Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Easter is Fifty Days! This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter—next comes Easter 6 and Easter 7 when we celebrate Jesus' Ascension (Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter is the official Ascension Day), then on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost before we move into the season of the Spirit, time of the Church that will be another green and growing segment of Ordinary Time.

Bookends in the canon of scripture reveal God as origin and end of all things:

• Genesis 1 and 2: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a Garden

• Revelation 21 and 22: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a City that grows out of a well-tended garden

Revelation was written during the reign of Roman emperor Caesar Domitian; very briefly, the book of Revelation shows us how empires everywhere operate. It's somewhat of a guide book for living baptized in the context of empire—any empire. Imperial-style governments such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia in biblical times, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, present-day USA later on; trans-national imperial entities such as Bayer and Monsanto that surreptitiously creep into almost every aspect of the planet's existence. This week and next week the passages from Revelation especially show us ways to live baptized into the new creation.

The book's author, John the Revelator, is an unknown individual, but he's not Jesus' cousin John the Baptist or Jesus' beloved disciple John of fourth gospel fame and renown.

Much of Revelation is in the literary style of apocalyptic; we've previously mentioned apocalyptic uncovers/reveals something hidden as it uses symbolic language, physical symbols, and indirect speech. Other scriptural examples of apocalypse include – but aren't not limited to – sections of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Isaiah, and Mark's gospel.

We discussed Patmos that may have been a Roman prison island; a class participant who'd visited Patmos later emailed me it's "a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea," though as our quick internet search discovered during class, it's physically close to present day Turkey. Wikipedia provided a link to Patmos' Greek language website.

"Ocean no more" in Revelation 21:1 isn't about ecological disaster! It's a code word for untamed chaos. In the famous passage that opens Genesis 1 the Spirit of God hovers and breathes and speaks over the "deep," the unordered chaotic waters. In our baptism with Water and Word, God calls and enables us to speak words that tame and order the chaos of empire.

Revelation 21:3 where God makes a home with creation uses the same word as in John 1:14 (the gospel according to John). Late Pastor Eugene Peterson describes it aptly as God "pitching a tent," a portable dwelling or shelter that allows God to journey step by step alongside creation. We find similar imagery in the Exodus desert account with evidence of God's presence in a cloud by day, fire by night, in the portable ark of the covenant the people carried with them.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Easter 4C

Acts 9:36-43

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the twenty-second day of Easter, the fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the world-changing, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel readings are from John.

Backtracking:

The same Luke who compiled the gospel put together the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a pattern similar to Luke as it records events Doctor Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

Today's Reading:

This account begins, "Now in Joppa..." Besides in the Acts of the Apostles, where else in the bible do we hear about Joppa, that's now usually called Jaffa? Jonah 1:3 – "So Jonah went down to Joppa," bought a ticket and boarded a ship for Tarshish in his attempt to run away from the Lord.

This is the only place in Acts that uses the feminine word for apostle. Last week when we discussed the conversion of the apostle Paul, we learned Saul was his Hebrew/Jewish name, Paul was his Greek name. Depending on where he was and with whom he interacted, he always was both Saul and Paul. In today's scripture pericope or selection, the woman Peter raises from death to life is Dorcas in Greek, Tabitha in Aramaic. Pastor Peg mentioned retired United Methodist bishop Will Willimon (check out his writing! Although he's very theological, he presents complex ideas very clearly) suggests the "room upstairs" reference in verse 37 is an additional way Luke uses to identity Tabitha/Dorcas as Jesus' disciple because it connects her with the upper room experiences of Jesus' male disciples.

Verse 40: before taking action, Peter sends everyone else outside and intently prays in order to discern what God would have him do. Peter's word commands Tabitha to"get up" and (Verse41) he takes her hand and helps her up. Jesus still raises the dead! In baptism we receive the Spirit of Resurrection! For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.

