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.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)


Monday, November 23, 2015

Advent 1C November 29, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...this week’s passage is peculiar and hard and odd and wonderful because it announces to us a promise that itself is peculiar and hard and odd and wonderful, a promise, that is, that is big enough to save us."

"A Promise Big Enough to Save Us," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"We turn the page to start the new calendar of our church year, whisper a prayer of thanks and hope, roll up our sleeves and get back to work."

"Raise up your heads," Melissa Bane Sevier, Contemplative Viewfinder, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Eternal God, ever faithful to your promises, hasten that long-awaited day when you will establish justice in the land.  LIft from our hearts the weight of self-indulgence, and strengthen us for holiness. Amid chaos and confusion, let your people stand secure. Raise our heads to greet the redemption that is drawing near, the coming of our Lord Jesus Chrsit with all his saints.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 21:25-36
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Moreton Bay Fig Tree
Stay awake and be alert. This is the message of Advent, and this is Jesus' message to his followers in Luke's Gospel reading this Sunday.  This week we begin Advent a season of preparation wherein Christians globally make themselves ready for the coming of the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus. We also begin a new year of new readings and this year we will be focusing upon Luke's Gospel; as always peppered intermitantly with Acts and John.

So we might begin in the beginning.  Luke begins his story in the first chapter telling us he is writing to help the reader understand the life and work of Jesus and what it will mean to follow him. In the first part of the Gospel Luke tells the story of Jesus in relationship to those things that have already happened. They have been foretold, and come true in the incarnation and in the events of Jesus’ life.

But here, this week, we move to the latter part of Luke to a time of speaking about the signs. Luke draws our attention in the words of Jesus to understand how the past shows us the reality of Jesus Christ in the present - to the reader. Just as the Jews received signs before their deliverance so the Gentiles receive signs for their inclusion. We know that Jesus’ kingdom became a partial reality in his ministry as it was expanding and growing, it is about to become a full reality and as his followers we should be looking for the signs.  This is the point of this section of Luke's Gospel.

For example the fig tree comes as a sign and is offered as a witness that those who follow Jesus will know by looking at the sings around them.  He says, "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near."  So, see for yourselves.  As they, and we, wait and watch we must be diligent and careful so as to be prepared.

If they are prepared, both in watchfulness, prayerfulness, and in their work on behalf of others then they will have nothing to fear in the presence of the Son of Man. In fact they will be able to stand up straight, unbound from dwelling in this world, and for they are fully participate in the kingdom of God.

“Those who endure, who bear witness, who remain alert in prayer, have nothing to fear from the coming of the Son of Man. For them there is not distress or confusion or dread. For them it is the time of ‘liberation.’ And they can therefore stand up straight, hold their heads high in happy anticipation before the Son of Man.” (LTJ, Luke, 330)

“Be awake in every season, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” V 36.

So it is that we in this season begin to think of a new kingdom conspiracy.  As Christians we dare to do a counter cultural thing - to prepare not for a passing season - but for the coming of an eternal season of God.  In Advent we are to be watchful.  See the moments of the kingdom and see the face of Jesus present in our midst.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in one of his Advent sermons would say to us: see the poor the humbled and the oppressed and there you will see Jesus.

Christians challenge themselves to wait and be prayerful instead of scurrying around.  This is an important time to be contemplative. To whisper the words of Jesus and his followers in the quiet time of prayer.  "God is with us."  "Christ the savior is here." 

Christians in their seeing and in their praying in Advent chose to conspire against the powers and so we are attentive to our ministry wherein we act on behalf of others. As we recognize Christ in our brothers and sisters, the poor and those in need, we chose to act on their behalf.  This is the diligent work of Advent, this is the work that Jesus says brings us liberation from the coming of God.

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

"Paul's letters have a way of engaging us and inviting to be part of sensitive and transformative relationships, full of joy and pain. When we hear his letters as part of his human story, they are never just words; and they are never just his story."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

Paul's visit to Thessalonica proves to be a long one (much longer than the short preaching tour described in Acts).  Moreover, he seems from his letters to spend a great deal of time with the gentile community there.

This is important and perhaps Paul's excitement about this new evolving community of God's people (where Gentiles are included) is part of what we hear in his voice as we read today's Epistle.

In the letter that we read this Sunday Paul is offering a vision of hope to those who are still waiting the Lord's return.  What seems essential here are several points which Leander Keck makes plain in his text on Paul and his letters.  That Christ is still working in the world.  Christ our Lord is directing us, and directing our ways; even in the meantime as we wait for his return.  That our life together is marked with love for one another and for all as an outpouring of the love God has for the world.  And finally, that we are to be focused upon our work and not worried about what will come.  (This is an interesting correlation with the Gospel for Sunday.)  Paul offers the Thessalonians this notion that they are to be marked by holiness, by their work which flows out of love received from God and which encapsulates their love for the others.  This is the obedience, the vulnerability, and weakness that marked Jesus' life and is to mark our own as disciples and followers of the Christ. (47,48)

So we might ask the preacher, as you stare out into the congregation from the high and lofty perch, are you looking upon them with joy?  Does that joy pour out of the prayers for each whose face you have kept before you?  Do you see in them the way God looks upon them?  Do you see how they have tried to be faithful? Do you love them?

As we read and think about our place in the midst of our office, our family, our friendship circle - is our place marked by joy and love?  Are we holding one another up in prayer and seeking to see them face to face?  Are we at work in the world? Are we vulnerable to Christ's presence? to Christ's presence in the other?  Are we weak and making way for the other?

