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, July 21, 2014

Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +7 July 27, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Jesus’ parables, the words of St. Paul, and much of the Bible should serve as a reminder that when it comes to the enormity of God, God’s Kingdom, God’s Salvation, etc. we are not only merely privy to dim reflection—silhouettes—but a silhouette is all we can handle."
"Splashing Water on the Floor," Fr. Rick Morley, a garden path, 2011.


"In the Treasure parable, one's "treasure" (thesaurus in Greek) is an important metaphor in Matthew indicating where one's allegiance ultimately lies and its nature."
Commentary, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Good and generous God, fountain of all wisdom, in Christ you have revealed your kingdom to us, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price.  Grant us your Spirit's gift of discernment, that we may learn to distinguish aright between the passing wealth of this present world and the enduring value of your kingdom.  Then make us swift to renounce all else to acquire the treasure you alone can bestow. 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 13:31-52

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue with our parable teaching of Jesus this week.  It it good to remember that Matthew's Gospel account tells us of a number of Jesus' parables.

13.24-30 The weeds and wheat
13.44-6 The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price
13.47-50 The net
13.23-35 The unfaithful servant
20.1-16 The workers in the vineyard
21.29-32 The two sons
22.1-14 The marriage supper
25.1-13 The ten virgins
25.31-46 The last judgment
Together these are about the kingdom of God, and they helps us understand the urgency of following, the cost of following, the importance of not being divided along the way, and the need for preparedness.  The kingdom of God is at hand. We must be ready and we must be willing to make our journey not concerned about the cost nor our traveling partners!

This Sunday we read three of these: Hidden Treasure; Pearl of Great Price; and The Drag Net

Each begins in a similar manner: “The kingdom of Heaven is like.…” One of the interesting things is that none of this Sunday's material appears in any of the other Gospels; so this is a special Sunday that gives the preacher an opportunity to really grasp the Matthean Gospel message of kingdom and kingdom community.

The first image that Jesus gives us is that finding the kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which one will sell everything. Treasure was often hidden in fields.  We might remember the find in England called the Staffordshire Hoard. Found in 2009 you can read and watch the story by following the link above.  The treasure included 1500 pieces of Anglo Saxon treasure.  Unlike treasure buried in a tomb the scholars believe this treasure was buried for safe keeping.

We note that this parable presupposes that the kingdom is hidden, that it is not yet revealed to everyone.  This fits well with the thrust of the rest of the chapter. The Kingdom of God is breaking forth and not everyone either sees it or is able to live within it yet.  Not unlike previous parables the revelation of Jesus and God's kingdom is not perfectly clear to all…it can only be perceived by those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  We think immediately of Jesus as he returns to his home town:
54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The next parable is the one most often called the Pearl of Great Price.  The rawness of these three parable is so very like what most scholars believe would have been Jesus' teaching style.  Many presuppose that this is exactly how Jesus would have talked and would have taught those who followed him.  Not unlike the the parable of the treasure hidden in a field the meaning is similar.
Unlike the previous parable though we are challenged to ask the question: why does a merchant purchase a pearl?  Merchants purchase items to resell them.  So we have a spin on the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is for the pleasure of the finder. The pearl’s pleasure is in its sale.  We might say that the pearl becomes symbolically connected with the Gospel itself and the discipleship of giving away the grace received.

The last parable in our teaching is The Parable of The Drag-Net.  Perhaps like the wheat and the weeds we are being reminded once again that in the end the wicked and the righteous will be separated out.  I don't think that the preacher can get around the message here that Jesus, and likely his followers, saw a very tragic end of those who reject the Messiah.  This was rooted in their history and in the prophetic teachings they received.  This too is our understanding.  We believe as a church that there will be judgment in the end. The argument about who is saved and who is not is as old as the scriptures themselves.  Recently this argument has been ignited by the writings of N. T. Wright and Rob Bell.  Certainly we have our catholic faith which tells us there is judgement.  We have our own desire that tells us that we hope everyone is saved; in part because we worry about our own salvation and life lived.

It seems to me though that not unlike the message of the sower and the weeds we must ask ourselves about the net itself. Is our mission work like the drag net? Are we so working and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are encircling and bringing in such a bounty that there will be many saints and sinners caught by the kingdom of God and the Gospel we proclaim.  Certainly Jesus will do the sorting out (not us!) but is our net big enough? Are we strong enough to live as saints and sinners, as sinners and saints, shoulder to shoulder with a diverse community.  We might remember the other stories of nets in the Gospel...  Is our mission broad enough so that our net is about to break?

You see the parable of the drag net includes a Greek word: genos.  Before the parable is explained Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." (Every KIND, every genos.)  This word was most often used to mean race, nation, or tribe.  I would offer that before you spend a lot of time preaching about judgement the church as a whole could use a good dose of preaching on mission and that the parable of the drag net challenges us to be a church in mission.  Let us as a church mirror the culture around us in our diversity of race and language. Let each church represent the people in the neighborhoods around them.  Let each diocese be challenged to represent the people (in all their diversity) of the geography in which they have been planted.


"Without the future hope, God's present involvement in the lives of the suffering might amount to little more than a feeble expression of the company that misery loves."
Commentary, Romans 8:26-39, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"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.

God loves us and reconciles himself to us. He sets aside the result of the law in order to have us be together eternally.  We can see and hope in this very real adoption received by Christ's death and resurrection and marked upon us in baptism.  We know death is not final and that we will live with God eternally and that nothing can separate us from God's love. This has been the theme of Romans.  In our passage today Paul reminds us that we need help from the Spirit in order to navigate and live in the mean time.

We are limited both by our vision and because of our sinful broken nature.  We just can't seem to do the things we want to do and are forever doing the things we do not want to do.  For this reason the Spirit helps us.  God created us to love and respond to him.  God knew we would do this and and that we would need help.  Paul says this is part of the plan to which creation is following.  We are struggling and so the Spirit is sent to us to help us.

When we open ourselves up to God and God's love the Spirit intercedes where we are weak and gives us strength.  We are recreated in this world as preparation for the next. God is remaking us.  God is enabling us to be faithful...though we will surely fail again.  

So how do we know? How are we certain God will be successful?  Paul says God is for us, God has decided not to condemn us, and God has and is justifying us.  Christ Jesus who knows us in now with God. He himself is preparing a place for us. Christ Jesus is advocating for us and pleading our case.  God has come into the world and has returned and so knows us intimately and knows our struggles and our faithfulness.  

