  If there were ever an altar call in the Episcopal church (outside of baptism and confirmation) this Sunday is it!

Some Thoughts on John 20:1-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday, Holy Week, ABC


Quotes That Make Me Think


"Today the Master of the creation and the Lord of Glory is nailed to the cross and his side is pierced; and he who is the sweetness of the church tastes gall and vinegar."

Byzantine Liturgy, Triduum, (LTP, 1996)


Sunset to sunrise changes now,
For God creates the world anew;
On the Redeemer's thorn-crowned brow
The wonders of that dawn we view.
Although the sun withholds its light
Yet a more heavenly lamp shines here; and from the cross on Calv'ry's height
Gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o'erwhelming final strife
the Lord of life has victory;
And sin is slain, and death brings life,
And earth inherits heaven's key.

Clement of Alexandria

"In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard nearby mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, of course, because Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth."

Commentary, John 18:33-37, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer

Prostrate on the ground, your Son prayed, O God, that this hour might pass, this cup be taken away.  But then he rose to do your will, to stretch out his arms on the cross, to be lifted up from the earth an to be glorified by you.  Prostrate before you, O God, we ponder the mystery of your saving will.  In this hour of Christ's exaltation, we beg you: Open our hearts to hear the story of our salvation, to stretch out our hands in prayer, to venerate the cross by which the whole world is lifted up to salvation, life and resurrection.  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 John 18:1 - 19:42
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel



Raymond Brown writes:  "The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. but the Fourth Gospel localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself: When the side of Jesus is pierced, there comes forth blood and later. In 7:38-39 we heard: "From within him shall flow rivers of living water," with the explanation that the water symbolized the Spirit which would be given when Jesus had bee glorified. That is now fulfilled, but the admixture of blood to the water is the sign that Jesus has passed from this world to the Father and has been glorified. It is not impossible that the fourth evangelist intends here a reference not only to the gift of the Spirit but also to the two channels (baptism and the Eucharist) through which the Spirit had been communicated to the believers of his won community, with water signifying baptism, and blood the Eucharist."

One of my mentors once remarked of how careful one must be when dealing in sermons preached in the midst of the great liturgies of the church. I have come to understand and to agree. When we address the text that is before us we quickly realize that the text itself, and the reading of it in publicworship, is carries a weight which can barely be matched by a few meager words from the pulpit.

The piece that I find the most interesting is the uniqueness of John's Gospel and in particular the last words of Jesus. There is a tremendous feeling of agony and suffering in the last words of the synoptics: "My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?" John's words echo Luke's in their triumphant nature and give us a sense that in this moment we have victory.

Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's plan to unite the world (its earthiness and creatureliness) with the Godhead. The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.  It relishes the death of death, the finality of sin, as the falling cross bridges the gap once for all between heaven and earth.

Psalm 22 gives us this victory song:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The Psalm captures both the defeat and the ultimate victory which is God's. It is John's Gospel thought that is most like the end. The words, "It is finished." are a victory cry and not some pitiful words from a dying prisoner!

Raymond Brown explains it this way, "In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is similar to "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final blow of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished." (John, vol II, Anchor Bible, 931)

If we combine this then with the images of Brown's above, Psalm 22, we see that the piercing then is the handing over of the sacramental life of the Godly community into the hands of those who will come after. The Spirit which is about to be poured out in chapter 20 is already here prefigured. Be cautious not to move into Pentecost too soon. However, I do think it is important to understand that the work of Jesus on the cross is the culmination of his earthly mission and for John it is the final death blow to the ruler of this world.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:16-25


Resources for Epistle

Paul has been teaching the Hebrews that the Holy Spirit has brought them to faith, and that it is the same Spirit which speaks to them in scripture.  As an example he pulls from a passage that I spoke about in the Maundy Thursday meditation and that is the passage from Jeremiah chapter 31.  
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The passage speaks of God's promise for a new covenant.  Paul says that the promise itself is that God's action on the cross, takes away the sins of the past and moves the follower of Jesus towards a sinless life. Craig Koester (Hebrews, Yale Bible, 441), Luther Seminary professor of New Testament, writes that Paul offers to his readers the notion that "God creates a situation in which he does not allow past or present sins to define his relationship with people."  God wills that such a divide is bridged by the cross.

There is justification and reconciliation between God and humanity.  The work on the cross is complete and final.  This is a unique Christian thought.  There is no need for a temple or Colosseum where sacrifices need to be made in order to create a renewed relationship between humanity and the gods.  There is no long list of law that is to be followed in order to fulfill the requirement to bridge the gulf.   God's action upon the cross is what puts and end to remembering the human disobedience.

We are boldly given permission to be in God's presence.  The sacrifice of Jesus, freely given for the sake of his friends and on behalf of sinners is what provides the release. This is new and it is a way of living.  Paul says the sacrifice is made and the curtain removed.

New life is given through the opportunity of putting behind us anxiety, fear, death, and impurity. (Koester, 444).  Instead we are given the opportunity as Christians to live a new life, to participate in the new covenant.  The Holy Spirit gathers us in and sends us out. We are purified by Christ's action and with the character of boldness and hope we are sent out to confess and make known our faith.  We are to "provoke" one another.  [Paul here uses a negative work in a positive sense. (445)  We are to encourage a new life of witness in one another.  Furthermore, this new life is to look like love and good works.

