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, September 7, 2015

Proper 19B/Ordinary 24B/Pentecost 16 September 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

"To 'deny yourself and take up your cross' invites us into what the cross can also mean -- not just death and suffering, but God choosing human relationships."

"A Different Kind of Denial," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Countryside of Caesarea Philippi
Prayer

Not in easy words, O God, but in selfless deeds is the faith we profess made real and the love our Master commanded made present.  Give us the strength to take up the cross and wisdom to follow where Christ leads, losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  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.

There is no shortage of theological and New Testament scholarship on this passage.  In bible studies across the church for decades past and decades hence, I imagine, people are quick to pick up "their cross."  But we might pause to ask again what exactly is it we are picking up?  For whom do we pick it up?  And, what is the real cost to our manner of living.  For it is in this passage that we see the prism of discipleship so sharply focused and our keen shadow of sin so quickly to be at work to hide it.
Not unlike many passages in the Gospel of Mark a healing is followed by an important teaching. Jesus has healed a blind man suggesting a kingly power.  We have already been at work trying to understand who Jesus is:
1:27 "What is this? A new teaching with authority!"
4:41 "Who then is this? -- For even the wind and the sea obey him!"
6:2 "Where does this man get these things form?"  (Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 61)
Part of what we begin to understand is that Mark is intent on telling us who Jesus is so that we might recognize him in our own life.  In our passage today Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them who do people say that I am.  And they respond.  It is not a particularly unique question.  Though as a friend of mine (the Rev. Lisa Hines) reminded me the culture in which Jesus lives is one where the community defines the person.  Thus we might remember the endless adjectives that describe the people in the Jesus narrative. The syrophoenician woman is but one example.  People are constantly named by their community.  So then Jesus is also named by the community. 
Peter offers a glimpse into the reality of who Jesus is: The Messiah. Jesus is recognized by the community for his work, his power, his teaching. He is named by his community as the Messiah. 
But we are reminded of Isaiah 55:8 as we ponder the meaning of this title and its work of suffering, death, and resurrection.  "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways."  (Marcus, 614)  And it is here that is the difficulty.  
I know myself, so I am going to claim the reality that I am the one who constantly is choosing my cross.  It is indeed mine.  And, because it is so, it is rarely Jesus'. 
To follow this messiah means a suffering and death not of our own choosing.  If we are to make our pilgrim journey with this God then the crossroads of our redemption will rarely be found in the comfortable setting in which I choose to make my stand.  Rather, the edge of my discipleship is always an edge more often chosen by God and revealed by others.  If I am to truly make know the Good News of God in Christ then I must be also willing to realize and act out of a complete giving up of my self.  And, I should add, "myself" is not too keen on that idea.
Scholars point to John Chrysostom's meditation on discipleship:
He that is denying another...should he see him either beaten, or bound, or led to execution, or whatever he may suffer, does not stand by him, does not help him, is not moved, feels nothing for him, as being once for all alienated from him...[In the same way, the disciple of Jesus should] have nothing to do with himself, but give himself up to all dangers and conflicts; and let him so feel, as though another were suffering at all.  (Marcus translation, 625)
We are to give up ourselves completely to this work. And, we are to see in our lives the areas of failure, shame, pain, and suffering as moments on the edge of this new life of discipleship.  We are to see that at the very edge of our life, in the regions we dare not go, lest it cost too much - that it is this abyss where lies redemption. 
Are we willing to allow the Messiah Jesus to save the world?  Even the world we don't like? The political party we don't like? The candidate we don't like? The person in our family who drives us crazy...does Jesus save them?  Can we see the prostitute as someone saved by God? Can we see the homeless person as someone saved by God? Who is on your list of the people God does not save?  I have a list too.  It is true. And, in giving up myself to the cross I find that I must in some very strange way live on the edge of a life where God is at work saving those I am most likely estranged from. 
Is it not true in the Gospel?  Does Jesus in Mark's Gospel not save all kinds of sinners, demon possessed, unclean, bleeding, dying, unfaithful people?  Is this not the edge of the world in which we live.
In some way I guess, for the Christian who reads this passage today, we are encouraged to look up and out of our safe community and wonder...am I at the crossroads? Am I picking up Jesus' Cross of Grace? Am I standing on the edge?
Or, have I chosen the safe road, the road well traveled?  Have I chosen the safe Messiah who is safely kept in the church?  Have I chosen a Messiah that requires very little change of me; and certainly one that would not dare to invite me to soil myself in the service of others?
So, we might ask on this Sunday, who is your Messiah and what is his cross like?  Maybe, just maybe the Messiah the church and her good and saintly people have chosen is not quite dangerous enough for the Jesus of today's Gospel.


James 3:1-12

"The preacher encountering this text might be forgiven for the sudden urge to suggest, in lieu of the sermon, that the congregation engage in a time of silent prayer."

Commentary, James 3:1-12, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"James is right. The tongue is a fire, its flames spreading wherever it can find a source of fuel."

"Sticks, Stones, and the Power of Words," Eric D. Barreto, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

"We are called to refuse the form of power that is practiced in the ideologies that set nature on fire all around us. The deceitful words of those in power, the words of blessing and cursing from the same mouth, these the words we are called to reject."

"Setting Nature on Fire," Halden Doerge, The Ekklesia Project, 2009.




I think a lot of preachers will avoid this Sunday. The truth is that it is a good Sunday to preach and to ponder the power invested in the teacher and preacher within the Christian community. 

I think a lot of time the preacher wishes to exonerate his or herself from the high calling and expectations of such leadership. It is true that priests and pastors are just other human beings. But at the same time they are given certain powers and authorities and their actions affect these powers and authorities in many ways. Here lies James' point. 