It is this reason, this presence of Christ Jesus with God, that assures our triumph and the certain hope of those things promised - our eternal adoption. Then Paul gives that wonderful few words that are some of the most comforting in all of scripture - especially for a sinner like me...
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what we may suffer in this life we will have victory because of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from God's love.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +6 July 20, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Perhaps there were some overzealous 'weeders' in Matthew's congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age."
Commentary, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 201l.

"Never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth!"
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
With a love both powerful and patient, O God you sustain the growth of the good seed your Son has planted. Let your word like a mustard seed, bear rich fruit within us, and like a little yeast, produce its effects throughout the whole church. Thus may we dare to hope that a new humanity will blossom and grow to shine like the sun in your kingdom when the Lord of the harvest returns at the end of the age.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 13:24-43

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We remember from our work on this chapter last week that Jesus has been surrounded by crowds and is teaching from a boat. He is teaching in parables as was his custom on many occasions; and was a traditional form of teaching and preaching. Perhaps not unlike our postmodern custom of preaching which weaves in cultural stories, narratives, movies, and prose.

The material in this cycle of teaching is unique to Matthew's Gospel and so may offer insight about the nature of his community.

The Greek indicates that this first story is about a householder with servants. He has fields and during the night while everyone is asleep an enemy comes and sows weeds into his perfectly good field. His servants are very concerned and want to pull up the weeds. He then says, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."

According to Leviticus 19.19 sowing weeds into the field makes the field ritually impure. As a number of scholars point out just gathering the weeds won't fix the problem.

So perhaps in keeping with the sowing of seeds which is also part of this chapter the kingdom of heaven is very different than the community of faith in Jesus' time which aimed at being pure. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the impure - the profane. Not unlike the sower who sows seeds with abandon; we see that the idea of where the community of God exists is in the world. That there is no separation in the world between the righteous and the unrighteous. That the mission of God is in the midst of the people of God (those actively participating in the kingdom and those who have not yet heard the Gospel).

We might be challenged then after reading the first parable in this sunday's lesson to ask ourselves: Do we have enough weeds in our field?

The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. This parable then continues to challenge our notion of the nature of the kingdom of God. First we have a kingdom which lives out its mission in the midst of weeds which is seen by the establishment as unclean and impure. Now we read that the kingdom of heave is a weed.

No one plants a field of mustard seed. It is voracious and chokes out all other growth. In fact it will blossom and bloom and spread to neighboring fields. It grows into a wild bush where many creatures inhabit and live.

We might be challenged then after reading the second parable to ask ourselves: As missionaries do we sow a Gospel that is voracious and weed like; in which many creatures may find shelter?

In the last parable Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” This is crazy! This parable of the kingdom is even wilder than the sower who sows with abandon; the farmer who allows the weeds into his field; or the farmer who grows mustard!

Think about this for a minute. The woman has yeast. She must remove it for the sabbath. This yeast (given the period of time) would have been much like a sourdough starter today. So she is going to mix the yeast in with flour and bake the bread thereby cleaning the house of all its impurity and insuring she does not do any work. She takes this starter and mixes it with "three measures of flour." A measure of flour in the first century was about 8.5 liters; or 36 cups. She has mixed this threefold meaning that she has mixed her yeast starter into 108 cups flour! This will mean that she will end up making about 18 loaves of bread. A loaf of bread would have cost a person a day's wages in Jesus time.

So the kingdom of heaven is like a mad baker! The parable of the yeast is not unlike the parable of the sower. The results is a multiplication of ample amounts.

We are challenged in this third parable to ask ourselves: is our mission proclamation of the Gospel kneading into the world around us copious amounts of yeast to bring forth a great bounty of bread for the world?

Is our Gospel proclamation providing the world around us enough bread that those who are hungry are fed?

The last portion of our text today is an apocalyptic interpretation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds.

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

I do think that one has to make a decision as the preacher how one is going to approach the text. Jesus himself teaches to the crowd and teaches to his closest followers. Will you preach to the wheat and the weeds both parts of this text?

I do think that the preacher needs to make some mention of the reality that the Gospel offers a vision of an end that includes judgement. How is that judgement to be explained.

The reality is that this pulls into the text the a Daniel (12.3) like prophetic vision of the end. Perhaps it is entombed in Jesus' time period and should be overlooked. But I think that we loose something if we don't also deal with accountability. I think that for Jesus and for Matthew's community the message is clear: the proclamation of the kingdom of God matters to God.

No matter what the end times are going to be like...no matter what judgment will be like...our work to sow the seeds, live in a mixed community, proclaim the gospel like a weed and leavening the world around us MATTERS to our God. This is our work and we believe it matters and is essential to life in a community that proclaims Jesus as Lord.

A Blessing
I like this blessing and thought I would share it with you as I think it ties into today's lesson. We have work to do and our footprints in the garden are short, there is community to embrace, a weed like Gospel to sow, and leaven to knead!

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more."

An Excellent Sermon by Martin Luther
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Matthew 13:24-30

A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1525.
[The following sermon is taken from volume II:100-104 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]

Matt. 13:24-30: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

1. The Saviour himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people. If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Saviour's object and understanding of it would have been lost.

2. Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm. Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly.

3. Now this Gospel teaches us how the kingdom of God or Christianity fares in the world, especially on account of its teaching, namely, that we are not to think that only true Christians and the pure doctrine of God are to dwell upon the earth; but that there must be also false Christians and heretics in order that the true Christians may be approved, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:19. For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. (Job 1:6).

4. Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified.

5. From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven.

6. Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people?

7. Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives.

8. In that the Saviour pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees who did it, he shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is a thousand miles away, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with Gods Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked.

9. Then the church and pastor marvel; but they are not allowed to pass judgment, and eagerly wish to interpret all for the best, since such persons bear the Christian name. But it is apparent they are tares and evil seed, have strayed from the faith and fallen to trust in works, and think of rooting out the tares. They lament because of it before the Lord, in the heartfelt prayer of their spirit. For the sower of the good seed says again, they should not uproot it, that is, they should have patience, and suffer such blasphemy, and commend all to God; for although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold, compared with the tares, as St. Paul also says in 1 Cor. 2:19: "For there must be false factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you." This is sufficient on today's text. 


