summer solstice!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Epiphany 6A

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Taking a diversion and excursion away from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew to listen to God speaking through Moses in the book of Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch, one of the Five Books of Moses. We've discussed Matthew's community's emphasis on Jesus' Jewishness, on Jesus as the New Moses, New King David. Last fall we had several readings from Deuteronomy that's in the covenantal tradition of the prophet Jeremiah who also was part of autumn's readings.

We haven't talked nearly enough about covenant; briefly, derived from co-venire (come together), covenant is about two or more parties coming together in agreement, with obligations on both sides—mutual dependence and mutual vulnerability. Scripture brings us a long list of covenants between God and humanity, from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David. Jeremiah tells us about the New Covenant of grace God will bring in Jesus Christ. God covenants with us in baptism!

We often refer to the ten commandments God gave the people through Moses as the "Sinai Covenant." Deuteronomy is one long covenantal book! Deuteronomy mostly comes from the next to latest written Pentateuch source either from time of Babylonian exile or from post-exilic resettlement of Jerusalem—around when Huldah and Josiah rediscovered Torah? Or from both eras. In any case, the content long had been part of the oral tradition that we've discussed as not being the same as written-down words spoken out loud, but a way of transmitting words and ideas that has a dynamic life of its own.

We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke) an interpretation, spelling-out, exposition of the Ten Commandments, just as Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension demonstrates the meaning of the Commandments. During Lent we'll study Luther's Small Catechism that starts out with the Commandments. We really only need the First Commandment,
I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (so therefore!), you shall have no other gods before me.
The other nine commandments (as well as Jesus' birth, life, etc.) and the great commandment to love God, self, and neighbor clarify the first. The commandments are working papers that lay out boundaries and limits of attitudes, words, and actions of our life together in community, of our lives vis-à-vis the world out there when we physically leave the covenantal community of the church.

Last fall when we still were in Luke's lectionary year, immediately after Jesus pronounces the Great Commandment to love God, self, and neighbor, his disciples ask, "And who is my neighbor?" Then follows Good Sam about the guy who gets beaten up and left by the roadside to die on his way "down to Jericho." Amongst Luke, Jeremiah, and Deuteronomy, we talked some about neighborology, "the word about the neighbor."

When Jesus starts his Sermon on the Mount, he lines out blessings that we receive from certain behaviors and attitudes. Being blessed, happy, prosperous, shalom-filled isn't quite the same as the deep-welling joy we experiences as Christians, nor is it abundant money, success, and property as the world and as "prosperity gospel" people consider prospering. In today's Deuteronomy passage, Moses also speaks about being blessed.

LCM does extremely well welcoming everyone, including immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ&c. persons; in some ways they don't need these words, yet as our guest preacher observed during our SS discussion, seemingly innocuous desirable goods and everyday behaviors carried to extremes can become gods, so we all need to be careful and observe our own behaviors and compulsions.

I commented on the Persian Patio that's a ring of yard chairs under an umbrella our office administrator arranges in the yard on Sundays so our Persian People (who have Farsi-language bibles we gave them) can have a gathering place to speak their own language and talk about their own concerns. Last week in SS I mentioned the late environmental theologian Sittler, who also was part of the devotions offered at Friday's Green Faith Team Meeting Interim Pastor and I serve on. I mentioned the dad of one of my former housemates/landlords was first president ever of LSTC, and Dr. Sittler frequently visited their home. Pulling this together, they chose Stewart Herman as seminary president because of his experiences and work with refugees in the World Council of Churches and for Lutheran World Relief. In other words, he'd help students and others learn about being a welcoming, diverse church without borders or boundaries.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Epiphany 5A

Matthew 5:13-20

13"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So far in Matthew's gospel: genealogy – birth – magi – Egypt – baptism by cousin John the Baptist – wilderness desert solitude and temptations – calls four disciples – beatitudes, "blessed" Sermon on the Mount as the New Moses

This week continues Jesus' sermon, homily, talk, discourse that describes righteous attributes or characteristics of his disciples. These qualities are gifts of grace, yet having them makes demands for our response: what we do because of who we are — God's Work / Our Hands

Everyone knows today's gospel reading well! It's about our being salt of the earth and light of the world; this is what and how people in the kingdom of heaven, reign of God, lifestyle of God, culture of heaven are and how they live.
Kari Jobe, We Are

"Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Lives inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day

So wake up sleeper
Lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows, conquer death
Make the most of time we've left.