When a priest, for instance harms someone in word or in deed, their action has an effect upon the community. A married male priest cannot sleep with a woman who is not his wife and expect that such an act does not directly impact the way in which people see marriage or the words that he says during a marriage service. It does not mean that the priest or woman are not forgiven by God or loved by God. It does mean that their actions have consequences within the Christian community. 

Another example is the priest who speaks of God's love and mercy and grace for a select few but multiplies hate and violence against a minority or someone different than themselves. The Christian who ignites violence against blacks, immigrants, or the GLBT community is not someone who is speaking the commandment of God to love neighbor and welcome the stranger. 

These are extreme examples but it is to say that there are areas of our ministry that are directly impacted by areas of our life, our conduct, and our words. 

James says look preachers you can't go acting out or teaching things that are not true. He says basically a teacher of God who goes off on their own and starts making stuff up or speaking outside of the provinces of God's own decrees is not only not a teacher but a person whose tongue is like fire and can enflame the whole community. God intends to us not to kill or make violence on others. God intends us to be faithful to one another. God intends us not to abuse one another. God intends for us to share what we have. God intends for us to create just structures for the common good. God intends for us to embrace the person who is different than us. God's mercy is abundant as is God's love.

James is clear that the preacher and his tongue are a dangerous thing:  It can be used for good and for evil: we honour God with it, but we also curse fellow humans (“made in the likeness of God”, v.9). It should only be used for good. In nature, any one “spring” (v. 11) only produces good or bad water. Fig trees and grapevines only yield what God has intended – so we should only speak good. The devil (“salt water”, v. 12) only yields evil. (This is blogger Chris Haslaam's synopsis.)

What goes for the preacher goes for the follower of Jesus. What we say can have profound damages. In 2015 a pastor's spouse took a picture of another woman in the congregation. She then posted the picture on her facebook page and asked if what the woman was wearing was appropriate for church. The picture and the survey went viral on the internet getting thousands of views, shares, and comments. Most of them were negative and shamed the church going woman for wearing what they thought was an inappropriate dress. The damage was done. A woman who came to church to hear about God's love, unconditional acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness, was publicly shamed by the community's leadership. This is the kind of act which springs forth from the tongue, has global consequences, reveals to those who suspect the church of mean spiritedness, and harms another human being. It is the kind of act that James is saying isn't appropriate - most of all not from the leadership of God's community.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 15 September 6, 2015

"Many times it has been disciples who have least understood the issues as they have uncoupled devotion to God from devotion to people, because they have uncoupled God and people. Then a prejudiced "god" feeds a prejudiced people."


"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 14, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"A few months ago on my morning walk I was surprised by 'crumbs' left behind. They were not meant for me at all. I even knew there were not meant for me, but left over, they fed me still."

"Of Sidewalk Messages and Crumbs from God's Table," Janet Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

"...there is your story and mine−that Jesus is in our house, with full power to heal; that we need to approach him with compassion and perseverance, praising God the sender of the Savior of all people, not just people like us."

Commentary, Mark 7:24-37, Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.



Prayer

O Good and gracious God, you have chosen little ones, the worlds' poor and lowly, to become rich in faith and to be heirs of your kingdom.  Help us to speak words of encouragement and strength to all whose hearts are fearful, that the tongue of the speechless may be loosened and all of our wounded humanity, unable so much as to pray, may join us in singing the mighty wonders of your 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.

So, we might pause for a moment and ask: what has Jesus been up to lately? He has challenged dietary laws, offered a new vision of sin and its root cause, challenged community separation based upon these laws thereby offering to the religious leaders of the day a vision of a new kingdom of God.  All of these also have offered a vision of a kingdom that is no longer divided between Gentile and the faithful community in Jerusalem.  Early church theologians such as Chrysostom saw the erasing of this "particularism" clearly as they reflected on this passage. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol. 1, 466)

I remember this passage clearly from my seminary days because of the fact that we debated its meaning over coffee.  We used it as the case study for whether or not God changes God's mind.  Certainly the passage is unusual in the way that it offers the story.  Jesus says no; makes what is nothing less than a horrible metaphor about dogs.  Jesus then listens and then offers healing.  In the midst of this debate about God and God's changing mind (or not) is a critical New Testament scholar debate over the two pieces of dialogue belonging together.  A number of scholars march through that debate very well and you are welcome to read more about it in either Joel Marcus' work or in Adela Collins' text.

So what do we have here?  Joel Marcus has a great reflection on the characters and events. He writes: "In the overall Markan context it forms an inclusion with the narrative of the woman with the hemorrhage in 5:21-43.  The latter is, like the heroine of our story, an anonymous, plucky, ritually unclean woman who 'hears about Jesus' and receives healing from him, and is coupled with a younger girl (Jarius' daughter, the Syrophoenician's daughter) who is healed." (Marcus, 466)  Joel Marcus also gives us the short and sweet of the story in his words when he writes, "Not only does it present the only example in the Gospels of a person who wins an argument with Jesus, but it also portrays a Jesus who is unusually sensitive to his Jewish country-men's claims to salvation-historical privilege and unusually rude about he position of Gentiles: the Jews are God's children, and their needs come first; compared to them, non-Jews are just 'dogs.'" (Marcus, 470)  Thank you Joel for the frank reader's digest version!

So here is what I find fascinating.  Never in our discussions in the bottom of the student center at seminary, over our steaming cups of coffee, on a cold winters day, arguing over God' changing God's mind did we stop to think about or discuss what this passage might offer us as individuals trying to follow Jesus or what it might offer the church communities we were preparing to serve.

This is what I have come to understand.  I am challenged by others who are not like me or my preconceived notions about Christianity, church, the Episcopal Church, life the universe or anything for that matter. I am predisposed to believe, as a human being, that I am right.  As an old T-shirt I had once offered: "I may have my faults but being wrong is not one of them."  This uniquely human condition (sometimes called sin) always gets in the way of what God is doing in my life when by providence he introduces me to people that are different than myself. 