Craig Koester writes, "Love is not simply an emotion, but entails care for others, including strangers and the afflicted.  Love is congruent with righteousness and can be expressed in parental instruction.  Good works of love are the opposite of the 'dead works' of sin....they are the saving work of Christ in the believer's actions. (445)

The Hebrews text gives us both a theological underpinning to the Johannine Gospel of victory.  It defines what that victory is and it offers a vision of what the Christian is to do with their new freedom.


Good Friday Meditation: Boxes
Sometime in the early 1970’s the pop artist Andy Warhol moved from his studio at 33 Union Square West to a larger one at 860 Broadway.

As he looked at the acquired, comic, sentimental artifacts of culture that he had collected from both personal life and business affairs, he came up with a “crack pot filing system.”

Warhol from the time he was 11 had been fascinated with the 1939 time capsule buried at the New York World’s fair. This would be his idea; he would create time capsules.

So, he began to stuff time capsules with the artifacts of his life. Some required no more thought than emptying the entire contents of his desk drawer. Another devoted entirely to his mother contains articles of her clothing as well as correspondence. There is one which contains the contents collected on a Concorde flight in 1978. Still others contain taxi receipts, wig tape, invoices, a slice of Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake, a 17th century German book on wrestling, a letter from Dennis Hopper, a valentine from the poet Allen Ginsberg, an invitation to the Vice-President’s house warming party, and an angry letter from his florist regarding an overdue account.

By the time he died in 1987 Andy Warhol had filled 612 boxes with the memories, art, artifacts and refuse of his life.[1]

How many boxes have you and I filled? What are in our boxes?

I imagine lives lived and boxes filled with joyful memories, happy times, blessed moments and hope for a future yet to be filed away.

Then I imagine there are lives lived and boxes filled with unexpressed pain, hidden suffering, wounds inflicted, wounds acquired, abuse of body and the bodies of others, and pointed words which can never return.

Sin and brokenness openly and secretly engaged are then hidden away. Late nights, trips, parties, pornography, alcohol, food, and over indulgence purchased with our lives on credit hoping the creditor never knocks on the door.

Boxes more subtly filled. Scarcity of food and resources globally stored by others on our behalf… boxes of wasted consumption. Boxes and bins filled with the refuse of a green planet now in decay.

Lives lived and boxes filled with vivid moving pictures and recorded sound of events played over and over again paralyzing our lives, relationships, and ministries.

Lives lived and boxes filled with a past we store away, peaking at in darkest hours then locking away again the world only seeing what we want to be seen.

Lives lived, boxes filled, -- stumbling blocks each – stumbling stones in our relationships and in our relationship with God … scattered throughout a life’s journey.

The joyous moments we discover will never be enough. The hope not quite what we thought it would be. The highest moments never quite high enough.

How many boxes? How many shelves of boxes? How many storage units of boxes?

Jesus’ journey into darkness carries with it a mass of boxes, each box, one by one, step by step is carried to Golgotha.

Jesus’ binding and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane binds our boxes of violence, betrayal, and darkest fears to the heart of Jesus.

Jesus’ trial before the high priest puts on trial our boxes filled with religious intolerance, religious abuse of power, religious abuse of authority, our tendencies towards conservative and liberal fundamentalisms, and our willingness to diminish faith into meaningless platitudes of inaction masquerading as concern for our common man.

The handing over to Pilate of Jesus opens for scrutiny our boxes of idolatry, scapegoating, our lack of honor, honesty, and onus. We see in Pilate’s courtyard our own willingness to allow others to sin on our behalf, abuse on our behalf, and falsely accuse and punish that our own consciences may be relieved of any wrongdoing and our feasts not spoiled by the true cost of our wealth.

The mocking of Jesus mocks our boxes filled with just enough faith to be respectable. Instead of the crown of our heart we give Jesus a thorny crown of false adoration. Instead of the throne of our souls we wrap Jesus in a purple robe to hide the wounds and lashings of an inactive faith that fails to make our relationships healthy and whole, the wounds of failed family and friendships, the scars of a faith that leaves people hungry and without shelter.

So painful is the work of Jesus, the picking up and opening of our boxes, one by one, humiliation by humiliation, pain by pain, sin by sin, scar by scar that when forced to look upon him we see all that we keep secret. And we do what we must in order to escape the truth -- we reject him.

When Jesus stands before the seat of judgment, upon the stone pavement, our boxes laid open around him, contents spilled and mingled, we are so ashamed that we must turn from him, we cannot bear our countenance, we cannot bear our humaneness bent down and taken upon him our God and our King.

So we say what we must…hoping to close our tiny boxes…hoping to hide again…we say: crucify him.  Crucify him.

Lives lived and boxes locked away into the darkest recesses of our hearts cannot be hid before the suffering of Jesus. They are here and now brought out into the open and picked up and carried by Jesus to Golgotha.

It is so easy not to look now though. As he walks to the place of the skull it is so easy to turn away. Much better not to look at our lives carried up that hill. Perhaps the grey sky and the rain will hide what was once hidden. Maybe the mud will cover the remains of our life laid before him on the cobbled streets of Jesus’ walk to the cross. But they are not.