"The inheritance is not a place or a gift or a reward, but God and God's glory. And God's glory is not golden shiny streets, but God's own being. The glow and glory of God is what we celebrate in God. Paul is saying: our hope is nothing other than to share in that life."
"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Whatever evil or suffering we face, we have the blessed assurance that God will see to the completion of our adoption, and nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."
Commentary, Romans 8:12-17 (Trinity B), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

God does not promise that now that we live in the Spirit that life will be easy, without difficulty, suffering or sin.  In fact we will encounter and experience all of these things. But life is changed, life is changed and we have hope because God has reconciled us already and our failings and sufferings cannot undo our salvation. Just as we cannot do anything to earn our salvation so too we cannot do anything to undo it.

Our reality is that now that we are Jesus followers and God fearers that we are debtors. We understand our current reality and God's love, grace, and mercy so we are people with a debt.  We now know what God has done and so we are grateful and our response to that gratitude is to live a life that mimics the one who has saved us.

Paul says that we may hope for reconciled life with God and do not despair over the finality of death which will have no hold upon us.  We are the new heirs of Abraham, we are God's children.  We are adopted by God and made heirs.  We are not like slaves who are mandated to do this or that and must fear the master.  Instead we gentiles, like our brothers and sisters of Israel, call God father because we are intimately connected as part of his family.  This is not a statement of maleness or the sex of God but rather an image of the intimate nature of our reconciled relationship with God.  What are the words you might use to describe this? Regardless of what you call it, we as followers of God in Christ Jesus have received union with God. This is a union that cannot be undone.  This adoption is finalized.

Paul then turns to the reality of the community in Rome; probably around 57 ad.  He recognizes and honors their suffering but also points out that this will fail in comparison to the glory which is to come at the end of life.  Sin is a terrible state and has grown in power and it has enslaved us and made us servants to a demanding and awful master.  The world is in bondage and is even now decaying.  But God is at work in and among us.  Everything is even now laboring with great pains toward the kingdom of God.  As Christians in Rome they are suffering and their suffering is part of these pains.  But we are to see that nothing will put an end to God's mighty work of recreating and reconciling the world.  We are enduring and hoping in things not seen because we know that God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +5 July 13, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"This is not about what good soil we are, and how well we understand the divine mysteries. This is about what God is doing in staggering numbers."
Preaching Matthew 13:1-9, Anna Carter Florence, Lectionary Homiletics sample.

"The parable of the careless sower, the miraculous harvest, the helpless, hapless seeds, or the good soil? Which brand name(s) do you prefer? Whichever one(s) you pick, 'let's hear something we've never heard before.'"
"Rebranding the Parable of the Sower," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


Creator God, unceasingly at work in the field of humanity sowing the good seed and awaiting its yield, let your Spirit move in power over us to transform our hearts into the good soil you seek. Then may your word bear fruit a hundredfold in our deeds of justice and peace, and thus reveal to a world that eagerly awaits its liberation the blessed hope and glorious freedom of your reign.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 13:1-23

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The setting for this parable is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. There are many people following Jesus now and they are pressing in on him. He is offering them something they are not receiving elsewhere. He is perhaps helping them see that the world does not have to be the way it is and that the reign of God is at hand. He is sharing with them his vision of the kingdom of God and inviting them to realize that the change begins in their own lives. This band of disciples and Jesus are living on the edge of the culture and of their faith but here they are finding companionship along the way. Herein on the Sea of Galilee they are finding that perhaps there are many who feel they live on the edge.

As the people press in on Jesus he gets in a boat and begins to teach them from this place. One can imagine the people sitting along the edge amidst fishermen repairing their nets and boats. They sit and stand and listen.

Jesus chooses a very pastoral parable. Parables of course are stories with many possible meanings. Martin Luther said that one must depend upon the Holy Spirit to open their deep meaning to the person listening. Jesus even says:

The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

It is probably worth spending a little time this Sunday teaching about what parables are and the nature of them. Many people have heard them, but most people don't really know what they are; how many they are; or that they were a natural part of teaching during Jesus time.

The text is divided into two parts. The first is the actual teaching, and the the explanation of the teaching. Both are important and both have their place, but I would suggest to you that you must choose to deal with Jesus' parable or Jesus' teaching of the parable.

Let us simply go over the teaching of the parable by Jesus first. Certainly people in Jesus time were more connected with their food sources and where their food comes from. Unlike us today, most of them would have had small gardens. Certainly there was a growing dependance upon farmers, but unlike the industrial age when we see whole economies depend upon foreign food production, people in the time of Jesus all farmed a little. So it is easy to understand his teaching. The sowers sows the seed this is the good news. The ground is us. We can be fruitful or not. We can be like the hard ground, the rocks, or the thorns. We can let birds come and gather it up. These are hard times and much can happen. Here is what Jesus says:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


I think those gathered around Jesus heard this parable and thought about God. Perhaps some of the more religiously astute remember the prophecy of JEroboam from 1 Kings 14:7-11. In this story the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam that because he abandoned God and worshipped false Gods that he and his household will suffer for their evil ways and and that the birds of the air will peck at them upon their death. It is the same for King Baasha. So there was some understanding by the population that this birds of the air was not a good thing at all!

It is not a difficult thing to think that God is the sower, receive the good news and reign of God and don't let anything happen to it...nurture it...water it...and for goodness sakes be good ground. At the end of the day if every one of our people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning got that much (be good earth for the Gospel) we would be off to a grand start.

I think there is more there though that is worth looking at and going a little deeper. Here we see that listening and doing are important and key to discipleship work.

A disciple is not one who abandons the quest.
A disciple is not one who listens lightly and then returns to his life as though nothing has changed.
A disciple is one who will be persecuted for their faith.and if not prepared the Gospel will not have rooted itself deep enough o withstand pressure to relent.

These are some key discipleship thoughts. I am interested though in what happens when we take Jesus' last words here and return to the parable to hear it again for the first time.

Jesus says, "But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Does the one who hears, who understands it, then bears fruit not in turn like the sower. A fruit tree itself is a sower of fruits and seeds. They fall and land every which way. The fruit tree produces a hundredfold. Yet all of it does not grow new fruit trees just like the original sower of seeds. In this way the disciple becomes like the master, the assistant gardener like the master gardener.