Verse 43: Peter then stayed for a while in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Tanners made shoes, clothes, saddles, and other items from the hide of dead animals. Contact with dead carcasses made Simon ceremonially unclean. Peter associating with Simon reflects the radical inclusion of women, social underclasses, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized people we hear about in Luke's gospel; this trajectory continues in the book of Acts and during the later history of the church.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Easter 3C

Acts 9:1-6

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the fifteenth day of Easter, the third Sunday of Easter. Easter Day, the festival of resurrection, is the second of our great Trinitarian feasts.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that provides our scripture readings schedules passages from the Acts of the Apostles for the first reading (lection or lesson). That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the (thoughts and prayers and) activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The stories in Acts reveal the shape, mission, witness, power, and faithfulness of the nascent church. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel accounts are from John.

By definition, Christianity is incarnational; Christianity is about God's embodiment/enfleshment in the world, most specifically in Jesus of Nazareth and now in the church (that's us!) as the incarnate body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. All four canonical gospels affirm this reality early on:

• Mark: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
• Matthew: you shall call him Emmanuel, God-with-us.
• Luke: you shall name him Jesus; he will be son of the Most High.
• John: in the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The same person who compiled the gospel according to Luke put together the Acts of the Apostles. Since the middle of the last century, scholars have affirmed Luke's gospel as volume 1, the book of Acts as volume 2, and frequently refer to the dyad as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a similar pattern as it records events Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

By definition Christianity is incarnational as it celebrates God's embodiment in all creation.

The writer of Luke's gospel ends his account with Jesus before his ascension or return to the Father telling his followers to wait until they are "clothed with power from on high." The disciples then go back to Jerusalem. Luke begins Acts with the disciples asking the resurrected Jesus if he'll now finally restore the kingdom. Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong, and tells them to wait because they will receive power from on high, because they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. In continuity with Jesus' original followers, we live as God's presence on earth. As the denomination's tagline expresses it, "God's Work – Our Hands."

In Acts 6:36 we read about the first ordination in the New Testament. The early church first ordained or set apart for a particular purpose the servant class of deacons. Historically deacons have looked out on, faced and interacted with the world, while ministers of word and sacrament (pastors, once they're called or appointed to that role) historically have faced and interacted with the church. So to outsiders, the church first looked like people who picked up their towels and basins in service, as Jesus modeled when he washed his disciples' feet in the upper room before his death.

Verse 9:2 of today's passage refers to the church as followers of The Way; that would be the way of Jesus, the road to Jerusalem, the cross, the empty tomb. Later on in Acts 11:26 we read Jesus' followers first were called "Christians" at Antioch.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday – Triduum 2019

Palm/Passion Sunday – Holy Week – Triduum

Palm/Passion Sunday
Many churches combine Palm Sunday's triumphant entry into Jerusalem with Jesus' Last Supper
and the trial, conviction, crucifixion, death and burial narratives because many people don't attend any Holy Week Services.

Isaiah 50:4-9a • Philippians 2:5-11
Palm Sunday gospel reading: Luke 19:28-40 • Passion Sunday gospel reading: Luke 22:14-23:56

Lent concludes at sundown or at midnight on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Triduum – Three Days

Maundy – "Mandate" – Thursday
The Three Days is a single liturgy that begins with Maundy Thursday's worship that concludes without a benediction, often ends with the worship space stripped and in darkness. Historical Lenten practice waits until Maundy Thursday to pronounce absolution or forgiveness to the gathered assembly.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 • Exodus 12:1-4, [5-10], 11-14 • Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Good Friday
The Three Days continue on Good Friday, the day of Jesus' death. Although the Revised Common Lectionary specifies scripture readings for Friday, many churches' traditions include other scriptures such as noon through 3 pm with Jesus' seven last words or statements, reading or singing one of the full scriptural passion narratives in the evening, or something else.

Holy Saturday
The day nothing apparently happens is the day everything actually happens. We spend a lot of our lives in the interstitial, liminal time between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday dawn. Theology of the cross especially lifts up this day before Easter when we almost hang suspended in time anticipating gifts of rebirth, of spring, of new life.