And so when we dare to look at his walking his caring we see that the weight of the cross is the weight of our lives and our boxes, our memories, art, artifacts and refuse. The weight is of those things done and those things left undone and those things done on our behalf.

Each step, then each nail, is a memory now of our pain, and sin, and brokenness.

For those who look now see something different than the death of a criminal. For those who look now see more than the death of a prophet or a wise man. For those who look now see more than just a man on a cross.

For those who dare to look with Mary and Peter and the few gathered we see the death of all that we have believed keeps us from the love of God. We see the death of every event, every word, and every action taken that has kept us from our God’s embrace.

We see the death of our sin.

We see the death of our hypocrisy.

We see the death of our consumption and the death of our indulgence.
And here we see the commingling of Jesus’ suffering with our suffering.

Here at the cross, with Jesus’ body almost lifeless, the pain a pain we wish not to imagine, the last boxes of lives lived are opened. Here are broken open the boxes filled with our pain inflicted by others. Here are our boxes of suffering from illnesses our bodies cannot fight alone. Here are the boxes of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by others on our lives.

And, here are the boxes filled with the pain we carry in our hearts for the death of our loved ones. Boxes filled with photographs of those lost at war, those lost from disease, those lost in tragedy, those lost with lives before them, and those lost after long lives lived.

We see today, again, perhaps for the first time, the bearing of our sins, pain and our own suffering here in this place.

We see our lives laid bare before us and before Jesus and his cross.

We mourn and we weep for Jesus and we mourn and weep for ourselves.

We must let this Jesus go. We must let him go and carry our lives with him into death. We must let him die and the brokenness of this world and of our lives die with him. We must let him and all of our hidden lives be buried in the tomb. We must let him be buried beneath the earthworks of our sin.

That is all, there isn't anymore today. We couldn't bear to see anymore.

So we watch and we listen. We listen for our cue.

And, we hear Jesus say, “It is finished.”

And it is. It is finished.



[1] Box Pop, author unknown, The World of Interior, December 2008, n 12, p 172.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Maundy Thursday

Quotes That Make Me Think



"One of the stunning parts of this text is the location. This passage comes on the heels of Judas leaving the other disciples at the last supper to betray Jesus."

Commentary, John 13:31-35, Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.
"'Dear hearts,' Bebb said, 'we got to love one another and Jesus or die guessing.'"

"Bebb's Speech at Revonoc," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

" ...invite your hearers to recall a time this past week when they chose love."

"On Loving - and Not Loving - One Another," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
With popularity of the Eucharistic image are we missing something?

Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet.  Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch.

New Zealand Prayer Book


Some Thoughts on John 13:1-35

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Much like the place of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of Christian Passover or the doorway into the Triduum, our passage is the beginning through which the disciple walks into the important teachings in following chapters which then lead directly into the crucifixion.


Most scholars including Raymond Brown see that our passage falls into three distinct sections. The action in 1-5, the interpretation to the disciples, and the further interpretation to those who read the Gospel and believe.

Section One - The Action:
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
We see a clear Johanine understanding that Jesus is returning to the Father. We might remember the earlier teachings on John wherein I talked about how Jesus clearly is the incarnate word come to dwell in the world. Furthermore, we see the very deep roots of our orthodox faith which understands that it is Jesus' loving of the disciples that brings them into the family of God. Despite the work of those that would destroy the community and creatures of God, Jesus will be victorious. He washes their feet. This may be a sign of baptism. What is clear is that Jesus serves the disciples and loves them as if they were his own to care for and tend.

The Second Section - First Interpretation
We shall remember that this is Commandment day, this is the meaning of Maundy. Here we have the essential ingredient to all of Christian teachings about discipleship. While avoiding words that are liturgically connected with baptism he offers this very basic exercise of cleaning and washing. Jesus is enacting a sign of hospitality. It is a welcoming into the company of God's family, formally in baptism, here signified with the tenderness of a mother or father. Jesus is uniting all of creation and all of humanity with God.

We are being adopted into Christ's household as a person might be brought into one's own home (Genesis 18:4 1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:44; 22:27). We know that the outward washing of the body does not cleanse the soul, but it is clear that this love and care is to be a hallmark of the inward grace. The hospitality of God is to be echoed by all who come after him. 1 Peter 2:21, the author writes: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps”.

The Third Section - The Second Interpretation 
Here it is as if Jesus stops focusing upon his disciples and steps out of the Gospel in order to focus on us. When we welcome, when we open ourselves up to those who have been sent by Christ into the world we too become part of the family. While certainly he is to be betrayed the we are to act in accordance to the witness we have been given. We are to “love one another”. This is the basic sign of one's salvation and acknowledgement of God and his Son Jesus. We witness in this text the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the emblems of a self-giving God. We are to love and keep his commandments. And in a miraculous way, beyond all that pulls at our church, all that works to destroy and condemn us, all that we do to one another in word and action, in our most broken and most divided, it is tonight, this holy night that we pause, and remember. We pause and put down our destruction and remind ourselves of the service and hospitality of our God. We remind ourselves that it is his grace and love which unites us one to another and into the family of God. It is his love which binds us forever. And so, it is on this night that we are challenged to be a better people, a loving people, a hospitable people, a kind people.