We are the light of the world
We are the city on the hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta let the light shine.
Let the light shine
Let the light shine."

As Wendell Berry reminds us, "practice resurrection!"

Discussion about how a little salt goes a long way; how the flame of light from a small candle can fill a dark room. Mix it all up and add seasoning to life everywhere we go! The world needs us to help it be tasty and lit up!

Matthew 5:20 "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees..."

Typically we give Pharisees a bad rap as self-righteous, legalistic, sanctimonious hypocrites overly concerned with irrelevant details that mattered not. In this context consider the pharisees as good citizen leaders who strove for justice in the community, who kept the commandments to the letter, did everything possible to make the world around them a better place.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Epiphany 4A

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Some features of Matthew's gospel include Jesus as the New Moses; Jesus as the new King David; an emphasis on the righteousness and justice of God that we find throughout the Hebrew Bible.

Today we'll look at the famous sermon (discourse, talk, homily) Jesus gave after he called his first four disciples.

Backtrack:

• All four gospels include an account of Jesus' baptism by his cousin John the Baptist; Jesus' baptism was a public event that prepared him for public ministry.

• Our baptism in the context of worship is public and prepares us for the public witness to Jesus' death and resurrection.

Jesus' IPOs – Initial Public Offerings after his baptism:

• Matthew: calling four disciples and then preaching Sermon on the Mount as an example of Jesus as the new Moses

• Mark: casting out a demon /incubus

• Luke: reading Isaiah in synagogue and announcing he is the fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee; the people reject him, and almost throw him over a cliff

• John: Changing water into wine at the Wedding Ceremony at Cana, "grace upon grace upon grace"

Matthew and Luke both bring us this talk that includes characteristics or attributes of disciples or people who follow him. Matthew and Luke definitely tell about the same event that was passed along in the oral tradition with differing details, and recorded by each to make their own theological point.

We studied a printed handout of The Message version of this passage in Matthew, who brings us Jesus on the mountain or hill as a parallel to Moses receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, and in Luke, who places Jesus on a level place, reflecting Mary's Magnificat/Hannah's song that promises God will raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty to create a world, or "lifestyle" of distributive justice, where no one has too much, no one has too little.

"Blessed, Happy" is not the deep well of joy we often reference and sometimes experience as Christians; blessed is a state of participation in the reign of heaven, lifestyle of God, of being fortunate, well-regarded by God. Blessed, happy is not consumer happiness as in "if I buy this tablet or take this trip I'll be happier;" "If I buy that tablet, take this trip, and buy those new dishes I'll be the happiest."

Luke's "trouble" in The Message, "woe" in some translations is the opposite of blessed / happy: sorrow, sadness, grief, oy veh.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Epiphany 3A

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
So far in Matthew:

Genealogy / Jesus' birth / magi – astrologers – royalty from different religion, different part of the world show us Jesus and the gospel is for everyone everywhere / Joseph's dream that Herod plans to kill all baby boys under the age of 2 / Joseph, Mary, Jesus go to Egypt and live as refugees until Herod's death / Joseph, Mary, Jesus return to their own country and settle in Nazareth / John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River that for Israel formed the boundary and border between their old life of slavery and wandering in the desert and their new life of obedience in covenanted community in the promised land.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us Jesus' temptations in the wilderness after his baptism. We read and hear those scriptures at the beginning of Lent that's a time of reflection for us.