This Advent One Epistle selection offers an opportunity for the Christian community to begin a season of Advent where we start with a pause.  In that pause we look and we see the beloved in the other and we see our own beloved nature.  In that pause we see the face of Christ in our brother and sister.  In that pause we give way for the other.  For it is there that the Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.  IT is in that meeting where the divine and the human become one - a community bound in love.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 33:14-16

"The same proclamation is given today to us, inheritors of Jeremiah's task. We are called to speak a word of hope and promise in a world often filled with fear and uncertainty, even despair."

Commentary, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Oremus NRSV online Text

One would do well to remember that the majority of Jeremiah is not particularly good news if you are in Judah or Jerusalem. The powers of the empires of north and south are taken to task by this troubled prophet. The book itself is a collection of oracles and prophecies against the mishandling of God's community.

However, the passage we have today is good news. In the midst of how bad everything is, there is good news for the people of God. Despite the poor conditions God does dream again of a land redeemed. God dreams for the wastelands of Israel that one day they will be green again, pastures, and sheep and shepherds will walk the land. There will be a rebirth of the land and of the people - for these are intimately tied.

And, the prophet goes on to say, God will bring forth new shoots from the tree of David. Not only will there be a successor there will be a succession! God will bring about justice and peace - and the house of Israel will be restored.

Christian's read this prophecy as not only meaning the fruit of God's blessing will fall upon the ancient people of Israel but that the successor is himself Jesus the Christ. God in Christ Jesus will bring about, and is bringing about, this new restoration of a kingdom. This reign of God is quite different from the Christian perspective as it is the ultimate building up of a kingdom of priests and people who will themselves take their places as a reborn Israel.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christ the King B November 22, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"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,, 2012.

"Jesus spoke unashamedly of the impending reign of God and embodied its reality in his ministry through his behaviour. Visionaries, particularly those who let their visions be the agenda for their lives here and now, inevitably confront the forces which want to control the present and mostly resist change."

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

Lord God almighty, you have anointed Jesus as the Christ not to rule a kingdom won by violence but to bear witness to the truth, not to reign in arrogance but to serve in humility and love, not to mirror this world's powers but to inherit a dominion that will not pass away.  Freed from our sins by the blood of this faithful witness, shape our service of others after the pattern of Christ' self-sacrificing love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 18:33-37

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

As we come to the last Sunday of year B's cycle of preaching we arrive with Jesus before Pilate.  On this Christ the King Sunday we are given an opportunity to proclaim faithfully what we believe and to be challenged by what we say.  We hover on the edge of a season of expectation.  Who is it we await and prepare for?  This is the purpose of this Sunday's lessons.

Jesus arrives at the praetorium and is immediately confronted with the question regarding his reign.  This title is at once connected in context with a liberator; someone who has arrived to set the Jews free from Roman rule.  Jesus responds asking where does this questions come from, and Pilate tells him from the people and religious leaders of the day.  Jesus then answers the first question by saying that the kingdom he has been preaching about, teaching about, and leading people into is not of this world.  We are reminded immediately of last week's prophecy that the kingdoms of this world are passing away as the kingdom and dominion of God takes root.

In the end Pilate will call him king and Jesus will say, "You have said so" or "You say that I am" depending upon your translation.  The reality we face in John's Gospel is one where we see Jesus again and again testifying to the truth.  In these final words and throughout this brief conversation, regardless of translation, we see that what is taking place is the revelation of Jesus as Christ the King.  It is a prophetic and revelationary moment brought by the Pilate (a ruler of this world).  Even the kingdoms of the world will end up confessing the faith of God in Christ Jesus. 

In John's Gospel we remember that the trial itself is a statement that brings forth the truth of John's theology.  In the beginning of this conversation Jesus differentiates between worldly kingdoms and the religious implications of the kingdom of God.  Then we discover what is the kingdom like. Jesus' kingdom, according to John's Gospel, is a kingdom which affects the world.  The kingdoms of the world will fall away as those who follow Jesus transform the world through their faith and proclamation of the truth.  (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol 2, 869) This kingdom of God will not be of this world but will be from above.  It is a kingdom of the spirit rather than one of the body.  It shall be a kingdom ruled by love and truth.

Pilate misses the point.

But the point is not missed on those who sit in our pews this Sunday nor by those who will dare and proclaim this fact.  We are Christians and we proclaim a unique Jesus and a unique kingdom. This is our work this Sunday: to clearly state the faith of the church in a God who is God of all, his son, and the Holy Spirit.

We are called to preach the gospel of good news of salvation: that the kingdom of this world is passing away and that a kingdom of God based upon love and truth with one another and God is taking root. We do this in all places and in all times. Sometimes our church has done it well, sometimes we have not.  We are to positively engage and dialogue beyond a tolerance of others.  We offer a view of the social and human condition that locates all humanity in the embrace of a loving and caring God.  A God who is revealed corporeally in the person of Jesus; and so incarnationally in ourselves and neighbors.

We are to, on Christ the King Sunday  especially  (and all the rest of the time as a matter of fact) to offer a vision of a new familial order which is rooted in our faith in a Trinitarian God, the outward sign of baptism, and discipleship based upon what we believe - our catechism.  We are Christian and unabashedly Episcopalian on this matter. 

Does this mean we do not have questions? Of course not. Who has not found themselves in Pilate's seat trying to understand?  No, we are to engage in a society of friendship and build a community of relationships where by the wealth of our common searching AND our common faith helps us to understand the singularity of message: God loves the world, so much so that it is not judged, but embraced and drawn closer into God's bosom by the ministry of Jesus and his followers.