Second, I believe that I and our Episcopal community are challenged to see in our brothers and sisters, specifically the Jewish people, God's special dispensation; and we might add the Muslims as well.  This is not to deny our particular revelation at all but it is to say  that God does have a special relationship with ALL THREE of the Abrahamic faiths and that such a relationship deserves attention.  At times such a relationship may be difficult and painful but all three religions hold a special place in God's heart rooted deep in a promise made on a desert's eve to a wandering but faithful Abram and Sarai.

Lastly, I am challenged and I believe our churches are challenged to see that God may in fact be, in this very moment, choosing a new people to incorporate into our family.  The passage is very clear that God's kingdom and its embrace of the Gentile world is key to God fulfilling God's mission.  Certainly the word "Gentile" itself means in particular those people who are not Jewish.  That is certainly true.  It has a broader meaning as well, as an adjective it means: not belonging to one's own religious community.  And, this is the catch for us. It is very difficult for those involved in a privatized world of religious faith to see that God is at work in the world around us; in a very public manner. 

In order to embrace the kingdom of God and be a missionary church we as Episcopalians must come to terms with the fact that God offers his healing balm to those who do not belong to our church.  We are challenged and encouraged to join in the Gospel work when we see that God's is out and about and in particular at work in the community of people who are NOT in our churches or who are particularly Episcopalian. 

Now that, my friends and readers, is a challenge far more interesting to preach and consider as we hear this story.  And the church would be well served by a whole host of preachers on Sunday morning got up and instead of talking about the woman who changed God's mind, talked about the followers of Jesus and how they were encouraged by Jesus' witness to go out and accomplish a mission to the gentile world that would change the course of history and would begin its work of building the Kingdom of God.


James 2:1-17

"The second chapter of James opens with an illustration that is as relevant in the contemporary church as it must have been to James's first readers."

Commentary, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"...James is making himself quite clear: Christians, both individually andcollectively, have a moral responsibility to the poor."

"Poverty, Wealth, and Equality?" Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

"Social justice christology is 'in' at the moment - but like the term, social justice, itself, can die of its popularity as our fascination with it innoculates us against engagement and the vision dies to become just an idea and a good concept to include in our strategic plans and visions."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle


Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

We continue this week with our readings form the Epistle of James. Our theme continues to reflect the author's challenge that we “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers”.

I found a few quotes that are I find very helpful to me in thinking about this passage. They are from theologian's Miroslav Volf and amplify well this portion of James.

As James offers the notion that our relationship with God leads to a response from the follower which necessarily includes the other. Challenging the reader to understand that God shows no partiality so the follower of Christ in turn shows no partiality.  There is not stranger in the intimacy of relationship with God. If we believe in the triune God then we are always and everywhere connected with the other(s). 

Volf writes in his book AFTER OUR LIKENESS: 
“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a "foursome," as it were-- for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.” 

If we truly believe in a triune God, and we are truly followers and intimately connected with this God, then we are forever connected to others. There is no "favoritism". We are not the judge of appearance, or to discriminate.

Volf continues:
"The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them” (Moltmann 1992, 130). And since God was in Christ, “through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life” (131). On the cross, Christ both “identifies God with the victims of violence” and identifies “the victims with God, so that they are put under God's protection and with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived."
We are to conduct ourselves differently because we are saved by a God who opens himself up to us and shares and gives of himself for us - even when we were far off. We are to love God and to love others as a response to God's mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

James is clear if in any way we do not recognize God's impartiality, love of neighbor, special relationship to the poor and the lowly then we are not ourselves in relationship with God. For to be in relationship with God at this deep level is to recognize our true and common humanity with everyone.  To honor others, to not kill, or destroy, to share and to not steal, to care for our family, and to not use God to build up our own power are all ways in which we reveal the health of our own relationship with the Godhead.

Finally, Volf offers:
"Engagement is not a matter of either speaking or doing; not a matter of either offering a compelling intellectual vision or embodying a set of alternative practices; not a matter of either merely making manifest the richness and depth of interior life or merely working to change the institutions of society; not a matter of either only displaying alternative politics as gathered in Eucharistic celebrations or merely working for change as the dispersed people of God. It is all these things and more. The whole person in all aspects of her life is engaged in fostering human flourishing and serving the common good.”
If Christians do not accompany their faith with love and care for the other then they aren't much of a Christian I am afraid. The hard news here is that claiming to be one is quite a different thing than living as one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 30, 2015 Proper 17B / Ordinary 22B / Pentecost +14

"The question that drove the Pharisees and that motivates some contemporary Christians is an important one: in a religiously diverse culture, how does one maintain Christian identity and integrity?"

"ID Check," Cynthia M. Campbell, The Christian Century, 2006.

"By the end of the passage for today, Jesus has turned the whole notion of consumption that defiles on its head."

Commentary, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"What seems to have made him angriest was hypocrisy and irrelevance, and thus it is the Pharisees who come in for his strongest attacks, the good people who should have known better. 'You brood of vipers,' he called them. 'How can you speak good when you are evil?'"

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

Prayer

Behold, O God, your Christian people, gathered together on this day of the Lord, our weekly celebration.  Let the praise of our lips resound in the depths of our hearts, the word you have sown, the word that has taken root within us to sanctify and renew our entire lives.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Jesus has just shown his miraculous healing powers and now an argument over doing work on the sabbath begins between himself and the religious leaders of his day.  The argument centers around the eating of ritually clean food by people who are ritually clean.