This is our work should we choose to follow.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, though didst not come to the world to be served, but also surely not to be admired or in that sense to be worshiped. Thou was the way and the truth - and it was followers only thou dist demand. Arouse us therefore if we have dozed away into the delusion, save us from the error of wishing to admire thee instead of being wiling to follow thee and to resemble thee."
Soren Kierkegaard

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 11:23-31


Resources for Epistle


These words are familiar words to Episcopalians. For many on this day they will hear these words as if for the first time and connect them with scripture.  They are most likely words from an oral tradition that had begun around the regular gathering and feasting of Christians soon after the resurrection.  They are words most likely received by Paul and they are words that reside within the Gospel text as well so we know they were popular after Paul wrote. This illustrates not simply an early tradition but that the early tradition was still in effect for over 70 years after Jesus and 50 years after Paul.

They are used in this particular case of writing to the church in Corinth because the church has allowed for their problems and divisions to affect their Eucharistic celebrations.  Primarily, scholars tell us, one of the problems was that the community in Corinth was diverse and included people from many different social strata. For Americans who are used to such diversity and intermingling such a notion may be hard to imagine. Yet the reality of social constructs and their strata is that while individuals within a class system may occupy the same space they do not occupy the same relationship, share the same things, or speak to one another in the same ways. The Eucharistic feast which levels all playing fields is causing problems in Corinth.

The Dr. Dwight Peterson (Eastern University, Saint Davids, PA) writes:
Relative status in the Greco-Roman world showed itself in ways that might shock modern sensibilities. For instance, if a host had guests for dinner, it was common for guests of high status to be served more and better food and drink than others, and for guests of lower status to be served less food and drink of poorer quality. Differences in status resulted in (many would have said "necessitated") differences in treatment. While not everyone was happy with these differences, most accepted them as a part of how the world worked.

Social stratification was so taken for granted that it shaped the practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul takes the Corinthians to task for what was happening when they met for the Lord's Supper. The Corinthians observed the Eucharist in conjunction with a common meal, and at that meal social divisions were visible in a way that Paul believed compromised the Gospel. "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:21).

Different sorts of people (i.e., people of higher or lower status) received different amounts and qualities of food and drink at these common meals. Unless Paul is exaggerating (and he may have been for effect), some people had so much wine that they were drunk, while others had to be content with so little food that they remained hungry.
Paul is clear - this is not what Christ intended nor is it to be the values of the Eucharist.  He admonishes them to remember to love all and accept all. He reminds them that all are to be fed and all things shared for the good of the whole. He challenges them to work for the health of each and the strength of each. They are to love and for Paul this love has real world consequences.  He reminds them that to love is to be an advocate and caretaker for the other.  At the communion table all are to be fed and all are to drink from the richness of God's grace and mercy.

While our poor sacrament lacks much nourishment at all one has to wonder what have we lost when we are not truly feasting together and when we are not insuring that people are fed and nourished by our common life together.  It seems to me that for Paul the Eucharist and feeding the hungry are inextricably tied together. I imagine that Paul would have been shocked at what passes for communion today.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Liturgy of the Palms, And Passion Liturgy, A April 13, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Thus Jesus' approach to Jerusalem has become for many a symbol of the confrontation they must make, including the confrontation with themselves."

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

"Now Jerusalem is not a large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. Do you think anyone at Pilate's parade heard about Jesus' parade? Heard what the crowd had shouted? Let's see what unfolds in the week ahead."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 21:1-11, David Ewart, 2011.



Prayer

You Servant, Lord our God, speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us close to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits.  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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:1-11

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The triumphal entry has been recast from the Markan story and it makes clear the importance of this event as a sign of both who Jesus is as the Mesiah and the importance of the event in the continuing story of Israel. (See Zechariah 9.9, Psalm 118:26 and the image of a shaken city welcoming the prophet king Deut 18:15-18)

In Matthew's narrative these are the very first encounters with Jerusalem and the Temple. It is of eschatological significance, though I really do believe that for Matthew the emphasis is on the prophet king's entry and the importance of connecting his life's journey with that of Israel itself. 

Jesus is fulfilling the scripture's prophetic witness. He is the "meek and humble king." He is the one to guide the searching Israel. He is the Lord and he is the Son of David. 

This witness comes to us as we enter as a church family Holy Week and make ourselves ready to witness to the last days of Jesus' life. So often preachers will spend time on the passion narrative also characteristically read on this day. However, to do so is to arrive at Good Friday too soon. 

I encourage you to preach on the event of Palm Sunday. Use the drama of the liturgy and the lesson from Matthew to draw you ever deeper into the journey yet to be made - the journey to a common meal, a trial, a crucifixion, and a burial. Bear witness to who this Jesus is. He arrives on the doorstep of Jerusalem and the Temple with a life's journey behind him. He arrives there and we join him bearing witness to who he is and what he has done. This is a moment for us to be present with Jesus in his sacred footsteps towards the cross. For us to proclaim and worship our meek and humble King who fulfills all righteousness and makes his way to the Temple of our souls.