This is a great Sunday to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, particularly through the reality of this new dominion not of this world, but of heaven and the holy spirit, which is even now taking root.  This is a most important Sunday in which the preachers of faith may stand up and proclaim boldly the reign of Christ and at the same time show that this truth engages with the world and all its Pilate like questions.  This is the community of faith which is uniquely Anglican and Episcopalian. This is a dominion where all questions are welcome and truth is proclaimed.

Revelation 1:4-8

"These are living words of great theological depth too often neglected by some Christians or poorly interpreted by others."

Commentary, Revelation 1:4b-8, Eric Barreto, Preaching This Week,, 2013.
"Charis recalls the patronage system of the early Roman world, in which a patron displayed generosity to his clients, and expected loyalty in return.Eirene reminds one of the Hebrew shalom, the notion of wholeness and peace that is often associated with a deep and meaningful relationship to God."

Commentary, Revelation 1:4b-8, Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week,, 2012.
"The elaborate imagery about Jesus comes from the world of courts and kings, and the rituals which accompanied them. It was a way of saying: God has underlined that this Jesus really was the valid exponent of what God's being and doing, his going and his coming, is about."

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

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Here is what is about to happen: we are about to have a series of lessons from the Book of revelation. This is it; there is nothing this long or this sequential at any other time in our preaching cycle. I am not yet sure I am brave enough to make it the topic of my preaching for the next couple of weeks but I am beginning to think it is worth it.  

The background is the tradition that this is written by John on Patmos and it is addressed to the "7 churches".  Of course this means that it is written to all churches (as he is at the time writing to all the churches).  A number of good commentaries will make this and other observations about the context.  
In the introductory verses we have a words quoted from Isaiah 44.6, "who is and who was and who is to come." This God is the Alpha and the Omega.  The seven spirits are from Isaiah 11.2ff.  The author bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead and ruler over all the earth.

Then there is the witness that Jesus loves us, that he frees us from sin, that we are made into a new community, and that we are (like priests) to serve him.  We are being, even now, drawn into a worshiping community which eventually will move from the world of time to everlasting glory forever and ever. 

These are the very themes of the whole text.  They make the mission of Jesus upon his return the event which will bring all of this to pass.  Upon his return all shall be transformed. "Amen.  Amen." This is the way it is going to be folks.  It reminds me of that Duck Dynasty picture I saw last week.

God is God and he has come, he is coming back, and he intends to bring about the recreation of the world.  

Walter Taylor, of Lutheran Seminary, writes:
"The Revelation lesson gives us an opening to talk about Christology in ways we may not have had on Easter. All or any one of the many titles of verse 5 could be explored. Taken together they outline a full Christology that includes life, death, resurrection, and present lordship. The Christological emphasis continues with the love of Christ and his freeing action by means of his death (verses 5b-6), and in verse 7 we look forward to the coming of Jesus as the final judge."

This is a great opportunity to think about with the congregation who this Christ is that we worship and what does he have to do with our living of lives in this particular world.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Proper 28B/Ordinary 33B/Pentecost 25, November 15, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Apocalyptic eschatology is essentially about God working on behalf of humanity, and that is what is introduced in the beginning of this discourse. It leaves God alarmingly free and open to the future."

Commentary, Mark 13:1-8, Micah D. Kiel, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

You keep vigil, O God, over the fortunes of your people, guiding their destiny in safety as the history of the world unfolds.  Increase our faith that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall rise again and give us your Spirit to bring forth in our lives the fruit of charity, so that we may look forward every day to the glorious manifestation of your Son, who will come to gather the us into your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 13:1-8

God makes me nervous. Can I just be honest about that for a moment. When I sit quietly and think about the nature of God, God's unfolding work, my human place within his cosmos, I am aware that I am very nervous about God and how "alarmingly free" the God I believe in actually is.

In our passage today we begin a series of teachings by Jesus which make clear that God's purpose is both great and forever.  At the center of the events unfolding is Jesus in relationship to the Temple.

Not unlike the prophets who offered a vision of Jerusalem's future, or the future of the kingdoms, Jesus offers in our passage today a clarity about nature of the Temple and the downfall which is part of the cosmic plan. 

For our comfort we might easily want to remove the power of these words from taking hold of our hearts by locating the passage historically within the writing of the Markan Gospel following the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 a.d.  Though I agree with this scholastic and critical view, we must always caution ourselves to keep from removing the prophetic voice from our own ears by making this passage simply about the past. Jesus has spoken but the living word also offers us a challenging word today.

The purpose here in Mark is to clearly not speak about the Temple. That is not the point of the text at all! The point of the text is to reveal that the old world is passing away.  Not unlike the passage from Revelation we read last week where in it is clear that a new heaven is already rooting itself in the world and upon taking root is forcing out the world of man.  The point of Jesus' words and the prophecy is to show the reality that this is the new age of God and this is an age that is to be marked by faithfulness and following the living God and Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us: be careful though because humans will always build new temples and new religions and new teachings.  People will come and they will be false prophets and false leaders. They will tell you a truth that you will want to hear - the church is ruined.  They will seek to lead you - follow me for I know the truth. They will offer a vision that the things of the past are not fading away in the midst of a new future.  What is rooted in Jesus' warnings is not so much that there will be these false teachers but humans out of their desire to be comfortable will seek after them hoping to extinguish the discomfort of God's unfolding destruction of the age of man. 