Rather than answer the questions directly, Jesus changes the question and instead holds up the difference between human tradition and God's word/commandment.  By so doing he has transferred the positive notion of the "tradition of the elders" into a negative one. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 451).  Jesus' second rebuttal shows the religious leaders and to the reader that instead of the "tradition of the elders" being a positive or necessary expansion of the commandment it is now getting in the way of the commandments of God. It is in fact betraying God's Word - perhaps even working against God's grace. So, while in scripture and guided by scripture it is not of the same authority of God's desire to gaterh in his people.

He then makes a pronouncement about purity.  He states that because the "tradition from the elders" comes from the person (who we believe to be fallen)  it actually corrupts everything that is attempted, including the word of God.  He then (in the passage that we do not read this Sunday) will explain that instead of food being the presenting issue of this corruption, or we might postulate the cleaning of hands/pots/cups/and bronze kettles, it is instead the human heart.  For Jesus the seat of corruption is the human and their heart. (Marcus, 454)

This is a "revolutionary" notion. (Marcus, 456)  It was revolutionary for the disciples who want to hear more, it is revolutionary for us as well.  Just as we might recall the heavenly voice speaking to Peter in Acts about ritually clean foods, Jesus says God made these things, they are of his creation, they are good. What is actually happening is Jesus is himself saying that parts of scripture while important may not have the same validity as other parts of scripture. In a very Anglican way of thinking Jesus is saying that while the bible contains all things necessary for salvation, not everything in the law and in scripture is necessary for salvation

Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of Mark is clear: the human heart is the seat of a lot of bad things.  Joel Marcus says this well when he writes:

"[The] catalogue of human offenses is incorporated into a truly hellish picture, in which the interior of the human being is depicted as a Pandora's box, a cave of malignancy out of which hordes of demon like evils emanate....a wild force that propels people willy-nilly into actions that are opposed to God's will.  Nor is it by chance that, after this global category, the first specific misdeeds to be mentioned are sexual sins; in Hellenistic popular philosophy these sins were the premier example of the chaotic, ungovernable aspect of human nature, which precipitously pursues its own desires and is blind to its own true good, and in Judaism these sins were frequently associated with the promptings of the Evil inclination." (Marcus, 459ff)

The next important piece seems to be the notion that the disciples themselves do not stand apart form the group of humans whose hearts pour forth this evil in the world. (Marcus, 460)  That too is revolutionary.

This passage offers us a glimpse into Jesus' belief that we ALL are fallen creatures. We all suffer from this incurable corruption.  All of us, the religious leaders, the disciples, the first Christian community to which Mark is writing, all of us are naturally about the work of corrupting God's Word.  All of us.

Certainly, we then might respond that such a group of reprobates as the human race have no hope; so what does it matter anyway. Isn't this just an invitation to "moral disorder." (Marcus, 461)  Here I would pause and first say that the key message of Jesus is that all are saved in his work of the cross.  We must remember that every footstep, every word of Jesus, is walked and spoken on the way to the cross.  We ourselves are on our way to this dying.  Joel Marcus too, offers us a thought that defies tradition, logic, and law when he writes that Jesus wants us to understand that transformation lies in seeing the creation, the society, our religion through Jesus' eyes. (Marcus, 461)  In these two notions is our hope and salvation.  In these two critical pieces do we receive grace and learn a new transformational way of life.

All of this is uttered in the physical geography between the worlds of biblical Israel and the world of the Gentiles.  (Marcus, 461)  So this week as we ponder our inability and the root of our corruption, we might also ponder the notion of a new kind of religion.  Perhaps we might imagine a religion (lets say the Episcopal Church for instance) that steps out onto the boundary that lies between our church steps and the world and proclaims grace from our Lord's cross and simultaneously looks at the world with the eyes of Jesus, and in so doing does miraculous work. 




A Little Bit for Everyone



Oremus Online NRSV Text

"Glib pieties do not suffice purify the heart of a believer; if one thinks oneself secure simply for praising the Lord and carping at sinners, one has not made spiritual progress but is half-heartedly trying to hold on both to God and to sinful desire."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"Perhaps, if we as Christians were to follow James's precepts, we would do a lot less talking and a lot more listening."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Why do I find James -- at least in this instance -- so attractive? Because it reminds us of two incredibly important things: 1) faithfulness does not need to be heroic; 2) Sunday is not the most important day of the Christian week."

"Ordinary Saints," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

This is the first time we have had the opportunity to read the letter attributed to James in a long time! It is described, and many people think of it, as a letter.  However, it is really more of a description or encouragement concerning the conduct of a disciple of Jesus. It is probably given the name of the brother of Jesus in order to give it teaching authority in the midst of the late first century Christian community.

The premise of the letter is very much a dualist one. The Christian is a good the world is bad. The Christian is moral and the world is evil. The faith that Christians are called to then is to be a witness in this world.

Blogger Chris Haslaam (found here) describes it this way:
In a situation where trials and tribulations abound, and where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, the author exhorts them to joy, endurance, wisdom, confident prayer and faithful response to the liberating word of God, as they await the second coming of the Lord. The recipients appear to be a group of Jewish-Christian communities outside Palestine. 
In our passage for this Sunday the author is encouraging people to be wary and to not be deceived by the teachings of others or the world. God has given a perfect gift in Christ Jesus. Just as he has given abundantly in the very act of creation, so God has continued to give and to creation. Christ is the first fruit of a new creation - a reordered creation.  

The reason is that followers of Christ are to be examples of God's recreative act. We are, through our own offering of ourselves, to be about the work of God in the world. We are to do and act out our following of Christ Jesus. 

Here then is that great passage: we are to be doers of the word and not only hearers of the word. Once we are baptized, once we accept the great gift of Christ, the all powerful all forgiving act of Christ, we are then to respond. This is very important.

God does the saving. It is to this saving grace filled action of recreation that we are to respond. How are we to respond. The author says we are to hold up our lives to the Gospel. We are to be quick to listen to God and the Gospel. We are to be slow to anger or speak. So we are to listen to God and ponder what we hear. The follower of the Christ is to care for the poor especially orphans and widows. We are to be active in the betterment of the world by caring for other people.