Easter / Resurrection
Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter. The Three Days/Triduum liturgy concludes by celebrating Jesus' resurrection. The Council of Nicaea (325) that gave us the Nicene Creed calendared Easter for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Easter Vigil
The Vigil of Easter revisits the meta-narratives of creation and of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories. The essential readings for the Vigil of Easter:
Genesis 1:1—2:4a • Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 • Ezekiel 37:1-14 • Jonah 1:1—2:1-3 [4-6] 7-9 • Romans 6:3-11 • Luke 24:1-12

Easter Sunrise / Morning
Acts 10:34-43 • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 • Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Easter Evening
Isaiah 25:6-9 • Psalm 114 • 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 • Luke 24:13-49

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lent 5C

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

We opened by praying Graham Kendrick's Knowing you, Jesus based on Philippians 3:7-11:

All I once held dear, built my life upon,
all this world reveres and wars to own,
all I once thought gain I have counted loss,
spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You.
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy,
my righteousness; and I love You, Lord.

Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
to be found in You and known as Yours,
to possess by faith what I could not earn,
all surpassing gift of righteousness.

Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,
and to know You in Your suffering,
to become like You in Your death,
My Lord, so with You to live and never die.

Three weeks ago on Lent 2 we talked about Philippians as the Epistle of Joy! This week on Lent 5 and next week for Lent 6 (Palm/Passion) Sunday, the second reading again will be from Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi where he was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. Philippians is one of Paul's captivity letters from when he was incarcerated (by humans)—probably in Rome. The readings for today and next Sunday reveal Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ as a no holds barred prisoner of his Lord!

The church's year of grace has moved into the conclusion of Lent and is getting ready for Easter. That means we're seriously getting into some theology of the cross. Theology of the Cross was at the heart of Martin Luther's theology, and if we read both the OT and NT carefully, we discover it's at the heart of God's self-revelation.
In very short:

• Theology of the cross is about God's own self-revelation, especially in Christ crucified. Theology of the cross is about God's often hidden, paradoxical both/and presence in the comment things, people, and situations.

• Theology of glory is about human ideas and imaginings of how a powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God might act. How humans wish God would behave?

This section of Philippians starts out with the Apostle Paul's / St. Paul's / Saul of Tarsus' résumé, CV, biography. Paul loves to make lists: fruits/gifts of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23; bads of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21... Paul goes on to describe how he wants to become like Jesus Christ. This Paul does not use the words disciple or follower or related; for him it's always about being "in Christ," the organic incorporation into Jesus' death and resurrection that God accomplishes in each of us at our baptism.

Again we need to remember 98% of the time for Pauln "law" means the sacrificial and dietary laws and circumcision. He does not mean the Ten Commandments or Jesus' Great Commandment capsule summary.

Although in Philippians 4:9 different translations read either "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ," faith of Christ that's about Jesus infinite faithfulness probably is more accurate and almost definitely was Paul's intent.

Our organic incorporation into Jesus Christ? For Paul, the gospel is Death and Resurrection, so baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection re-creates us as a gospeled people, gospeled community, as gospeled individuals.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Covenant :: Lent 4

Rather than discuss one of the specific Revised Common Lectionary readings on Lent 4, I prepared an overview of covenant throughout the bible. As one of my seminary professors observed about our assigned reading of Delbert Hillers' Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, "If you don't understand this book, you won't understand your seminary education." I've linked to my blog post that then links to the book on Amazon.
Covenant in the Bible
Our English word covenant implies coming together = co+venire. A covenant is an agreement – contract – pact – compact – treaty with responsibilities and requirements for both parties. Covenants usually include a spoken or written promise and a sign of that promise; the physical sign can be sharing a meal or another type of ritual action; it can be an object that stands as a witness.