When human beings get uncomfortable we follow instead of disciple.  When we are feeling the very foundations turn into ashes below us we want a new stronger foundation; and we rarely look forward but look to those who will comfort us with the past. We look for false teachers who offer us a shelter from the storm, the safety of a castle keep, and the island home.  We look for teachers and prophets who will lie to us and tell us that God is safe and predictable and not free.

I am reminded of the Grand Inquisitor in Doestoevsky's Brothers Karamazov as he questions the Messiah upon his return. The Inquisitor is a cardinal and promises that the world the church is creating is better than the world Jesus promises.  He says to the Lord, "So we have done. We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority.  And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering, [your gift of freedom] was, at last, lifted form their hearts.  Were we right teaching them this? Speak!  Did we not love mankind, so meekly acknowledging their feebleness, lovingly lightening their burden, and permitting their weak nature even sin with our sanction? " The temple is passing away even as we speak and it shall be rebuilt as the new heave takes root in our midst.

Nostalgia is after all the idea that we look back at a time that never really existed and make it into a reality which can be compared to the reality we experience in the here and now. It is a way of looking back to a time and place that keeps us from facing the time and place we inhabit today.

Christians have always lived in between the earth which is falling away and the heaven which is not yet fully revealed.  We live in a time which calls not for seeking shelter in the storm but rather for being the shelter in the storm for the world's fearful.  We are the ones, like Jesus, to see the times and the seasons, to know that the what we cling to as humans is passing, that heaven is coming and that safety is not guaranteed but adventure is promised.  This God we worship is free and alarmingly so. This God we worship has a plan and the plans of men are falling in the wake of its eternal progression.

We are as a Christian people invited to cling to Jesus and his love and to counteract the seasons of change.  We are invited to counteract the seasons of change, not by clinging to the temple which is crumbling, or by following every fad that promises a return to a golden age - but rather to counteract the world with love.  So let us endure the birth pangs for the kingdom that is to come requires disciples and apostles to midwife its labors through a mission and proclamation of love.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25

"What is new about the New Covenant, therefore, is not the idea that God loves the world enough to bleed for it, but the claim that here he is actually putting his money where his mouth is."

"Covenant," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.
"As the author grounds his goal for church participation in the eschatology of Christ's session, he grounds the guarantee of Christ's session in the character of God. They can hold their confession without wavering, because the one who promised is faithful."

Commentary, Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] (Pentecost 25B), Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.
"An intimate and frank relationship with God, openness with one another, and bold public witness that perseveres in the fact of opposition these are the characteristics of the confident community portrayed in today's lesson."

Commentary, Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] (Pentecost 24B), Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

So it is that we come to the end of our readings in Hebrews. We understand now clearly from the author all that is meant by Jesus as our great high priest. We understand that he has transformed the ritual sacrifice of other religions of the day by making a one time offer.

And, we are given a revelation of Christ as king of heaven. That he is seated at the heavenly throne. He has completed his work.  He has completed his faithful work. 

Here the author then turns to make it clear that this image he offers is none other than the suffering servant image of the old testament. The author is doing a quite remarkable job of weaving the story together. We get a sense here then not simply of the continuation of ancient ritual and sacrifice but a greater theme of a creative trajectory. 

The author then invites us to respond to the eternal movement of God and the high priestly sacrifice. We are invited to respond with a clarity of purpose and livelihood crafted as a gift in response to God's work. We are also invited to hold fast to our faith. We are marked as Christ's own forever in baptism and our reciprocity is to express this faith through love and good deeds. We are no longer to be bound by other sacrifices, but instead a response to God's mercy and love with mercy and love. 

And, in case you were wondering if the author of Hebrews was an are correct. This work is always to be yoked to a worshiping community! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Proper 27B/Ordinary 32B/Pentecost 24, November 8, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...if we remember that we are called to be stewards of each other – each member committed to the welfare and wellbeing of the rest of the community – maybe we can experience again and anew God’s blessing of us in and through the family of faith."

"Rethinking Stewardship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"God?s way is the way of self giving love and God?s community needs to be a place where love has freed people to be like that and that includes its leadership, which can often become an instrument of violence."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 24, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Robed in glory before all time, O God, your Son was stripped and mocked.  Enthroned in glory at your side, Christ was lifted up on the cross. Equal to you in the splendor of divinity, Jesus emptied himself for our salvation.  Fix our eyes on this self-surrender, stir up our hearts to give freely and generously all that we are and all that we have for the coming of your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 12:38-44

This Sunday we have two pericopes or passages linked together.  Perhaps we typically look at this story as a question of piety - the religious leaders of the day vs. the widow.  We also may be tempted to make this about pledging as it falls in the cycle of stewardship season.  As I approach it this year I am thinking a little differently. 

We are given an image of religious leaders who enjoy walking about in long robes, they prefer titles for address, sit in the best seats and always have the first place at dinner.  It is an image of endowed special privilege.

We add to the gospel painting a knowledge that the first century widow herself was not allowed to own property or to self-direct and manager her own wealth makes this an even more interested vision.  Moreover, that the religious leaders of the day were the caretakers of the wealth of such widows makes an even more convoluted picture of the relationship between these leaders and the widow.  She brings her last coin; in part because the offering being made by the religious leaders is also her own offering.  She is giving twice, once from the managed resources held out of her control, and once for the little bit she has in her care.

The picture we get is one of oppression and also one of an intertwined life.

Jesus is very clear that this is not the way of the follower of God and it is not the way of the new kingdom recreating the world.  This is quite simply not how God's home is ordered.