For the author of this passage it is clear that the world does not care for the poor, for the orphan, for the widow. The world does not intend the transformation of the world as a sustainable creation. the world is filled with anger, deceit, and self-care. 

The author is clear, the follower of Christ Jesus is not any of those things. The follower of Jesus is one who is other centered and focused in their life and in their ministry - not just their ministry alone. The work is to be as Christ was for the world.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Proper 16B/Ordinary 21B/Pentecost 13

"...the bread of life discourse represents a christological exposition of the Old Testament manna tradition. Eucharistic language is thus probably used not as an end in itself, but because it enables faith in Jesus to be expounded in a way that is relevant to the Johannine community's legitimation of its beliefs and practices in the context of its conflict with the synagogue."

"Food For Thought: The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:25-71) in Johannine Legitimation," by James F. McGrath, from Theological Gathering 2 (Winter 1997).

Prayer

God our Savior, in Christ, your eternal Word, you have revealed the full depths of your love for us.  Guide this holy assembly of your people by the light of your Holy Spirit, so that no word of mere human wisdom may ever cause us to turn away from your Holy One.  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 6:56-69

We have spent some time over the past few weeks reviewing and pondering the implications of the bread of life on our Episcopal theology, ecclesiology, and liturgy.  We continue in the first part of our reading as before. 

While in the previous verses we have focused our attention on real food, here John transitions to speaking about an "imperishable food that is the source of eternal life." (Raymond Brown, John, vol 29, 292)

If we compare vs 54 with 56 we see that eternal life itself is to be close and in communion with Jesus. (Ibid)  The very nature of claiming to be Christian and Episcopalian is rooted deeply in this notion that we remain in Jesus and that Jesus is in us.  We cannot stress enough that what we are speaking about is physical AND spiritual. That we believe that we, when we remain close and in communion with Jesus, participate physically and spiritually in the life of God, in the life to come, in everlasting or eternal life. This is the unbroken nature of communion which is provided between God through the incarnation to God's people. God proclaims that we are to be his people and he is to be our God.

So, when we arrive at the very last verses of today's reading (which are actually a portion of the following pericope in the scripture) we see that there is an acclamation of faith; a moment as important as Caesarea of Philippi.  It is an affirmation of the revelation of God by those around him which fill the gospel tradition.  We have an exclamation point if you will to the reality of remaining in Christ.

Here are the three key verses:

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”




It is true that many authorities believe this is added by a later author/editor. It is true that there are competing theories about this scholastically.  But here is the important piece: as Episcopalians we root and connect the first part of the text (bread of life) with the second part (a statement of faith).

We might be tempted as "want to be" scholars to preach and separate the two. I say we should not.  In fact to do so misses a very important part of who we are as Episcopalians; and Eucharistically centered Christians.

We believe that communion with Christ is mediated (regardless of your theology on presence) by the rite we use; which was instituted by Jesus.  A rite that includes the proclamation that "we believe" and the sharing of good news of God in Christ Jesus followed by the grace of forgiveness and a holy meal.  Moreover, we have believed and believe today that not only does Christ commune with his people in the Eucharist and his people with Christ; but also that a bond of communion is created between fellow Christians. 

Communion, participation in an Episcopal service of the Eucharist, is a very physical, spiritual, and personal engagement with God.  It includes an activity of God towards his people, a thanksgiving for that action, a surrendering and outpouring of love towards God, and the "individual union with Christ, both Go and [people], in whom the self-giving of God and the self-surrender of [men and women] meet." (Doctrine in the Church of England, 165)  As our own Book of Common prayer states it:

"The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.  The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life."


To say and believe any more or any less may certainly be Christian, but it is not Episcopalian.

We have come to believe that God in Christ Jesus is the very Holy One of God.  And, therefore, we seek communion with him, through the means he gave us: the Eucharistic feast. For Episcopalians the unity of our affirmation of the revelation of God is experienced in the meal we share together around the table of Jesus Christ.



A Little Bit for Everyone


 go? You have the words of eternal life.69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 12 August 16, 2015

"Ultimately all hunger cries out for satisfaction and the oldest Jesus traditions report the promise and agenda of the kingdom: Blessed are you who hunger; for you shall be satisfied. (Luke 6:21); so will those who hunger and thirst for justice (Matt 5:6). The two must not be divorced, because in the bread of life we are being nourished by the one whose being is love and compassion."

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

"The verb here translated abide (meno) occurs 40 times in John and 29 times in the Johannine letters. It means to remain, stay, abide, live, dwell, last, endure, continue."

"Living in Jesus' Heart," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"God provides, that life is abundant (10:10), that eternal life is not something you can conveniently and conventionally postpone to your future but is your promise in the present, that any claim about life with Jesus, life with God, means an abiding, a unity, a reciprocity, and oneness."

"A 'Living' Bread," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.




Prayer

Here in the midst, O good and gracious God, Wisdom has built herself a house, she has set her table and mixed her wine: The flesh and blood of Christ become our food and drink.  Fill us with your Spirit, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, so that we may be a canticle of praise to you and for our brothers and sisters a feast of joyful 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 6:51-58

What is interesting here as we continue our Bread of Life narrative in John is that we have the words of institution here rather than in the setting of the Last Supper narrative.  Which means that there are some very interesting combinations happening as the Gospel of John unfolds theologically. The image we are given is two fold.  Jesus is proclaiming that he is the living bread, and that those who eat of this bread AND believe will have eternal life. This is not the bread or manna in the wilderness that was transitory.

While the synoptics record the Eucharistic words only John's Gospel explains what it is and what it does for the person who follows Jesus.