In this way the human being who was created to be God's partner in the garden, tending and walking with God in the end of the day is restored. The disciple returns to the work we were originally created to undertake. We are to be, like Jesus, sowers of the seeds of the kingdom of God. We are to sow with abandonment. We are to sow in all kinds of places. We are to not worry about what grows up but it is the production of fruit and the propagation of the Gospel that is essential.

In our work places, in our homes, in our families you and I are to bear the fruit of the Gospel. Which for Jesus is very clear. We are to be the family of God. We are to care for young and old, rich and poor, the powerless and the powerful. We are to bring all to a closer knowledge of God and of his son Jesus Christ. We are to so proclaim the Good News that those around us find the transformation they are seeking.

If we are to go deeper...if we are to go beyond a gnostic understanding of this gospel text where some get it and others don't...then we ourselves must become sowers of the Gospel seed.


One flew off in the belly of a bird.
One sprang up, but withered fast.
One choked by thistles, or so I've heard.
One gained a hundred when it was cast.

Come hear the wise old story
Of a sower and his seed.
He flung it far to fall,
Then battled bird and weed.
Some seed sprouted quickly,
Then withered in the sun--
But some seed fell upon good soil,
And repaid the work he'd done.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
\Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Sun and rain and time pass by,
And what was sown awakes.
First the blade, then the bud,
Then full ear it makes.
Come now golden harvest,
We'll reap what we have sown.
Seed once watered by our tears
Will be glad sheaves brought home.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves.
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves,
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

2002 by Skip Johnson


"...To hear, that is, that no matter what we've done or has been done to us, no matter what we may have previously heard or presently believe, God is not angry with us. To hear that God loves us, forgives us, accepts us as we are, and sets us free to live lives of meaning, purpose, grace, and gratitude."
"What Willl You Do...?" David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.
"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.

Last week we talked about the two ways of being in the world - living by the law, living by the grace of God knowing you will fail to keep the law. In this passage Paul talked about the conflict between the exterior doing self and the inner believing self.

In this passage Paul continues his thinking by laying out that something is simply wrong in our inner being - in our mind - our will.  We seem (while we are created to be God's creatures) to be unable to do what God wills. We are sinful and we are somehow broken.  Our flesh, Paul offers, seems to do bad things quite naturally.  

This being true we are grateful to God that there is no ultimate condemnation for these mistakes.  100% forgiveness.  This is true Paul says, because God's Spirit, through God's action in baptism, has freed us from death.  Nothing we do has done this...God has done it all. God has loved us so much that God came into the world.  God in the world, reaching out to us in perfect love, dies because of our sin. We do what we do...we kill love, forgiveness, and mercy.  God is faithful to us and does not raise a hand against us but heals and serves us and changes the equation.  God suffers what we give in return and dies in accordance with the law and our will.  God then redeems the whole situation through resurrection - forever reconciling us with God and with one another.

Paul then illustrates that even still there remains two mindsets which struggle against one another - the one focused upon ourselves and the other which is focused upon God.  The first is rooted in the law and leads to death; the second is a life lived in gratitude and leads to eternal life.  Those who follow Jesus are the ones who are living in the spirit and therefore will not die but have life eternal.  

God's spirit is with us - even to the end of the ages - and when we live in gratitude to the mighty work of God we be living in the spirit and have life abundantly.  This is the only way one has life.  The truth is that as humans we live believing that everything else will bring us happiness and eternal life. We believe all else will provide life abundantly - but in the end - the truth is clear - none of it brings gratitude and life.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Proper 9A/Ordinary 14A/Pentecost +4 July 6, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery."

Commentary, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"In the end, I am tempted to the same kind of apathy and indifference as the people in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. The problems are too big, too complicated, other people don't seem to be as bothered as I am, so why don't I get on about my business and fish?"

"Are You Paying Attention, Capernaum?" Tod Weir, Bloomingcactus, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


To the childlike, O God, you reveal yourself, and on those who are meet and humble of heart you bestow the inheritance of your kingdom.  Set our hearts free from every burden of pretension and refresh our weary souls with the teaching of Christ, that with him we may shoulder the gentle yoke of the cross, and proclaim to everyone the joy that comes from you. 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 11:16-30

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

There are several sections to this reading; and in fact many will only read portions of the whole series.
The first section begins with the end of a discourse on John the Baptist (11:16-19). The second section is made up of a prophecy of "woe" (11:20-24). Then we have a series of praises to God for his revelation (11:25-30).

We know that John is Jesus precursor, that he decreases as Jesus influence and power increases, and we know that John's career runs parallel with Jesus. This framework gives way in the end to our text today wherein it is clear that Jesus' work and mission is not being responded to and our verses this Sunday offer a key crossroads for the community. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, vol 2, 294ff)
16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
For those hearing Jesus they have a decision to make will they follow Jesus or John the baptist. For those hearing Matthew's Gospel there is some question as to whether they will follow Jesus or the old ways of their community. For us today we stand at a perpetual crossroads in our daily life, in our communications, and in our relationships wherein we are challenged to follow Jesus.  We are not given a utilitarian outlook on life when we choose to follow and love Jesus. We are changed by the Gospel and changed by those whom God embraces.  When we embrace and choose the path of Jesus we are choosing a more difficult yet very interesting road.

The next section is a prophecy from Jesus about what happens when we do not respond.
21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
The last section is a section that deals with a thanksgiving to God for revelation. I found it interesting in Allison and Davies commentary to read these words, "...11:25-30 is a capsule summary of the message of the entire gospel."  This passage is as important a text as John 3.16 - famously known as the Gospel in miniature: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.."