Passion Liturgy 

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time." 

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

"How do we relate a story that much of our audience already knows by heart?" 
Commentary, Matthew 27:11-54, Eric Barreto, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

O God, for whom all things are possible, you have highly exalted your suffering Servant, who did not hide from insult but humbled himself even to death on a cross.  As we begin the journey of Holy Week, take our sin away by Christ's glorious passion and confirm our worship and witness, so that when we proclaim the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and  every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 26:14-27:66


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

All scholars will remind us that the passion narrative that Matthew offers a very close story to the story of Mark.  If we look at the variations what emerges is a very important twist.

The first is the idea that the world and powers are working intently to deliver Jesus unto his death. (M 26.16.  There is a focus upon those that betray the Son of Man.  (M26.24)  Peter is played up as one who is faithful (M26.35) but who will end the end deny him.  It is clear that it is the power of the state and sinners that have betrayed Jesus. (M26:45-46)   Jesus also clear that God is in control but that he will not beseech him to deliver him but rather that he will be faithful even if it brings death.  (M26.53-56) There is a reality here that Jesus in Matthew reminds us that this is the ancient tradition of the prophets of Israel. We should remember that Matthew has a theme of Prophet King and here in this passage we are reminded that we shall always kill the prophet that comes to us... this is our nature.  This, like Peter's betrayal, is highlighted in Matthew by the fact that even the disciples flee.  Before Pilate Jesus is quiet and committed. (M27.13, 14)  In Matthew Pilate exonerates himself from culpability over Jesus death. (M 27.23-26)  The crucifixion and death are the responsibility of the people - of all people. While it is humanity that is responsible for the death of Jesus it is also the broader humanity that is the first evangelist - the Centurion and others say, "Truly this was the Son of God." (M27.54)  

What is highlighted is that we have in Matthew a clear conflict between God's work and humanity's work.  There is a sense that the governance of the realm by Pilate is different (and obviously so) from the governance of the kingdom of God.  That humanity and human ways of judgement and forgiveness are considerably divorced from God's.  William Loader writes:
Matthew reworks the scene with Barabbas. It becomes Pilate’s initiative (not the crowd’s) to bring Barabbas into the equation. Choose Jesus Barabbas (Aramaic: son of the father) or Jesus (Son of God). The effect is to lay the blame squarely on the crowd. By inserting a report about the wife of Pilate and her dream (27:19), Matthew suggests that she, like Joseph and the magi of the birth stories, has a special connection with the divine. It could even indicate that he wants to exonerate Pilate. Washing his hands and declaring Jesus innocent (27:24) might point in that direction. Matthew certainly points to the bloody consequences for Jerusalem and its inhabitants (27:25). But, standing back from the picture, we cannot overlook Pilate’s role. Whatever game he is playing in the narrative, as such leaders are wont to do, he does not escape responsibility. The fundamental conflict remains: God’s way and Rome’s. 
...With these new swathes of meaning on the canvass, Matthew now has the centurion joined by his companions witnessing not only how Jesus died (Mark 15:39), but also the earthquake and its sequels and declaring to all the world that Jesus is truly the Son of God (27:54). As in Mark, here the Gentile response gets it right, but in Matthew the focus is primarily on the fact that Jesus is ‘Son of God’, a designation he has added in both 27:49 and 40. That drives the poetic and had already done so in Mark who surrounds the moment of death in darkness. 
...The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time. ‘Son of God’ is Matthew’s way in part of claiming that what happened here happened to God in some sense. This event became a point of revelation of God and evil, of love and hate. It will be mythologised far beyond Matthew’s earthquake and Mark’s darkness and spawn the imaginations of faith. Some will be helpful, some, unhelpful; some, fitting the event back into the values of deals and transactions, some, simply allowing the blood to flow and finding it in all violence and sin; some, putting it into competition with others’ insights, some, seeing it as a light which seeks its companions universally.
This powerful image of Matthew's gospel along with the images from Philippians will make for a transformative message of the Gospel and God's dying love for humanity.  If not we will slide into an old understanding of God's requirement of Jesus to die for our sins type message which is neither scriptural nor revelatory.


Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"This revision of a hallowed text throws a monkey wrench into the inner workings of Christian theology. So, let's do it."

Commentary, Philippians 2:1-13 (Pentecost 20), David E. Fredrickson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

David Fredrickson has an interesting take on this passage which has influenced me a good deal. He uses this quote which I think is a good place to begin:

Out of love for that likeness, His son took on my limbs, was conceived and born of a virgin, bearing all the attributes of men, and though He is the Lord of all He became a servant to undertake in one body the burdens of all. He who dwelt on high took the likeness of a slave, though he was reigning as God with the likeness of God, in company with His regal Father. He took on the likeness of a slave, and destroyed that guilt by which man of old was a slave to punishment and death. Bearing the form of slave, the Lord became our flesh and restored His servant to freedom, so that through Christ's plundering of the earthly Adam on the cross, my heavenly form might return to me. (tr. P. G. Walsh, The Poems of St. Paulinus of Nola, 310-311)
What lies at the center of this passage is this: did God in Christ Jesus come across the abyss between God and humanity because of God's love for us? Or, did God in Christ Jesus come across in order to show us how to live life as servant?  The problem with the latter is that it makes the figure of Jesus into a kind of guiding spirit who pedagogically teaches us a thing or two about faithfulness. In the end this way of living type offering undermines the very core of Christian theology on the incarnation.