Now we have Jesus' first act of public ministry according to Matthew.

Matthew emphasizes Jesus' connections with Moses, with David, with the whole people of God we meet in the Hebrew scriptures. Matthew 4:12-16 closely connects with today's first reading, Isaiah 9:1-4. Zebulun and Naphtali designate land God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and Jacob (Genesis 28:13), showed to Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-4), land Joshua assigned (Zebulun – 19:10-16; Naphtali –19:32-39). The ascriptions for the tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 tell us Zebulun dwelt by the sea and would be a haven for ships (49:13); Naphtali was a doe bearing lovely young fawns—a feminine image (49:21). These names frame land as God's gift on loan to humanity, as covenanted place and space. God tells us land is not alienable, not a "property" we can sell. Matthew's community recorded this gospel account after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, yet by the time Jesus got there, imperial Rome already occupied Capernaum. Rome controlled land and sea; Rome controlled every aspect of the local economy, of everyone's lives and livelihoods. For First Isaiah, Galilee of the gentiles referred to the area's ethnic diversity; by the time of Matthew's writing, "Galilee of the gentiles" also includes another Herod, Rome's puppet governor Herod Antipas.

Jesus has journeyed 80 miles from the site of his baptism! Capernaum was a backwater, working-class town, not a standard metropolitan statistical area.

We've met Jesus' cousin John the Baptist with his message "Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Now Jesus repeats John's words, but Jesus is the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven—"the Reign of Heaven is here and now!"

Matthew says Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God because of the Jewish proscription against speaking G-d's name. Kingdom can be reign, rule, sovereignty. We can speak about the empire of heaven! I like the concepts culture of heaven, lifestyle of heaven: during Jesus' time and during our time, a very different way of being and of acting than the typical usual mainstream amidst the imperial reign of the Roman Empire, in the midst of the imperial reign of trans-national corporations, controlled behind the scenes financial markets that favor the rich who will become "filthy rich," even amid the sometimes compelling imperial reign of consumerism. As happens with many colonials subjected, Jesus uses similar words and vocabulary to the dominant imperial cultures but gives them a new, subversive meaning.

Was this Jesus' very first encounter ever with the two pairs of brothers? Probably! Jesus' presence was so compelling and charismatic... and offered them an alternative, a different way of being and of living.

After calling both pairs of brothers as his first act of public ministry, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people." Jesus announced the reign of heaven; he told them and he showed them. As in most marginal economies, food was scarce under imperial Rome. People didn't always have safe, clean water. In a workforce dominated by physical labor, illness prevented people from working, further impoverishing them (well, of course!).

Both Matthew and Luke report John the Baptist in prison asking his followers to ask his cousin Jesus, "are you the one who is to come, or do we need to look for someone else?" Jesus replies, "Go and tell John what you see and here: blind see; lame walk; deaf hear; lepers get clean skin; dead get raised to new life; the poor have the good news of the gospel reached to them (that hopefully they can hear a lot better with their restored hearing).

Backtracking earlier in today's gospel text, Matthew picks up Isaiah's "the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." We currently are in the season of epiphany within the church's year of grace. This section or installment of ordinary (ordered, structured) time emphasizes Jesus as light, as revelation to everyone everywhere, that reminds us Israel's God YHWH was God of all, God for all, not exclusively Israel's.

Discussion of sources and uses of light. You don't need much to see a lot! Even the glow of a single small candle can fill a very dark place. First light signals the start of a new day that will progressively become brighter. Us as light? We receive a lighted candle at baptism.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Epiphany 2A

Isaiah 49:1-7

1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." 4But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God." 5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." 7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
Last week: Bap-J in Matthew
This week: Bap-J in John
All 4 gospel accounts include John baptizing Jesus!