In this passage Jesus is clear:
  1. He is the one who is responsible for revelation to the family of God who are in their infancy growing into the discipleship community they were created to be.
  2. He is the meek and humble one (fulfilling the sermon on the mount's blessings) - he is the servant of Israel; he is the Messiah.
  3. He is the embodiment (the Word made flesh) of both the law (he is the righteous one) and wisdom (he is the revealer).
  4. He has come to make know and to act out the perfect will of God, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It is interesting how our 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and our Rite One service use these two passages together.
They both reveal to us who Jesus is and who we are called to be. His message is profoundly different than that of the baptist; it is for both the old and the new Israel. In this manner we remember the mosaic motif of the evangelists words in describing Jesus and his ministry. He is the one who reveals God's holy law to us and it is similar to the law revealed by moses and it is given to us on a mount not unlike Moses' own delivery. Jesus, like Moses continues the tradition of righteousness and wisdom inherited from the great mosaic tradition. Matthew is clear Jesus is the living word that revealed to Moses the law; now in the flesh he fulfills it. But the new Israel is an expanded version of the old. There is more to it, not in that it is new to God, but rather that it is new to us. In Jesus the purposes of God are more fully revealed. We are to learn and study that with Jesus provides for us but we are to be meek as we become more fully aware of this revelation and we are to be transfigured and transformed by our experience of this revelation.
Not unlike the Matthean Gospel in miniature we are to live out the revelation of Jesus Christ and become the discipleship community creation was intended to bring forth.We are to be servants of all if we are friends of Jesus. We are the meek. Our lives and relationships are to be different than those around us for the purpose of God's revelation. The words we receive we are to proclaim and enact for others, receiving the weary, carrying their heavy burdens, giving others rest. We are to take Jesus' yoke and to learn and while being humble and gentle we are to help others find rest for their souls.


"The tone of these chapters is reflective, meditative. Yet, no portion of the epistle is more challenging to understand than these four chapters."

Commentary, Romans 7:15-25a, Marion L. Soards, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Paul's dilemma is the human dilemma -- all of us struggle in the battle between good and evil, right and wrong choices, thoughts and actions."

"The Blame Game," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

So lets take a look at Romans.  Paul has been setting up this conversation over the last two readings and today it becomes a bit clearer to understand if not a bit more difficult to undertake.  There are essentially two ways of being in the world.

The first way of being is the old way. This is the way of the law.  The problem with the law is that because of sin humans are constantly breaking it. In point of fact humans cannot keep the law fully; the only thing that one can expect for sure from a life lived by the law is a life of sin and continuity in its breaking.  What this means is that humanity is therefore dependent upon God to help reconcile them.  This dependence comes from the understanding that without God's intervention humanity, a community of law breakers, will have no spiritual life upon their death.

The second way of being in the world is the way provided by God in Christ Jesus.  This other way of making our way in the world is attained through the sacrament of baptism, where in we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By doing so we have life in Christ Jesus.  This new reality formed in the grave and redeemed means that upon our death we too will be raised like Jesus.  The craziness is that after baptism death brings life - instead of simply death.

Paul then explains that the problem here is not the law itself - important to understand - but it is humanity who is at fault.  Here is how it works.  Humans live in constant tension between their action and their inner self - the mind or will.  Humans desire good and to be good; they desire to live by he law.  As creatures we are created to live by God's ways explains Paul.  YET, and it is a big yet, humans understand that what they do is not what they will to do. There are many things you can will yourself to do and still fail to do them.  I bet you and I could come up with several things right now on our list of "I will do but don't do."  This is sin - that I do the things I do not wish to do - no matter how hard I will it.  Paul says this is sin.  You and I can will ourselves to obey God but in the end we just aren't very good at overcoming the sin that is in us.

This is a key element in theology because what it offers is that humanity is not going to get better - we are continually going to be at war with ourselves and one another. We will do things we should not do and we will leave things undone which we should have done. We will hurt others, hurt ourselves, and even allow others to hurt others on our behalf.  

We might well remember that this does not negate our action to try and be different; this does not negate our response to God's grace, love, and mercy.

Paul is highlighting for us that we are utterly dependent upon God to save us. We are dependent upon God in Christ Jesus to forgive us. We are dependent upon God to be a power greater than ourselves to restore order and sanity into our lives. Our response to this sorry state of affairs and God's salvation is true gratitude.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Proper 8A/Ordinary 13A/Pentecost +3 June 29, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them?" 

Commentary, Matthew 10:40-42, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

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

"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

 
General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Pour forth into our hearts, strong and faithful God, the wisdom and daring of your Spirit, that we may take up the cross and follow Christ, willing to lose our lives for his sake and to manifest to the world the hope of your kingdom. 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 10:40-42

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

It is important when reading this text that we read the word which come just before as they are intimately tied together; the one giving way to the other.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
There was in the Jewish tradition of the day an understanding that in the last days of "tribulation" households would be divided. This is the reality of the time.  Allison & Davies write, "The absence of peace and the presence of the sword is a sign of the great tribulation. And it is in this great tribulation that the Matthean church must carry on its mission." (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 219ff)

Our text for Sunday expands upon this theme bridging and fully quoting Micah 7.6.
4The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. 5Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; 6for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.
Here too it is important to read what comes next in Micah's prophecy to understand the fullness of the words that Jesus is speaking to his followers.  Micah proclaims
7But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 8Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.
Just as Micah looks to the Lord for guidance in the time of trial; so too the disciples must look upon the Lord and upon his example and come after him.  In a time of division one can not look for allies in the field but rather to be allied with Christ.  "For Matthew, the cross is, as 10.39 makes plain, the outstanding symbol of self-denial."  (Allison & Davies, 221)  Central throughout the Gospel the cross is this profound moniker of discipleship.  This text is universally attributed to Jesus. Irenaeus in Adv. Haer. 4.5.4 wrote: Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood, follow Him (The Word)."

The purpose of the this challenge and call is linked not to violence but rather to service.  The disciples are to engage selflessly to Christian service.  This may include death as it certainly did for many martyrs.  But it is also about justice, food, clothing, and all of human life.  When one orients one's life to Jesus one chooses something more profound than a utilitarian manner of life which serves ego and bodily desires and hungers as the primary source for direction.  It is a profoundly different way of thinking about life. Rather than making a life based upon one's doubts, fears, or suspicions, one is choosing to affirm the life of Jesus and to choose intentional to try and live out a life which reflects the glory of God and immolates Jesus and his compassion and blessings for others.

To choose to live life as a follower of Jesus means to give meaning to one's existence. It is to live the life we were created to live: loving, caring, and creating community one with another.

Our mission is the mission of Jesus as so clearly stated in the Gospel of Matthew and exemplified by Jesus in Chapter 9.  We are to go about all the cities and villages. We are to gather people and teach.  We are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God out in the world.  We are to be about the work of healing people's lives, their hearts, and their bodies. We are to have compassion on all we find out there, or who walk through our doors. Jesus says to all those who would do this work and come after him, taking up their cross, and denying themselves: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask teh Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  (9.35-38 and 10.5-15)

We are given authority by God to do this work. (10.1)

We are sent out in the midst of crisis and a time of fear and injustice. (10.16ff)

We are to be like the teacher and have no fear and to live our Christian lives out in the open (10.26f)

This is our work.