Here in this passage Jesus is the dominant actor, he is the source of salvation.  He is the means of salvation and unity with God.

When we see the nature of believing and abiding united we might be reminded further of Jeremiah's words in 24.7 that we are God's people, and God is our God.  Jesus is not some independent player within this abiding life of the Christian but is rather an unbroken link to the Father. 

The words are difficult for many to hear.  They were difficult in the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus spoke them.  Within his hearing they very people listening are struggling with the meaning. 

We also must remember that the revelation is completed on the resurrection day. 

I believe this is very difficult for us today because we prefer the message of the Gospel to remain a spiritual thing.  We do not want it to be about both the believing and the physical life in Christ for to do so means that we must be at work in the world not just as believers but as physical vessels of the life promised in Christ. 

We are redeemed, both our hearts/souls and our bodies.  God does the work.  Our Eucharist itself reflects the redeeming work at work in our liturgy and in our mission and evangelism.

This past week we remembered the live and ministry of the Virgin Mary.  And in the scriptures appointed for the day we were reminded that God in Christ Jesus feeds us spiritually and he gives the poor good things to eat.  Likewise both the spiritual and physical are tested by our passage this Sunday.

While the preacher may be tempted to remain in the head and heart parsing out the spiritual revelation of belief about the body of Christ, we should also be clear that the work of incarnating Christ in the world is about the feeding and care of others.  The feeding and care of neighbor and family members is a very real mission given to those who abide with Christ.  This is when bread lives in the hands of the world.

Ephesians 5:15-20

"The promises of the Gospel on this Sunday may make it possible to hear the epistle's commands in the spirit of their intention."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:15-20, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"How are we supposed to live in love the way Jesus did if we avoid the people Jesus loved?"

"Where Is the Love?" Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2012.
"These verses continue instructions regarding the Christian life. This life is the result of the reconciliation that God has brought about in Christ..."

Commentary, Ephesians 5:15-20, Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

The letter of Paul to the Ephesians is instructional to the churches in his care. It may have had special intent in spreading a normative set of standard practices or discipleship qualities among the churches. In fact the verses directly preceding are possibly an ancient baptismal hymn based upon Isaiah 60.1.
 
In the last few weeks we know that Paul has been speaking to them about their treatment of one another within the community and those outside of it. These are admonitions to be kind and tenderhearted. They are to focus on the good and people's best nature. They are in everything to build up the body and people through care, love, and forgiveness. They are to put away anger, hate, and demoralizing behaviors. They are to have a  positive approach - in other words.

While these are external behaviors, Paul also admonishes them on their own behavior as well. They are to be wise. The reality is that at the time the Jewish society believed that everything would go down the tubes just before the Messiah came. There would be great social decadence and debauchery. We see this in Qumran as well. (Notes taken from Markus Barth's Ephesians, Anchor Bible)

Part of the wisdom Paul believes, comes from the fact that as followers of Christ, baptized in the Spirit, we participate in the wisdom of God ourselves. This enables us to live within the will of God. We are to work on ourselves, and be wise about how we conduct ourselves. Paul writes, "So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit." (17ff)

I would point out that throughout Paul's letters there is a focus upon worship. Worship is the place where all people's gifts come together for mutual instruction, mutual glorification of God, and mutual transformation. The unity which Paul believes is essential is most often reflected in Paul's writings, as it is here in Ephesians, exemplified in the common worship of the community. So bring songs, psalms, lessons, and allow the Spirit to work. 

In this we are not drunken or foolish but we are together wise and joyful. The spirit helps us to give thanks for the work of Jesus Christ and reorients our gaze naturally from our own desires to God's for us, and our desires to treat others poorly to treating others with kindness and generosity. Liturgy (worship) is formational for Paul.

As we think about this Paul is clearly saying that we are to treat others with kindness, forgiveness, toleration, and love. We are to speak truth but lovingly and tenderheartedly. We are to work on ourselves rather than others; seeking to reform and transform our ways of life. And, we are to come together in worship for the building up of our own discipleship, our own community, and for the glorification of God in thanksgiving for the work of Christ Jesus.

So it is that I was reminded by one author that Paul repeats here in Ephesians what he says elsewhere, especially in Colossians 3:16-17, : “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. 

How very Anglican!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Proper 14B/Ordinary 19B/Pentecost 11 August 9, 2015

"At some point a human being quits grasping for life and griping at God and begins instead to give herself away with Christ, as a piece of his flesh, for the life of the world (v. 51)."

"Foodstuffs," Jerome Burce, Sabbatheology, The Crossings Community, 2009.

"The good news is that Jesus, rather than our knowledge and understanding, is the source of our calling and the source of our strength."

Commentary, John 6:35, 41-51, Craig A. Satterlee, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"'Murmur' here and in v.41: Perhaps 'grumble' or 'complain' would be better, but the idea of Jews/Judeans murmuring brings to mind the wilderness stories of the Exodus, when the people of Israel ‘murmured.’ See, e.g. Exodus 16:12, where the people murmur (γογγυσμὸν in LXX) and God, in response, sends Manna, later called the 'bread of heaven' (Psalm 78:24)."

"Murmuring about Bread from Heaven," D Mark Davis, raw translation and exegesis/questions, Left Behind and Loving It, 2012.


Prayer

Guide your church, O God, on the paths of its earthly pilgrimage, and sustain with the food that does not perish so that, perserving int eh faith to which christ has called us, we may come at last to your holy mountain and gaze on the beauty of your face.  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 6:35-51


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel


Our gospel today continues with the "Bread of Life" theme that is marching its way through our summer readings in John's gospel.  As I go a little deeper with the bread of life texts I was fascinated by the history of scholarship and theology on this text.  Raymond Brown has a lovely paragraph in the beginning of his exegesis on this passage that is worth repeating for you history buffs.