This is clear if we take into consideration Jesus' teaching previously of how we are to be kind to one another and to offer one another help and aid and consolation.  The small acts of human love require great courage in a world and system that typically takes advantage of the weak and those on the boundary of life. Therefore, in some sense what is before us is a commentary by Jesus on how those who follow him are to give their all to God.

The thing is that we cannot also take this as purely as a teaching on human righteousness.  First of all, as one dear friend says: righteousness is not a very good motivating factor for humans.  When I read the passage I am also mindful, as the scholars, that the widow is an image of God and of Jesus in particular. 

So, we might once again approach the passage with this question: what does it tell us about God? 

I think when we do this we see that humanity has received from God all that we are and all that we have.  It is from God's generosity and God's bounty that we make our offering.  Who doesn't love the best food, best clothes, and best seats?  All of us - of course.  But what we are reminded of is that these things (the things we normally think of sacrificial offerings) are all God's.  We have taken them and we use them.  God, like the widow though, continues to give and to give out of his love.

Jesus, like the widow, will give of his all; even his life.  This is the nature of God's love.  That though we take and misuse and use God continues to give and pour out his love upon us.  This was true in the crucifixion and it is true in the resurrection; as it is true in the outpouring of God's perfect love - the Holy Spirit.

So, as I go to my desk to prepare words for this day I am mindful not only in the manner in which we might misuse our power and make subject those who enable our lifestyle...I am rather mindful that of God's love and God's faith, like a widow, who gives us his all.

It makes me think that rather than offering a "try harder" to give of everything sermon I might simply remind myself and the congregation of God's faithfulness and love; and wonder with them about how we are to respond as or God makes his way down the aisle carrying the cross, as if he were a widow who give all.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 9:24-28

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

"The cycle of sin and atonement ends in Christ."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 24B, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We also encounter the contrast between imitation and reality in relationship to matters of faith."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 23B, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

We draw closer to the end to our reading of Hebrews. The author too wishes now to put a very fine point on his argument. Let there be no misunderstanding, regardless of your tradition, Christ has passed through the gap and entered into heaven on our behalf. This has happened and it need not happen again. Our sin has been taken away by the one who has gone before us to prepare a place for us. There is no rebreaking of the bread, or Christ's body, there is no sacrifice necessary, no work to be done on our behalf, no matter how early or late you come to the party, the blood has been shed and the sins of many are forgiven. And, just as he came into the world to do this work, to save the sinner, so when he returns he will be about his father's business again. Not to judge, for that judgement has been made, and the price has been settled, and so we - in that time - shall be gathered in. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost 23 & All Saints - November 1, 2015

Proper 26 B (All Saints Thoughts below)

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Sacrifices and outward worship never pleased God unless we first did the things which we owe to God and our neighbours."

From the Geneva Notes.

"All of us who spend our days swimming in the fickle currents of the church, at war with things both petty and impossible -- tired, sometimes, before the meeting begins -- that we are not far from the kingdom."

"Extra Credit," Robin R. Meyers, The Christian Century, 2000. At Religion Online.

You are one God, O Lord, and beside you there is no other.  You alone are we to love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  Sharpen our ears to hear this great commandment.  Arouse our hearts to offer this twofold love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 12:28-34

Oremus Online NRSV Text

The passage is one set with a narrative of confrontation between the religious leaders of Jesus' day and the message that he brings to the world.  The re-genesis of the world is now and the kingdom and dominion of God is now.

God is one, not a static one, but one forever.  God is unity and unifying.  God is working the unity of the world with God and has been doing so from the beginning of time.  The world above and the world below are being unified in the work of Jesus and the work of God. (Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 845)

In a time when God seems distant and when all seems lost, both for the first followers of Jesus and for the Jewish empire itself, this is a radical message.  God is even now joining heaven and earth.

And even more radical is the message it entails: Love God and love neighbor and we shall be connected.  Part of the very work from the creations time is the work of becoming a loving community focused upon God and the neighbor.

I am rereading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and remember now the Elder's words in the section entitled "An Unfortunate Gathering," chapter 4.  Here the Elder speaks of active love.

"By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively and indefatigably.  In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul.  If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul.  This has been tried. This is certain." (1912 trans by Constance Garnett, p53)

This is love which Jesus speaks about is a "one way love" as my friend the Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl talks about it. God has one way unifying love for the creation and for the creature wherein the two dominions are to be joined together beyond any one man's ability to try and put it asunder.  Jesus tells us that we are to be about this one way love as well.  Our one way love is to be directed towards God and towards others.

On this occasion when I read the passage I enjoyed most Jesus last words to his dear inquisitor: "You are not far from the kingdom of God."  This one way active love is greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices to be sure; and yet it is so very hard to do!!!

As the Elder offers consolation to the young woman seeking to communicate how hard this active love is he comforts her and then offers:

"I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.  Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sigh to fall.  Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage.  But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps a complete science.  But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting further from your goal instead of nearer to it -- at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you."  (Ibid, 55)

How easy is the dream of doing Jesus' guiding commandment, how hard to be constantly about active love. So you see we are all so very near the kingdom of God.  Just in the moment when all is lost we may in fact clearly recognize the one way love of God and so be redeemed.  And, in the moments when we offer such love on way to the other we are near.

That is good news it seems to me.  We are being joined and knit together in a new creation by God through God's love.  And, we in life, as we draw close we automatically begin to give that love to others.

I doubt this Sunday that a "work harder on loving God and neighbor" sermon will produce the desired results.  But a sermon of God's one way, uniting love, may in fact be just the medicine for the wounded heart and just the thing to knit our own fractured lives together.