God's covenants are acts of grace! As Pastor Peg pointed out at the start of our pre-LA Marathon Saturday evening Bible study, God always reaches out for us; God always makes the first move!
God covenants with us and with all creation in the sacraments. As Christians – members of the body of Christ – we live in covenant with God, with one another, and with all creation. Church membership and Christian marriage are covenants.

Significant Biblical Covenants
Creation
Genesis 1 – 2:7; Psalm 104
from The Creation by James Weldon Johnson
And God stepped out on space, And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely—I'll make me a world.

Adam
Genesis 2:15-17
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Noah
Genesis 6:18 "But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you."
Noah continues – Genesis 9:8-17
12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

Abram/Abraham
Genesis 15
5 God brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
15:18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."

Moses / Sinai Covenant / Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:1-17
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore] 3 you shall have no other gods befor me.
Deuteronomy 5:1-21
Moses reiterates Sinai/Horeb covenant

Joshua
24:1-28 covenant renewal ceremony in context of history of Israel starting with Abraham
24:15 "Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
24:16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

David
2 Samuel 7:1-16
7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
Psalm 89:19-37
89:28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for David, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Jeremiah
31:31-34 Not so much covenant in itself as it foretells God's ultimate covenant of grace in Jesus Christ
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
33b I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jesus
1 Corinthians 11
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Luke 22
17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Lent 2C

Philippians 4:1-13

1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
The church's year of grace has moved into the season of Lent that counts the biblical number of forty days minus Sundays: Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week. Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve/Day form a single liturgy of the three days or Triduum.

A couple weeks ago on Transfiguration Pastor Peg explained the recent Lenten emphasis on living grounded in our baptism into Christ, in an attitude of joy, works and words of mercy toward our neighbors (and ourselves, as well). Of course we need to acknowledge our wrong doings, we sometimes need to turn our direction around in prayers and acts of repentance, but the idea is to get away from feeling hopeless and no good, receive the gift of forgiveness and new life, affirm and live out our baptismal identity.

Today we'll check out a passage from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians is known as the epistle of joy and connects extremely well with the current emphasis for Lent. In this short 4-chapter long letter, the "joy" or its cognates occurs at least 16 times.

The words for grace and joy in Greek come from the same root, so you could say to have joy means to recognize and embody grace.

χάρις = grace

χαράς = joy

Paul wrote this epistle to the church at Philippi where we was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. As a Roman colony, the citizens and congregants had dual citizenship similar to ours: baptized citizens of heaven on earth, denizens of imperial Rome, the occupying power. Like us, although they needed to defer to Rome's wordily power to some degree in order to survive, they ultimately needed to order their lives and days around their Christian identities. Philippians is a captivity or imprisonment letter Paul probably wrote from some type of incarceration—possibly house arrest or from a dungeon in Rome around 61 or thereabouts. Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, also wrote well-known letters from prison. Do you know anyone who has written meaningful or memorable letters from prison or jail? Maybe poetry or a novel?

In this letter Paul rejoices despite extremely difficult and discouraging circumstances. In Acts 16:25 we read about Paul and Silas praying in prison; that may have been the same one.

We had a longish discussion of 4:1, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord." This section is in the contemporaneous literary form of paranaesis that's encouragement or exhortation to keep on keepin' as you have been and almost never is about reproach or reprimand. Because the lectionary where we get our weekly scripture readings appoints this text for several occasions, I found about a dozen commentaries and current consensus is Paul's ministry coworkers and companions Euodia and Syntyche were doing just fine and needed to keep going as they had been, as 4:9 suggests. On an important side note, here and elsewhere in Paul's seven undisputed (definitely written by him and not by someone else who used his name, which was a commonplace compliment back then) epistles we see quite a lot of evidence of women leaders in the early church.

Philippians 4:8 brings us one of Paul's famous lists: true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; commendable; excellence; worthy of praise... God bestows those wonderful characteristics on us in our baptism; we bestow them on others with our presence and activity in their lives. What a way to start and continue in this season of Lent as we journey toward Easter.