Therefore, lets go for the first version!

So the passage for today certainly is Paul's teaching to the good people of Philippi that they should be encouraged to continue in their good life together - after all this appears to be the only one of Paul's letters where there is not a conflict raging.  He writes: "If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."  Paul is clearly making the case for those who follow Jesus are to be obedient to God by loving, by being unified, by serving and working for others - putting self aside, and to be humble.

Who is this God that we believe in? Paul continues... God in Christ Jesus, though he has no need to do so because he is God, loves and so snatches (ἁρπαγμὸν - harpagmos - see scholarly definitions here) out of eager desire humanity. God reaches out and takes hold of humanity by taking on humanity like a lover.  The slavery that he takes on is a slavery of love. This is rooted in the latin tradition of servitium amoris. (Fredrickson)  Here is an interesting essay on this. This is an idea that the lover is tied intimately to the beloved.  Fredrickson here is helpful in this, he writes, "he emptied himself [the phrase in Greek always refers to a bodily occurrence preceded by melting; liquefaction of the body and subsequent draining away of the once solid self was the poetic way of describing longing, the desire for union with an absent beloved.]."  God empties himself ἐκένωσεν (ekenōsen) out of this longing and servitude to humanity whom God loves and desires.  God in Christ Jesus does this even unto death on the cross.

This is an important and radical shift. Certainly it is one that is hinted to in Martin Luther's theology of the cross.  Yet, it has also been lost in years past.  Here we are able to see that God in Christ Jesus himself gives himself completely over to us even though his love for us means that we will ultimately kill God - as we do. This reorients and changes the action of the sacrificial center of the cross to God's love and human response.  This hermeneutic shift is and can be a powerful one as we walk into Holy Week.




Monday, March 31, 2014

Lent 5A April 6, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"That we are raised to life, not as future salvific existence, but to life right now, right here..."
Commentary, John 11:1-45, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.
 

"Lazarus comes forth from death for death, this time not by disease but perhaps by the disturbed Sanhedrin -- to be put to death for responding to life, Just as Jesus would be put to death for bringing forth life." 

"Back to Life," Suzanne Guthrie, The Christian Century, 2005. 

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever."

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


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

As once in the vision, O God, your prophet summoned the spirit so that dry bones stood up alive, and as once your Son stood fearless at death's door calling Lazarus to come forth alive, raise us up with Christ from the death of sin, that all of us, the elect and the baptized, may be unbound and set free. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 11:1-45
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever." writes William Loader.

John's Gospel is a wonderful proclamation of the power, divinity of Jesus Christ and the transformation that is available to every person. The author has written, among the four Gospels, a compelling witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, as the giver of light, breath, and life from the very creation of the earth. The story of the raising of Lazarus has never ceased to inspire and enliven both my imagination and my heart for the work of the Gospel. 

 Our Gospel this week is the highest of revelationary narratives in the Gospel in both form and in content. Jesus' raising of Lazarus is a reason why so many follow him and is clear in 12:17-18. He is as we know and have been experiencing throughout the Lenten readings the giver of life. (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). 

If we were reading along we would see that this is the last of a second set of miracle stories in John's Gospel that follow and highlight Jesus' teaching and conversation with his followers. The passage begins with Jesus away and teaching, he is not present for his friend or his friends family. They come to get him and tell him that Lazarus has died. The words used to describe Jesus reaction to this are words that tell us he was affected greatly by the news. Again Jesus speaks of the work that must be done while he is with them, and that the work must be done in the light. Certainly these are like the other sayings that we have seen apocolyptic forecasts. Nevertheless, the very real human loss and desire for life is ever present as Jesus leaves to go to where Lazarus is buried.

He is of course returning to a place where he has shown power before and a place of danger. You might remember that he was almost stoned though he passed through them. 10:31, 39. Jesus states that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common reference to death in the time of Jesus and after. Chris Haslaam has done some very good research and provides links for other parts of the New Testament that say the same thing: "A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [NOAB]"

Jesus' words of peace and comfort are kind and simple....things will be better...they will be all right. Yet we must also realize that the word used here is one that means "to be saved." Sosthesetai is translated into "be saved." It is the word for salvation. Our witness to the raising of Lazarus is not simply a witness then to healing story, or an act of kindness, or a hopeful act, but a transformational act of restoration of health - of true salvation. It is a miracle, which like the other miracles in John's Gospel, clearly represent the work of glorifying God through the ministry of Jesus.We are told that Lazarus had been in the grave for three days. There is a lot written around the idea of the Jewish burial services and the timeliness of such activities once the person has died. But I do not wish to get into this though it is interesting. I believe that the real meat of the text is in the conversation about salvation and resurrection.

As we continue the discourse on the resurrection we note that the Pharisees believed, along with other popular movements of the day, that all the Jews would be raised. Gentiles too if their integrity was judged by God to be suitable. I like how Chris Haslaam has written about these next two verses.