As Brown begins to unpack the notion that Jesus is either a) speaking prophetically and about himself as the bread of life from heaven and so this is a revelatory passage on the incarnation; or, b) it is about the flesh of Jesus and the Eucharist.  He writes:

"Even in antiquity there was no agreement.  Some of the early Church Fathers, like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Eusebius, understood the whole discourse (vss. 35-58) spiritually: for them the flesh and blood of 53ff. meant no more than did the bread from heaven - a reference to Christ, but not in a Eucharistic way. For Augustine the flesh referred to Christ's immolaiton for the salvation of men.  In the heart of the patristic period, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, the Cyrils of Jerusalem and of Alexandria gave a preponderance to the Eucharistic theory. Skipping to the Reformation, we find that many of the reformers did not accepts the Eucharistic interpretation, but then neither did the Catholic champion Cajetan." (John, vol 1, 272)

In the end Brown himself will settle on the notion that Jesus is preaching on a text selected for the seder meal in the Capernaum synagogue at Passover time.  (ibid, 280)

I think this passage gives us the ability to mold and shape a discourse of our own; wherein we meditate upon the nature of Jesus and of the Eucharistic feast.  For Episcopalians this is an important time to speak about our own particular and faithful understanding of the Eucharistic meal.  We believe that the Holy Eucharist is a gospel sacrament that is essential in understanding the revelation of who Jesus is, his life, death, resurrection and our hope of his return.  For Episcopalians you see this passage is a both/and revelation. It speaks to us of who the incarnation is and how we recognize him; and it speaks to us of the sacrament itself.

The incarnation itself, Jesus as manna from heaven, is remembered and we give thanks for God's intervention in the world around us. We understand that the service and Eucharist itself makes Christ's sacrifice present for us in both a physical and spiritual manner. The Eucharist is the place where in the people of God, the Church, gathers for refreshment as it makes its pilgrim journey through the world.  It is part of the narrative of life which stretches from baptism to the passing from this life into the next. 

The narrative life of Jesus and his Church is an important part of this because there is much that is taking place here and much that is at work in the life of the believer: there is in this Eucharist the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of the union with Christ and with one another, and it also is a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.  It is a service where people are invited to examine their lives, repent of sin, and seek to be in love and charity with all people. 

So as we turn and look at this passage from John's gospel we see that Jesus' words and teachings profoundly impact and build our narrative. Jesus is the bread of life. His promise is a promise for a world hungry for life and thirsty for salvation.  Those who follow him and partake as family are never lost to him.  Jesus as bread of life, manna from heaven, the incarnation, is part of the reordering and recreating of the cosmic order.  Which is remade in Jesus' incarnation and whose culmination will be the earth's reunion with heaven in the last day.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2



"Even with the transformative effects of the love of God, the writer of Ephesians recognizes that sin does not disappear."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, Susan Hylen, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"The Spirit wants to bear the fruits of love in you and through you. Fundamental to all of this is forgiveness. It means giving, not holding oneself back and holding something against people. Let it go, embrace them; God embraced us."

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

"We must admit that the condemnation ingredient in anger always involves an illusory self-perception. But sometimes illusions are an inevitable part of our human situation and ones that we get around not by eradicating them but by compensating for them."

"Tempering the Spirit of Wrath: Anger and the Christian Life," Robert C. Roberts. The Christian Century, 1997. At Religion OnLine.


Resources for the Epistle

One commentator on this passage wrote something like, "Paul gives advice you don't often hear in the ancient world." The truth is that Paul's letter to the Ephesians was and is unique advice. As a circular letter meant for more than one community we might remind ourselves that it is good to hear and it might just be meant for us.

Paul says we have to speak the truth to one another. This is key. We must be honest with one another and in doing this work we are then true members together in the community. We should never ask that people hold back their honest selves from us. And, we should work to be honest with others. This is a key quality to the kingdom of God and the vision for Christian community. 

This is not license though to be mean. This truth telling is not license to hurt other people. It is not the freedom to get in another persons face and tell them like it is. It is not freedom to hate or be angered against another person. Hate speech, hate, being ugly, demeaning another person, humor at another's expense or in order to degrade another person, treating people poorly or in an unkind manner because you think you have the truth - is evil, sinful, and of the devil Paul says.

If you are a follower of Jesus you can't talk this way. You can't treat people this way - no matter what they do or did. You are to instead build people up, to speak words of grace, and to make sure they hear you speak of them and to them in this manner. 

God wishes to move and work through you as a witness to God's love and mercy. Hate speech and anger will not be vessels of God's love. Bitterness, wrath, anger, arguing, slander, malice and mean intent cannot be transformative vessels of God's love.

I have actually heard people say that kindness is not a biblical value. Paul would disagree. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. This is the nature of Christ and when you are these to other people you are yourselves images of the Christ and much fruit will be born in the world because of your witness.

This is what it means to be imitators of God. To be a beloved Child of God is to live in love and to give your life for those who would harm you. You are to give your life and give up your mean spirited, hate speech, your ugliness, your anger and hostility, and your demeaning of other people if you are to be a child of God. No matter how just you believe your cause to be - God will not have beloved followers who do not imitate these qualities of Christ himself. In fact to behave in this fashion is to actually frustrate God's own mission and ministry in the world. 

This is not some kind of politically correct way of being - it is God's way of being. If we are to be with God and be imitators of God then we are must be about this work in the world too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Proper 13B/Ordinary 18B/Pentecost 10 August 2, 2015

"Preachers may need to remind their congregations about last week's text and the feeding of the multitude because in today's text, John begins to unpack the meaning of that earlier event."

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

"'The hymn powerfully portrays the plight of so many of God's children: "Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live before ...'"

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Craig A. Satterlee, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"In this text, Jesus is trying to repair the faulty understanding the crowd took away from last Sunday's text."