Hebrews 9:11-15

"We might even seek to emulate the level of creativity our author has shown when we face the challenge of speaking this same message to people in our day who live in a different symbolic world but face substantially the same needs."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 23, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

God first came to Jesus' people in the wild places. The message in this week's lesson from Hebrews is a great missionary encouragement. It reminds us that the Gospel took place out in the wild in the midst of a tent. The author also reminds us that the old ways were ways that were repeated on a seasonal and regular basis.

Jesus is our great high priest, and while we are called to remember his sacrifice - this is not a repeat of it. We are invited to ponder instead the perfection of Jesus' sacrifice and to worship a living God who has broken open the temple, mended the gulf between heaven and earth, and who invites us once again out into the world, into the wildness for we are free and a redeemed people.

Thoughts for All Saints Sunday

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The epiphany is that we are to see ourselves in Lazarus and see the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus' offer of relationship with us."

"Lazarus Is Us," Reflections on John 11:1-45, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

"This story about Lazarus shares much in common with that of the Samaritan woman at the well. With the Samaritan woman the issue was seeing Jesus as the source of living water as compared to ordinary water. Here the issue is to see Jesus as the source of living life as compared to ordinary life."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 11:1-45, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this on lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kingdom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 11:32-44

Some congregations will move All Saints to this Sunday, so it seemed appropriate to also spend a few minutes reflecting on the Gospel appointed in this year's cycle for All Saints.  This is also our reading in Year A, Lent 5.  I begin with one of my favorite prayers:

O my all-merciful God and Lord,
Jesus Christ, full of pity:
Through Your great love You came down
and became incarnate in order to save everyone.
O Savior, I ask You to save me by Your grace!
If You save anyone because of their works,
that would not be grace but only reward of duty,
but You are compassionate and full of mercy!
You said, O my Christ,
"Whoever believes in Me shall live and never die."
If then, faith in You saves the lost, then save me,
O my God and Creator, for I believe.
Let faith and not my unworthy works be counted to me, O my God,
for You will find no works which could account me righteous.
O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin,
and work for You as hard as I once worked for the evil one.
I promise that I will work to do Your will,
my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life and forever more.

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

"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, and transformation that is available to every person through Jesus Christ. 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 apocalyptic 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 connections 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 inter-textual 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 at the precipice of our readings of Jesus' ministry.  On this day we remember the saints of God who have gone before us, we are mindful then of our own tomb and our own death yet to come.  We hope in God and Christ Jesus that this death will not be an end but a passing.  We hoep with sure and certain faith that God has raised Lazarus and in his work to bridge the kingdom of God with the world that we shall be scooped up into his harms, unbound from our eathly ego and all that binds us.

We continue the longest series of readings from the book of Revelation this week.  In today's passage the vision is of a new heaven and new earth.  The first things have passed away.

As a number of theologians point out the book of Revelation squarely places the kingdom of God's work on earth.  Rather than the heavens consuming the earth as in many other apocalyptic tradition the image and theme of Revelation is that heaven comes to earth; the fulfillment of the incarnation and the work of Jesus.

At the wedding at Cana of Galilee one can imagine the bride and groom and the many attendees gathered around enjoying the company of one another.  The image though of the bride of Christ given in the previous chapter is not a wedding feast where earth is brought into heaven and all rejoice.  It is instead an image of a beautiful and wondrous earthly city.  It is a place of hospitality to the stranger and  a place of rest for the weary pilgrim, and peace for God's people.  Tears are wiped away in this place and the world itself is transformed.

Such a city has been on the hearts and minds of Christians from Augustine to the slave, from the missionary to the persecuted.  It is found in the writings of William Blake and is present in the abolitionist and civil rights leader's voice.

In revelation we are not offered a future hope of heavenly bliss but a transformed earth.  The resurrection happens on earth and so to will the reign of God.  We can all think of the Armageddon images and films which promise some form of escapism from the world.  This is not quite the image we find in Revelation.  The earth is made new.  Not unlike the Christ after resurrection where he is more present, more real, than he was before the same may be said for the new earth.  The reign of God on earth will be more present and more real.  What has been seen only in part will be revealed in an even greater way.

The earth which has been sowed for power and ruled by authorities other than God will be changed.  It isn't so much that the earth or seas will be no more as they will no longer be used and corrupted by powers outside of the reign of God.  The earth that is made new is sustainable and God will provide for his people.  This will be a new world, remade, and reordered such that the power of Rome or Babylon cannot keep the waters of life from those who seek it.  This vision is transformative and promises a different world which will provide all that is needed for its population. The hungry and thirsty will receive good things to eat and drink.  The powers that have ruled the world and corrupted the creation and the creatures will no longer have dominion.

The city which John envisions comes down from heaven to earth is a sight for us all.  It is a revelation of a new earth; and the promise of a creation which supports bounteous life under the reign of a loving and providing God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 22, October 25, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...what would you do if failure didn't matter? What would you endeavor, dare, or try? What mission would you attempt, what venture would you risk, what great deed would you undertake?"