Now that the missionary message is clear Jesus turns his attention to teaching about welcoming missionaries.  Returning again to Allison & Davies:
Those who welcome the eschatological messengers of Jesus in effect welcome Jesus himself and gain for themselves reward.  With this thought, which makes the decision for or against the missionaries equivalent to the decision for or against Jesus..." (225)
With these words Matthew closes Jesus' discourse on the life of discipleship and what it means to place one's mind on heavenly things even in the midst of living in this world.  The kingdom and reign of God is possible in this place. We are able to fulfill our purpose if we are courageous and deny that which "draws us from the love of God."  In some way we are challenged to make a decision about what the purpose of the earth and our place upon it holds within the schema of God's action.

Not unlike Joshua who chooses to follow the Lord, Christians make a decision that the purpose of creation is to fulfill God's will, and that we are to join in that work proactively and intentionally.Our work is not a utility that serves me, or to make life smooth and easy, but is to serve the utility of God. Jesus reminds us, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Mtt 6.24)

Take up your cross and follow me.

Some Thoughts on Romans 6:12-23


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The passage reminds us that we are still vulnerable to sin and death, post-baptism. And so the issue becomes: which slavery do we want--slavery to sin that leads to death or slavery to Christ that leads to life?"

Commentary, Romans 6:12-23, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Christ followers in Africa, Asia and Latin America have no problem with the Christian metanarrative. The way they read the Bible leads to the marriage of word and deed, faith and action. Why do their churches look and act so different from churches in the West?"

"Slave Wages," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

We continue this week reading through Romans. We might remember that Paul has been clear with his readers that baptism has given them a new life.  Even though humanity continue to try and use the law to be close to God all that did was empower false rulers and religious leaders. The law simply made it even more difficult for reconciliation between God and man to occur.  So God responds by loving even more - this is grace.

BUT, while they have this new life and sin/death are forever beaten by Christ and his cross - we are still subject to sin.  We are still going to be tempted and we will even fall to our passions.  But we must be focused upon the life that is in us - this righteousness.  Sin will not win the day - rather - Jesus' death and our baptism will prevail.  

He then returns to this idea of lawlessness. Can we do whatever we like? Nope.

He uses then the image of ancient slavery to explain the ways in which we make our course through the world.  You cannot serve two masters he says...you can only serve the one or the other - life or death.  You are now, through your baptisms, servants or slaves (people bound to) God.  This bounded-ness to God is unbreakable and our hearts in thanksgiving for salvation seek to respond.

Paul says...look you were focused on the wrong things, things that didn't bring you life or liberty.  You payment for serving these things and these other masters was death. Now God frees you. God frees you to a new life without death.  God invites you to respond and to serve a different master.
I think we have to be very careful as we work through this passage given our western history with slavery.  But like our brothers and sisters in other cultures we should not shy away from speaking about how God frees us and we have an opportunity to respond. We should proclaim the reality that God's grace and love has forever linked us to the divine life and that there is nothing we can do to escape it.  And, should we wish to speak on how the meta narrative offers an ethical life - then engage by all means. But be clear that the narrative is not one that invites a new slavery to a new law which serves the empowerment of men and women and society.  Instead our ethical work is the just and proper use of creation, the freedom of captives, the visitation of the sick, the clothing and sheltering of the poor.  We have a new life of response to God's grace and that is to BE God's grace in the world.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Proper 7A/Ordinary 12A/Pentecost +2 June 22, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think



"We all know how to lose our life so that it is lost. The trick is to figure out how to lose one's life so that it will be found. And the key to that mystery is to lose our life for Jesus' sake. For Jesus' purpose, aim, or end."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew Matthew10:24-39 David Ewart, 2011.

"...Reconcilers must remind themselves moment to moment to stay grounded in God's love. Remember just how much and how unconditionally God loves and values you, and you won't be thrown off-center by anyone's attempts to make you feel as worthless as they do. Remember just how powerful God's love is to heal, and you won't have to flee from things that remind you of your own vulnerabilities and wounds."

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 7. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Prayer written by pastor Kurt Struckmeyer on discipleship:

God of love,
source of mercy and compassion,
weave your dream for the world
into the fabric of our lives.


Remove the scales from our eyes
and lift the indifference from our hearts,
so that we may see your vision –
a new reign of justice and compassion
that will renew the earth.

Transform our lives,
so that we may accomplish your purpose.

Anoint us with your Spirit
that we might bring good news to the oppressed,
bind up the brokenhearted,
and proclaim release to the captive.

Give us a new urgency
and a new commitment
to feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
shelter the homeless,
and visit those who live in isolation.

Help us to reach out to those
whom no one else will touch,
to accept the unacceptable,
and to embrace the enemy.

Surround us with your love,
fill us with your grace,
and strengthen us for your service.

Empower us to respond to the call of Jesus –
to deny ourselves,
to take up our crosses,
and to follow.

Make us your disciples.

Amen


Some Thoughts on Matthew 10:24-39

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This week we move back in time in Matthew's gospel.  Jesus is preparing his disiciples to carry on his ministry of proclaiming the Good News of salvation.  He is here in Matthew's Gospel portrayed as wise teacher and also as a master of creation.  Remember in Matthew's Gospel Jesus is about the work of remaking all of creation.  The disciples, those both intimately connected and those loosely affiliated, are near him to learn - they are his students.  In-turn, as we read last week, they are to take on his mission.  

The great commission which begins our readings for the summer last week is the cornerstone and lens for all that is to follow.  

Those who follow Jesus though, while continuing the mission, are not to be like the authorities and teachers of the world. They are not to set themselves over and against others, but rather to be as guides.  There is a lot to learn after all.  

This form of ministry is very scary to the religious teachers and authorities of the day and they are even calling him names.  Jesus is clear - don't be scared. The love and mercy of God that is even now remaking the world will reveal in time the reality of these efforts and how they are not any good.  Don't worry about those who are against you - be focused on the work before you.  Everything will be revealed.