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [NOAB]Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [BlkJn]

Jesus then gives life now and in the age to come. Immediately Martha offers the same statement as the blind man in last weeks lesson. Her words, while a question refer to previous affirmations in the Gospel. She is convinced...convinced that the proclamation of Andrew on the Galilean shore was true 1:41. She is convinced that Nathanael's proclamation is true. 1:49. She is convinced that the good news revealed int he feeding of the 5 thousand is true. 6:14. Jesus approaches the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. It is not a resurrection story. But we cannot miss the conections as Jesus calls forth the dead from the tomb as he will most certainly do in the Easter miracle bringing all of the saints into light. I also am struck by the reality that Lazarus must be unbound and that many participate with Jesus in this work of freeing him from death into life, from darkness into light.

The Gospel tells us that this miracle of reviving Lazarus is for the glory of God. It is also brings many more into the Jesus movement. We cannot see the disturbing events that lay ahead of Jesus without seeing the impact of this great miracle on the movement itself. For surely, as the Gospel testifies, the leaders of the day were worried and concerned.This is a great miracle story. It is one that is rich with intertextual meaning and connections. It highlights Jesus' as the one who gives life and breath. As Jesus says in the beginning of the text day is becoming night, and yet as we read we see that it will be Jesus who brings us out of the shadow of the darkness of the tomb into the light of day. The witness of this passage is an evangelical one pointing us to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ so that we might believe and then raise the dead ourselves!

We are here hovering at the edge of Lent and preparing for Holy Week. The blogger and pastor Meda Stamper reminds us..."just as Jesus has met us at our tombs so we must follow him now to his own."
Some Thoughts on Romans 8:6-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Preachers of this text must, therefore, be careful to read it not as an ethically prescriptive text but rather as an anthropologically descriptive text, a metaphor for the act of salvation that only God is able to do."

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 

"In our focus during Lent on our individual sins we can center so much on our actions and mis-actions that we can miss the larger issue. What is our mindset? What is our orientation toward life?" 

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008. 

"In the moment when we feel separated from God, meaningless in our lives, and condemned to despair, we are not left alone. The Spirit, sighing and longing in us and with us, represents us."

"The Witness of the Spirit to the Spirit," Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955. At Religion Online.

For Paul the life of the Christian is one lived in response to God's love.  He writes, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ." (8.1) The death and resurrection of Jesus is the liberating faithfulness of God.  It is freedom to live "life in Christ Jesus" (8.2) We are not condemned so our response to this freedom is to live.  The law itself would have brought death to be sure.  The law was unable to bring life.  Christ however has in fact done what he law could not.  

Paul then speaks about what it means to live in response to God's love - which is to live a life of the spirit.  God dwells within the life of the Christian.  Our response to God's love is buoyed up within us by the spirit working in us.  Though our flesh is to die, Paul is clear that it is Christ in us and the Spirit in us that will be redeemed on the last day.  

Those who do not live in response to God in Christ Jesus will forever be doomed to trying to live in the law and perfect the flesh.  Paul is clear the flesh itself is even now corrupting.  The flesh is animated earth and to earth it shall return.  To try and perfect that which is not perfectible and to try and live by a test which is un-passable is to live a life of futility. 

Christ frees us from both of these requirements.  Christ offers us the spirit.  Christ gives us the opportunity to have a different life.  What is essential here though (and Paul would be keen to point this out) is that it is only Christ working in us that makes this life possible. It is only the spirit in us which is bringing salvation.  Though new life is available to us all, the reality is that we inherit this life and we receive reconciliation and redemption always and only by the hand of God.





Monday, March 24, 2014

Lent 4A March 30, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"As the fruit of Jesus' vine, we are on display and stand for something Other."

Commentary, John 9:1-41 (Lent 4A), Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Those who preach faith as the cessation of pain, suffering, poverty, restless nights and turbulent days are offering false comfort."

"Coping in Jesus' Absence," Fred B. Craddock. Commentary from The Christian Century, March, 1990. At Religion Online.

"We cannot be light to the world until we can see that light in the eyes of beggars in our town and in our global village, welcoming that light as Christ's presence among us and receiving each bearer as a neighbor, a brother or sister with a face and a name."

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Lent 4. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, 2005.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

O god, the author and source of all light, you gaze into the depths of our inmost hearts.  Never permit the powers of darkness to hold your people captive, but open our eyes by the grace of your Spirit, that we may be able to look on your Son and see the Once you sent to illumine the world,so that, seeing we may believe and worship Jesus as Lord. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 9:1-41
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

God's work is revealed in us. This is the message of the Gospel today. God's work is revealed in our own healing as we come to make our pilgrim way with Jesus. God's work is revealed in our own mission and ministry to others. God's work is revealed in us; both as we are healed and as we get our hands dirty doing healing work.

As we read along John's Gospel we see that this miracle is the second in a group of three. Jesus is passing by a place were beggars usually gather and the question about sin and his blindness is posed.

All the scholars I read point to both the social history and the scriptural interpretation of the time giving evidence that people believed that people's trials were punishment for sin. (We might remember Job's friends.)  Jesus answers that God's works are revealed in this man. The glory of God is revealed. John's Gospel repeats that the work of Jesus, who has come down from above, is here to glorify God. (see John 11:4, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”.)