"Bartimaeus, Luther, and the Failed Reformation," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"How do we retell the story without sidelining blind people today? That is easier said than done. If we play up the miraculous we heighten the pain where healing is not happening and may be impossible. Piety can easily race by in the euphoria of symbolism and the only abiding message is; we are irrelevant and you are irrelevant."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 22, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"If your prayer isn't answered, this may tell you more about you and your prayer than it does about God. If God doesn't seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he's giving you something else."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

Links for Reformation Day lessons from

God our Savior, from the ends of the earth you gather the weak and the lowly.  You make them a great and glad multitude, refreshed and renewed at your hand.  Throwing off the burden of sin, they run to the Teacher for healing.  Let the faith Christ bestows restore to the church this vision of the gathering that embraces the weary and wounded of this world.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 10:46-52

Jesus has been teaching that the society of the kingdom of God is one marked by servanthood rather than rank or power.  He has prophesied that his own life will end as the suffering servant and that he will be raised.  He has offered a vision of a new world; a recreated world. 

Jesus has also offered an understanding of discipleship which is one in which the follower leaves the comfort of life in order to help the lives of those who are comfortless.

So it is that we come to the road side outside Jericho.  This passage is filled with drama and symbolism. 

Jesus makes his way in the business of a crowd towards Jerusalem; always with his face set like a flint to the cross.  And from the margins, from the edge of this mission, comes the cry of the blind man.  He is at first hushed by those around Jesus.  This is a reminder of how easy it is while trying to be faithful to be deaf to those on the edge who faith is intended to help.   How blind the crowd of Jesus followers is to the cries from the edge.  And, I imagine them hushing him again, and saying, "We are too busy following Jesus."  So it is the blindness of the followers of Jesus that is revealed as Bartimaeus' sight ever sharpens.

Bartimaeus knows all that is happening and in the story and he cries out.  Sometimes I think in the midst of life we are unaware of just how aware those on the margin are - prophetically aware. This hit me squarely as I read through Joel Marcus' textual exegesis and he offered this from a boot entitle Memory; about the holocaust: 
The uncanny effect of this sort of blind sight is evoked by Douglas' description of a Holocaust survivor who wore dark glasses during her testimony at Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem:  "She appeared, then, to be blind (though she was not), an impression made all the more striking as the dramatic force of her testimony found focus in the words 'I saw everything.'" (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 763)
As the passing diorama makes its way, Bartimaeus shouts ever louder.  Jesus stops, invites his petition, and then heals him.  The response to this event is the throwing off of his clothes, the clarity of sight about the world around him, and then Bartimaeus follows.

Joel Marcus and others remind us that the passage is very much linked to early baptismal rites.  For example this one from Marcus' commentary.

Baptizand: "Have mercy on me!"
Deacon, in the role of Jesus to the congregation: "Call him."
Congregation: "Be brave, get up, he's calling you."
Baptizand removes his clothes and approaches the deacon.
Deacon to Baptizand: "What do you want me to do?"
Baptizand: "I want to be illuminated."
Deacon, baptizing him: "Your faith has saved you."
(Mark, vol 2, 765)
So in our passage today we are given wonderful new ways of seeing ourselves and our following.  We are able to see the world of servanthood to the comfortless.  We are to interpret our own faith journey in light of being given sight to see and to follow.  We are given an encouraging word to cast off our clothes, to move from the edge into the center of the stage, and to participate in the new ways of this strange emerging kingdom of God.

We should be careful first not to punish our own crowd that will sit before us as preachers this weekend.  We should remember they too are there like Bartimaeus, on the fringe of society, doing something most people will not do this week's end - go to church. They are there calling out for a bit of grace and mercy and kindness. They are calling out for love. 

The preacher has a dual task this week's end, both to stop as Jesus did, and remind the blind of his love for them. To stop and pause for a moment so that their sight might be restored and so they can follow along the way.  That they might cast off their clothes that bind them, so that they may enter the crowd of life and along the way help others to see as well. 

The passage reminds me that the Christian Church is not a society of the wealthy who redistribute their wealth for the sake of the poor, but a community of blind people seeking clarity of sight so that we might in turn help our brothers and sisters see.

Epistle Hebrews 7:23-28

"While of major interest in the first century, most Christians today do not think much about the nature of the priesthood. Amidst this comparison, however, the author makes some very important statements about how Jesus accomplished human salvation."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"He died once; he intercedes perpetually."

"One reason that Jesus the High Priest can offer this eternal salvation is that he can focus his priestly work on intercession because he has already taken care of the problem of sin. Other priests are daily occupied with sin removal (Hebrews 7:27)."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Amy L B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

Jesus is the new high priest and the author here reiterates this work in case the reader/hearer did not understand the first time.  So it is that we are told (as if from a different vantage point) that Jesus is able to provide this once for all intercession on our behalf. The cross of Christ is a one time victory for all sin and not a rehearsal each time there is sin. Christ is not continually offering Christ's self for humanity but instead this one time defeat and victory over sin and death is a "sufficient sacrifice once offered" as our prayer book liturgy reminds us. 

This one time offering is therefore also a better offering than human priesthood and a new and better covenant than the many old ones. For here in this new covenant we are redeemed forever and marked as Christ's own.

Furthermore, this offering is perfect(ed) in that it is God's offering instead of our own human offering. It is God's offering and of such a quality that it is everlasting. 

Sometimes, I think our faith is tested not by our belief that God reached across the cosmos to embrace us and has forever mended the gulf between us but that such an occurrence and work of Jesus is forever. I think we sometimes lack the belief that Christ is victorious. So we might say that we know that Christ is our intermediary, our great high priest, but we should get to work saving ourselves just in case.

In this lack of faith in Christ's sufficient work on our behalf we return to an old law. In this old law we are the priest who is completely imprisoned by our sin, brokenness, and fallen-shortness of the kingdom. Here we must continually offer new sacrifices trying to live into some ideal. Here we attempt to acquire a list of qualities that we might repeatedly purify ourselves. Each of our sacrifices, like the sacrifices of the religious priesthood of Jesus' own day, made over and over again for the sake of salvation. 