Jesus then interprets scripture for them. He uses a verse from Micah 7.6.  This was a prophecy that told the ancient Hebrews that society which is not of God and destroys the creatures and people of God is not only unholy but it is passing.  The gospel will prevail.  

Setting up next weeks passage we are told this Gospel of mercy and love will have repercussions. People will be against you.  You though must be clear. You must follow and be loyal to the call you have been given. You are already participating in part in a kingdom that is gaining its foothold in the world.

It is hard today to see the hope in some of this...  Yet here it is. God's mission will prevail. God's kingdom will win the day. Love, mercy, kindness, healing, feeding, clothing, sheltering, and caring are the eternal revelatory truths of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus.  Anything that looks like something else probably is...

It is true that nothing will undo this mission.  Even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mtt 16)  I believe that what is falling away in the church today is the parts of it that do nor reflect this new creation.  It isn't that the kingdom of God or the church is dying but rather the human misrepresentation that has more in common with the religious institutions of Jesus' day is continuing its ever dying dance. 
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"Lesslie Newbigin once said that if you do not see the kingdom it?s because you are facing the wrong direction."

"Dying to Live," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

"When he spoke of what happened to him on the Damascus Road, Paul never knew whether to call it being born or being killed. In a way, it felt like both at the same time. Whatever it was, it had something to do with letting go."

"Letting Go Down Here," William Willimon, The Christian Century, 1986. AtReligion Online.

This passage from Romans is a classic conversation between the Romans and the Protestants even today!  In fact I was engaged in just such a conversation not two weeks ago.  Paul is clear God is a lover of humanity and creation. God gives us grace, grace, grace.  Christ's death was a final blow that released grace into the world freely.  Grace has a simple equation in Paul's writings: the more there is sin the more grace abounds!  This is good news my friends...this is THE GOOD NEWS.

So Paul says, rhetorically, so does this mean that we can or should sin even more in order to receive grace?  We need to remember that one of the charges against early Christians and their communities was that they were lawless.  This argument posed would certainly lead to lawlessness.  Paul's answer to himself is "of course not."  

He then makes it clear that through baptism we die to sin and become inextricably linked to Christ's death and his resurrection.  We are raised by God and we are made to walk in the world around us in new life.  Paul is clear that as we rise up into this new life we are to respond to God's grace with (what one scholar called) "conscience-based ethical conduct."  We would not want or desire to respond intentionally to God's love, mercy, and grace with behavior other than that which builds up the body of Christ and reflects well upon the God who saved us.

I believe that Paul was clear to himself - new life means new behaviors. Just as death with Christ is given so is life and so our lives will reflect this new behavior - our lives will look like the life of Jesus.  I think Chris Haslaam of Canada does an excellent job of capturing the Gospel of Paul as laid out in Romans with this "cliff notes version":

Just as we have been grafted on to Christ in his death, so we too will share with him through a resurrection like his (v. 5). We know that we ceased to be dominated by sin and divine wrath (“our old self”, v. 6) when we were baptised. This removed the effects of our waywardness, our enslavement to sin, but makes us ethically responsible for our actions. This is what baptism does (v. 7). Dying with Christ also includes living with him. Because Christ has risen, he will “never die again” (v. 9) – this is unique, once-for-all-time act, an anticipation of the age to come. And then the answer to the question in v. 2: Christ “died to sin” in the sense that sinless, he died rather than disobey the Father, and in the context of a sinful world. He was raised by the Father (v. 4) in order that he might live “to God” (v. 10, as he has always done.) So, as Christ is the model for our lives, and it is he upon whom our lives are grafted, we too must leave sin behind and be “alive to God” (v. 11) in Christ.
The miracle of life with Christ is that though we are never free from sin we are always one step away from complete forgiveness because our God continues to reach out to us with Grace.  Paul believes that those who follow Jesus will live an intentional life - though a grace filled one.  Moreover, that the grace received is the grace in-turn offered to all those whom we meet. We like Christ are to be forgiving and grace filled vessels in the world.  It is not enough to live a life full after baptism it is to reflect and be grace agents int he world around us - ultimately, enabling others to discover their grafted-ness into the life of God in Christ Jesus.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Trinity A (Pentecost +1) June 15, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...if we want our people to get excited about, rather than feel guilty because of, the Great Commission, we need to commit to reclaiming Sunday worship and preaching as the God-given time in which to rehearse and practice the skills essential to Christian living..."

"Reclaiming the Great Commission," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"This is such an important text in the context of Matthew's gospel that there is a danger that its use on Trinity Sunday will lead to too much focus on its tenuous links with the Trinity, so I want to start with the passage itself. It has enormous significance as the climax of the gospel, drawing together major themes of the gospel..."

First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary, Trinity A. William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

St. Patrick's Breastplate


I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Translation: Cecil Frances Alexander


Some Thoughts on Matthew 28:16-20
[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

As so many of you know I the doctrine of the Trinity is the primary doctrine that informs my theology and ministry.  So, I was struck by William Loader's comment, "This is such an important text in the context of Matthew's gospel that there is a danger that its use on Trinity Sunday will lead to too much focus on its tenuous links with the Trinity..."  This sense of the importance of pausing and re-engaging the text in a fresh was was reinforced by these words from the Matthean scholar Warren Carter, "The scene has significant Christological elements. It is the risen Christ who commissions the disciples."  (Matthew and the Margins, 549)  So let us look again at this passage with fresh eyes and seek the testimony being proclaimed by Matthew.