The next verses remind us of the imagery of night and light explored last week and are ever present in this Gospel. We might remember that “I am the light of the world” parallels 8:12 where Jesus says: “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

Like many healing practices at the time of Jesus, he spits in the ground and makes mud. I believe here we see the remaking of humanity by God - the new genesis of life. John's Gospel is a new creation story and the image here of God remaking this man so that he may see and bear witness to the light is essential to the Gospel and the understanding of this pericope.

The people are divided and amazed and concerned. Our response to our remaking is clear though we are to “‘Give glory to God!’” This is the response and our work. We might look elsewhere in the scripture to understand the meaning of this. When we do we see that it is "a technical term meaning tell the truth! It is a formula used when people are to confess their sins. In Joshua 7:19, Joshua urges Achan: 'give glory to the LORD God of Israel and make confession to him'. See also 1 Samuel 6:5; Jeremiah 13:16; Acts 12:23 (Agrippa dies); Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:2. [BlkJn] [NOAB]" (Chris Haslaam's Clippings)

Of course the religious establishment wants none of this and so while they are astonished they react by blaming the blind man. This is a typical response from those in power to those who are left out of the system; this is surely his fault. The man who does not accept the authoritative version of the events is driven out of the synagogue.

The man returns to Jesus and begins a life of following - a life of discipleship. His witness, worship, and proclamation becomes his work. Just as God is revealed in the healing, we see at the end of the text that God is revealed through the man's discipleship. His ability to see, proclaim, and live in the light of the Lord is an important part of the story. Healing and being remade by Jesus Christ is only the first part of one's pilgrim journey. Our Lenten journey is a healing one. We are turning and remaking ourselves. Through various disciplines we are opening our eyes to see God's hand at work in the world and in our lives personally. This revelation brings us closer to God as we proclaim and bear witness to the light which is in the world. This is only part of our pilgrim way of lent though. The second half is to remake and reinvigorate our hands in the world. Like Jesus we are to get them muddy with the primordial clay of creation and be at work in the world around us. We are to be healers: proclaiming release from the powers that bind us and giving sight to the blind. In this way we participate in the kingdom of God that is becoming and is to come. We live with our eyes wide open to the emerging new creation and light which is already breaking in the world.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 5:8-14


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"Ephesians focuses heavily on discipleship: how we should live in light of the grace that has been given to us in Christ Jesus."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:8-14 (Lent 4A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings."

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

Our passage from Ephesians in many ways echoes the passage from John.  Paul tells the Epesians that they once could not see or understand who God was or the revelation of God in Christ Jesus - they lived in darkness.  Now because God has given them grace they can see a bit more clearly and live in the light.

Being able to comprehend and understand the way of Jesus comes after the saving act of Christ. It is a response to grace and mercy.  We often get it backwards believing that if we do the right things then we get God's love.  We have a kind of modern economic free economy view of God.  Paul is saying you are saved, you receive grace, you are now to respond. You are to live in the light and your desire is to respond to the grace by pleasing God.

What is pleasing to God?  Paul would reply as he does to the Ephesians:  "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"

Margaret Aymer in her commentary in Working Preacher writes:
Ephesians is an example of advice to communities trying to find a third way between the realities of Gentile paganism, the majority religiosity of the ancient world, and the church's foundation of monotheism. A majority of scholars hold that this letter is written by a pseudonymous author in place of Paul; if this is the case, then the primary struggle to bring together Jew and Gentile in Paul's early letters has been resolved and a new culture has been born, a culture that is an amalgamation of the two previous cultures. The author counsels his audiences to turn toward this culture rather than to be influenced by the external culture of the world around them, which the author calls "darkness." The advice, here, seems particularly aimed toward Gentiles who have become Christian, those more likely to be wooed back into the "mainstream" of life.

William Loader writes in his Blog:
To walk in the light is not to be naive. It is not about being happy. It is about owning a commitment to justice and embracing a stance of compassion for all human beings. We are still very good at hiding injustices or hiding ourselves from them to our shame. They extend from sexual abuse and exploitation to downright poverty and victimisation of the weak and disempowered. Our author mixes the images when he speaks of the fruit of light, but there is no mistaking what he means. 5:9 makes this clear. Light is goodness and justice and truth. It is not about knowledge or spiritual elevation or mystical ascent, as valuable as these may be.
Paul is clear.  You are part of a new family now.  As a member of God's family - as children of light - you are to resemble your Father who is in heaven.  This is neither a simple faith nor a one that is separated fully from the world. To be a member of God's family is to do the hard work of God. You are to bear light out into the world. You are to do justice and love mercy. You are to engage yet remember you are always and forever now God's.

Aymer warns that in choosing to preach this lesson we may "err" in preaching a simplified mystical faith for fear of engaging our cultural complexities; or we may so engage our cultural complexities that we miss the opportunity to preach the Gospel of the children of light.  Our challenge is forever and always to remember that there is a very creative edge in being in the world but not of the world.  The author of Ephesians, our Paul, is trying to shed a bit of light on that murky enmeshment.