Commentary, John 6:24-35, Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.




Prayer

To our stewardship, O God, you have entrusted the vast resources of your creation.  Let there be no lack of bread at the table s of any of your children, and stir up within us also a longing for your word, that we may be able to satisfy that hunger for truth that you have placed within every human heart. 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 6:24-35

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We now move into the bread of life discourse in John's Gospel.  This passage follows on the heals of the feeding of the five thousand.
So the crowd of five thousand and more follow Jesus by boat across the sea.  And, there Jesus tells them that they are there because of their hunger and because Jesus fed them. He then reorients their hunger to the hunger for enduring life.  Here Jesus invites them into the deeper life of the spirit. The people were dealing with their physical need and Jesus invites them to lift their eyes to their spiritual hunger and the potential of a spiritual life. 

So, what is this work?  The work is clear in this passage. Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  They then demand more signs.  Jesus again reorients their vision.  He said to them that their religion relies on signs.  And, that as humans they are more likely to give credit to the one who performs signs; this is natural.  But Jesus is clear again that these signs are from God.  And, he, Jesus, is from God.  He is a new bread of life. He is the incarnation.  Those who come close and move beyond the simply physical will find God in the One who comes from heaven. 

Jesus is the living word that feeds the body and the soul.  Raymond Brown reminds me of the tradition in which this conversation about manna from heaven is taking place.  From the book of Wisdom 16:26 we may read, "That your sons whom you loved might learn, O Lord, that it is not the various kinds of fruit that nourish man, but it is your word that preserves those who believe in you."  Or, Nehemiah 9:20:  "You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst." Of course the crowd seems unable to understand these links or even to see the revelation of God made man in Jesus that is standing before them.

The revelation of Jesus as Son of Man, the incarnation, is indeed good news. It is good news because it reminds us of our chosen nature. That we are built to love and to long for God, and that though we are constantly seeking to fill our love and longing with bread of this world, it is God who provides a manna which nourishes both the body and the soul.  Indeed, we are beckoned into a new life with God through the incarnation.  A very real Jesus who gives us physical bread is also the the very real living word who gives himself as manna from heaven. 

Today we find this living word not only in the community of faithful people who share communion, we also find the living word in the preaching and teaching of the church.  We are able to find the living word in bible study (private and corporate). We are able to hear the living word in prayer which is petitional and contemplative. We are able to listen for the living word in conversations with fellow church goers and with strangers.  We are also able to find this living word out in the world.

It is too easy to see it only in church. God has sprinkled the world with leaven and in its stories, in the lives of people (even those who do not share our faith), in the arts, in film and in music. If you look, listen, and are attentive you will see that the leaven of God is all around us speaking of revelation, of incarnation, of resurrection.

We thirst and hunger for the living word, some thirst and hunger for real food, the mixture of this physical and spiritual hunger is a nexus in which the incarnation may be experienced in our own day and in our own time, within the confines of a Christian community and without.



Ephesians 4:1-16

"This section of Ephesians begins a series of ethical instructions firmly based on the preceding three chapters."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:1-16, Sarah henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

"God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better."

"Eternal Life," Frederick Buechner from Wishful Thinking.

"We live in a time that tends to undermine any claim to truth out of fear of being divisive or intolerant. But Paul advocates 'speaking the truth in love' (4:15). In other words, our bearing witness to the truth is grounded in a deep humility (4:2)."

Commentary, Ephesians 4:1-16, Mark Tranvik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


Resources for the Epistle

What seems powerful about the letter to the Ephesians is not only its focus upon unity but also the reality that it was probably meant as a circular letter among many early Christian communities. The communities are flourishing and growing. New members (new families) are being added to the community. Not unlike our own efforts with evangelism - when we add people the community itself changes.  

The church is growing and thriving because God is present.  Consuming this religion is not the only reason for participating though. The Christian community has work to do and membership comes with obligations. 

The obligation is to live a life “worthy of ... [their] calling” as Christians. Unity will be the essential ingredient to this work because it brings about humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance.

There are in fact, 7 ways in which we must work on this unity. 
4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Paul reminds us that Christ himself did not wait upon our perfection, nor our agreement, to come and begin the work of gathering us in. The Church, the Christian community, is not perfected - though Christ through the Holy Spirit is even now doing this work. 

Often times as we think about our work of being unified and becoming Christ like we immediately exteriorize the process. We make it about others and about our community or about someone else. We say you should be unified while I go my own way. You should love while I enjoy my hatred and anger. You must put down your sword while I remain an instrument of division.  We put the work of Christ-likeness on others and remind them they are not fully ready yet. They are not worthy. They are not to be included in this community or that community. Their ways are not our ways. 

The truth is that Paul has a much higher standard than this - as does our lord. God is not interested in how others are at work undertaking their obligations of unity, transformation, and Christ-likeness. No. God is much more interested in my personal journey towards unity in the family. God is much more interested in your personal journey. 

So you might ask yourself today as you ponder and pray about this passage - how are you doing with that? How is that working for you?

Where are you learning humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance by unifying yourself (as did our Lord Christ) with those who are so foreign to you? How are you a person of unity and a person being transformed by living among and working with those who are so very other than yourself? 

The work of unity is not some simply nicety. It is at the core of discipleship because it requires a life lived under the power of the bond of relationship with another - setting aside your desires for them and allowing yourself to live in relationship with them. 

This was the work of Christ to come into the creation (though it was not his nature), to embrace its creatures (though they are not of his own kind), to love (even though they would not understand or return it), and to give of himself fully (even as they took his life from him). This seems the measure of discipleship. This seems the necessary ingredient to a thriving God like community.

So, as we think about all the ways we would have it our way we might pause to think of the obligation of following a God who models something quite amazing.