Let me begin by relying heavily on Allison and Davies (Matthew, vol III, 687):

"28.16-20, which was so important to William Carey and the nineteenth-century Protestant missionary movement, is from the literary point of view, perfect, in the sense that it satisfyingly completes the Gospel: we cold hardly improve upon it.  Nothing is superfluous, yet nothing more could be added without spoiling the effect.  The grand denouement, so consonant with the spirit of the whole Gospel because so full of resonances with earlier passages, is, despite its terseness, almost a compendium of Matthean theology:
Galilee fulfils the prophecies in 26.32 and 28.7 and creates a literary arch with 4.12 that spans the Gospel
Mountain recalls other mountain scenes, especially 4.8 (where Jesus refuses to accept from the devil what he will later accept from the Father) and ...(where Jesus gave them commands.) 5.1
They worshipped him, but some doubted has been foreshadowed by 14.31-3
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me echoes 11.27 as well as a prophecy (Dan 7.13-14) which Jesus has elsewhere applied to himself (24.30; 26.64); it further brings to completion the theme of Jesus' kingship (1.1; etc)
Make disciples reminds one of 13.52 (cf 27.57)
All the nations terminates the prohibition of 10.5-6 (cf 15.24) and announces the realization of the promise made to Abraham (cf 1.1; also Gen 12.3; 18.18; 22.18)
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit' in connexion with baptism reminds one of chapter 3, where the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Spirit descends
Teaching recapitulates a central theme and gives the disciples a task heretofore reserved for Jesus
All that I have commanded you is a sweeping retrospective of all Jesus has said and done
I am with you always forms an inclusio with 1.23 and is similar to 18.20
The end of the age is a phrase used earlier (13.39, 40, 49; 24.3) and puts one in mind of Jesus' teachings about the end
...The climax and crown of Matthew's Gospel is profoundly apt in that it invites the reader to enter the story: 28.16-20 is an open ended ending.  Not only does v.20a underline that the particular man, Jesus, has universal significance, but 'I am with you always' reveals that he is always with his people.  The result is that the believing audience and the ever-living Son of God become intimate.  The Jesus who commands difficult obedience is at the same time the ever-graceful divine presence.
One can not more clearly see the power of the ending of Matthew's Gospel; it is almost and exclamation point to the driving force of the narrative.  Such connections can often only be seen when one reads the text in one sitting as so many people now are doing.  (This is a great Advent event which I cannot more strongly recommend!)

The literary import of this passage is very interesting. But so are the words of Jesus that all are sent (doubters in the midst of the believers).  That we who find ourselves in different places along the Way are invited into the missionary work of God for God's people.

We used this passage this week as our bible passage for the Executive Board of our diocese.  One of the people in my group had a wonderful saying.  He invited us to consider and hold precious our doubts, wrestle with them, and seek enlightenment; however, he challenged that we not stand on doubt as the guiding principle of life or the guiding principle of following Jesus.  We are challenged to make the Way and Jesus the road map of our faith pilgrimage along with the doubts that come as conversation partners along the journey.

Warren Carter wrote:
The small, minority, marginal community of disciples is commissioned to nothing less than worldwide mission in proclaiming obedience to Jesus and his teaching.  But this mission is carried out in a dangerous and resistant world as the passion narrative and the immediately prior scene in 28:11-15 have made clear.  There are rivals for human loyalty, who are, like this gospel's vision, intolerant of other claimants.  There are competing understandings of what God and/or the gods want from humans.  Post-70 Judaism struggles with diverse visions of its future without the Jerusalem temple, but many do not find the Matthean vision convincing.... [Jesus announcement and commissioning] calls people to recognize God's sovereignty as "Lord of Heaven and earth" (11.25).  And it proclaims that God's purposes are supreme. The future is not that of eternal Rome, but of God's just and life-giving empire established over all (chs. 24-25).  It is to this mission that the community of disciples is again sent by the one who claims "all authority in heaven and earth." (Matthew and the Margins, 550ff)
We are the inheritors of this mission. We have received it from all the mothers and fathers and grandparents who dared to give us the expectation and opportunity of faith. We have received it from as a sacramental blessing from all the priests and deacons who have given countless ours at the altars of God and at the altar of our dining room tables.  We are inheritors from the apostles who have gone before us: Wimberly, Payne, Benitez, Richardson, Hines, Quin, Kinsolving, and Gregg.  We are inheritors of this sacred journey from saints who with a Mother Teresan mixture of faith and doubt have paved the imperial road of God's kingdom for our pilgrim journey.

What blessings are bestowed upon us; to be brought into the divine community by Jesus Christ, commissioned and handed the privilege of serving as a missionary in God's plan. 

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 13:5-14


"Genitives aside, verse 13 provides ample opportunity to rehearse the history of salvation: Christ who brought grace, God who loves, and the Spirit that creates the church and in whom believers live and serve."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Fred Gaiser, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Paul has expanded a traditional farewell to make it match a situation where community and compassion was largely missing."

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

I wrote my masters thesis on the Trinity - specifically on Johnathan Edwards' vision of the Trinitarian God in and through creation. I love the Trinity! I love Trinitarian theology!  But we will ruin preaching on this passage if we force Trinitarian thinking into it...so lets take another look.

While last week's reading from Paul had a bit more Trinitarian thinking buried within it - this does not. As scholar Matt Skinner wrote,
... it does not adequately express the affirmations and nuances of the classical Trinitarian doctrine that was formulated in the centuries after Paul lived.  Notice that 2 Corinthians 13:13 (which appears as 13:14 in some versions, such as the TNIV and RSV) explicitly names just two Persons of the Godhead, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. A strictly Trinitarian expression would not assume that "the love of God" was fully equivalent to "the love of the Father." Also, Paul's ordering differs from the traditional Trinitarian sequence of Father, Son, and Spirit. All this is to acknowledge that Paul--as demonstrated not only here but also in the rest of his letters--was not himself "Trinitarian," as Christian doctrine came to understand the term and its implications. His aim was hardly to define God and God's nature in precise, abstract categories.
What happens when we get tangled in the Trinitarian knot by our liturgical reading cycle is that we miss a great opportunity to preach on Paul's actual message. 

Paul is dealing with a deeply divided community at war with itself.  Like many churches today (denominational and nondenominational) they are dividing and acting most un-church like!  Paul's message of unity and community is essential in understanding how the ancient church grew and became the global church of Jesus followers with many shapes and kinds in every part and corner of the world.  

What Paul is saying is this - God, the creator of all things, is the God of grace and love and mercy.  This is the foundation of community and community life together.

Paul challenges them to live together in harmony.  He tells them to restore order and peace.  Be the people of love, mercy, and grace that God has called you to be.  Paul is certain and clear - you are to share the grace you have received with ALL people.  You are not the sorting hat of God.  Paul lays out a litmus test for Corinth and for Christians today.  If you are a God fearer and Jesus follower then you will indiscriminately share the grace we received, leading us to love God and to have that same love flow into community.   

As it says in the Madeline books, "That is all there is, there isn't any more." All the rest is extra, all the rest is where humanity gets into trouble.  All the rest is how the church as community has routinely made a mess of a perfectly good creation!