The high priesthood of Christ is once and for all, there is no more sinful economic exchange required on our part.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 21 October 18, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Within our hearts are both humility and arrogance, respect for others and a desire to outshine them, a desire to serve and a craving to be served. The one you feed wins."

"Stupid Disciple Tricks," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"Maybe Jesus 'buys us back' by showing us a way out of the devastating cycle of looking for glory, joy, and peace on the world's terms by teaching and showing us how to receive by giving, how to lead by serving, and how to find our lives by losing them for the sake of the people around us that God loves so much."

"Glory, Glory," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"As his disciples flee into the darkness with their swords, he is dragged away by Caesar?s men who come after him with the sword. The sacrificial victim of "civilization as we know it," he bids us to let go."

"On Being a Survivor," William Willimon, The Christian Century, 1986. At Religion Online.

Maker and author of life, in Jesus we have found the path to wisdom.  Let us, therefore, be bold to approach you, not seeking privilege but asking mercy.  Let us live among on another, not seeking to be served but to serve.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

So we begin our text with a wonderful interchange between James, John, and Jesus.  I imagine that their response is due to their excitement about his resurrection and the prospect of a new dominion that is about to burst forth from the empty tomb; humans always personalizing the possibilities as they relate to themselves.  Jesus answers twice: what they ask is not his to grant; moreover, the way of discipleship in the new dominion of God is a way of service.

I am so grateful to Joel Marcus for drawing my attention to Daniel 4:17; 7:9ff; 12:2; and Isaiah 53:11ff.  The Gospel theme of sharing the Good News is one always tempered, not by majesty, but by service.  God gives power to the lowliest, and they serve like the Son of Man.  Just as he gives his life for many, bearing their iniquities, so too they are to be like him and serve.  (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 752ff)

Henri Nouwen wrote: 

Can you drink the cup? Can you empty it to the dregs? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring? I realized these were our questions. 
But why should we drink this cup?  There is so much pain, so mcuh anguish, so much violence, Why should we drink the cup?  Wouldn't it be a lot easier to live normal lives with a minimum of pain and a maximum of pleasure? 
After the reading, I spontaneously grabbed one of the large glass cups standing on the table in front of me and looking at those around me -- some of whom could hardly walk, speak, hear, or see -- I said: 'Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can we lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?  Drinking the cup is much more than gulping down whatever happens to be in there, jsut as breaking the bread is much more than tearing a loaf apart. Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting, and drinking.  It is the full celebration of being human. 
...Just letting that question sink in made me feel very uncomfortable.  But I knew I had to start living with it. (Can you Drink The Cup, Ave Maria Press, 1996)

For Jesus, this cup is one marked not by the empty power of worldly leaders but is marked by the service of others: the holding of others in one's arm like the children; the lifting of others like those  who brought the sick to Jesus; and the drinking with others who no one would dare to drink with because of their uncleanness.  Jesus "radicalizes" his statement, he makes is a horrific idea by using the word "slave".  He offers this radical work of being bound to another as the image of servitude.  Jesus is bound to humanity, he is bound to serve, we are (if we are to be measured and counted followers of Jesus) to be bound to the neighbor and other in our life.

And, in his last words Jesus reminds them that he is bound to them and gives his life as a ransom.  He gives of himself to hostile powers in order that others may be freed from death.  I the dominion of God, in the kingdom of heaven,  life is given to the other and service is the mark of discipleship.  Citizenship is marked by service to others, Jesus teaches. 

So it is that our tradition embraces the understanding that it is important to share the Good News of God's service to his people, his love, and his grace.  It is essential to impart to others the reality of our belief that God in Christ Jesus gives completely of himself for the world and in so doing frees us.  AND, while we share the good news of new life we are also committed to giving people new life through our own service and mission.

Hebrews 5:1-10 "In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Why does salvation depend on a high priest who is subject to weakness, who prays in crisis, who learns what the human lot is like? Why does Jesus' service as high priest require his identification with us?"

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Pentecost 21, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

The author of hebrews continues in this passage with his metaphor of the high priest of Israel and Temple being supplanted by the high priest we have in Jesus.

It is Christ Jesus who is appointed by God to be the one who enters in the gulf between humans and God, he is the bridge, the gate, the shepherd to lead us from our earthly habitation into God's habitation.  Jesus is for the author the one appointed to help us in our weakness. Not unlike the priest of the Temple in Jesus' own day where the priest was the intermediary for the people to God, the author of Hebrews sees Jesus in a similar role.

Rooted in the author's own tradition we inherit in Hebrews the understanding that Jesus in his baptism is appointed for this work of reconciliation.  Like Melchizedek he is a priest forever. Interesting because Melchizedek was an ancient but faithful high priest of the the Canaanite people who comes and blesses Abram.

I would say that knowing what humans do to other humans, and especially to prophets, God in Christ Jesus is faithful even unto the death which is given him. Out of our sin, our greed, our human desire to have us stand in God's place (to be our own high priest) we execute the other - in this case the Son of God. God though uses this and does not allow death and sin to have the last word but instead is faithful to his own cause which is the binding of heaven and earth together - so it is that God redeems us and redeems our actions. In so doing then Christ is raised as a new high priest. 

I think it is important for the author of Hebrews to note that Christ becomes lower than God and the angels to undertake this work; moreover, that Christ is humble and lowly. All of this is in contrast to the priesthood of humans.