• Remember: Jesus' baptism of mikvah was not the same as our trinitarian baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection; it was more a signal of newness for the nation. However, at Jesus' baptism we experience a trinitarian theophany with Father, Son, Holy Spirit all in attendance at the event. We hear God the Father naming, claiming, calling and inspiring Jesus. At our baptism, God names, claims, calls, and inspires us with the HS.

Revised Common Lectionary years A, B & C all feature a lot of Isaiah
Mostly pre-exilic First Isaiah, 1-39; Mostly exilic Second Isaiah, 40-55; Most post-exilic Third Isaiah, 56-66...
each has writing mostly by the same author with others interspersed. "Exilic" refers to Babylonian diaspora

All of the long Hebrew bible book of Isaiah brings us broad, inclusive universalism. Israel's God YHWH is God of all, God for all nations, people, creation. God seeks and desire salvation – wholeness, integrity, shalom, interconnectedness, a free future not bound by the past – for all.

Today our first reading is one of 2nd Isaiah's four Servant Songs found at:

• Isaiah 42:1-9

• Isaiah 49:1-6;

• Isaiah 50:4-9;

• Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

All of 2nd Isaiah brings us a servant attitude. Isaiah 49-66 never again mentions King of Persia Cyrus; Isaiah 50-55 makes no more mention of Jacob as shorthand, as a cipher for all God's people.

The church long has identified the Servant as Jesus Christ, but at different times the Servant could be God's whole people Israel, Israel of the Babylonian (or any other) diaspora; the person who recorded the words of Second Isaiah. How about us as the Suffering Servant? The church reads and hears these texts during Holy Week of Jesus' passion leading to his death.

Jeremiah 1:5 // Isaiah 49:1 God called both prophets in the womb, before their earthly birth!

Today's passage helps us reflect on...

• God's baptismal claim on us as individuals and as a community;
• the presence of the HS;
• God's Work / Our Hands;
• how we sometimes get discouraged.

Example: after a retail or other tenant vacates a commercial building, they tear off that company's sign or banner and you almost always can see what we call a "label scar" where the sign had been. In baptism God marks us with the sign of the cross forever—it's an indelible "label scar." Can people see it or feel it?

Does the New Creation begin at Jesus' baptism or at his resurrection?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Baptism of Jesus A

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
1. Today we begin the liturgical season of Epiphany, a short segment of the green and growing Ordinary (ordered, structured) Time. Every year during the time after the Great 50 Days of Easter we have a long segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost (that's the 50th day of Easter. The Epiphany season begins and ends with a trinitarian theophany—a showing-forth, manifestation, of the triune God. Today we celebrate the first theophany with the Baptism of Jesus; three days before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, we'll experience Jesus' Transfiguration.

2. We're now in Matthew's Revised Common Lectionary year A. Matthew's community replicates and parallels the history of God's people Israel in its narrative about Jesus Christ. Matthew very much views Jesus as the new Moses, as the new King David.

3. Matthew's gospel, the bible in general, and especially the Hebrew scriptures emphasize the concept of righteousness or justice. This is what we'd refer to as distributive, compensatory, or restorative justice that seeks to give everyone enough to live on, a place in the social order. It is far from the retributive justice of the criminal "justice" system. God's righteousness or justice is part of the "upside-down kingdom."

4. Jesus so far in Matthew's gospel: from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee to the River Jordan.

Although in many ways Matthew's gospel is more "spiritual" thank the gospel of Luke (who constantly brings us the presence and activity of the HS), Matthew brings us the very first instance of Jesus subverting empire, when the holy family Joseph, Mary, and Jesus travel to Egypt to escape the decree of the imperial ruler Herod to kill all baby boys under the age of 2. Pastor Peg has a wonderful kids' book about the Holy Family in Egypt that tells us they needed to rely on "the kindness of strangers." How about us? Are we kind strangers? Especially USA, UK, and Germany are receiving many many political and religious refugees seeking basic shelter and the kindness of strangers.

5. Doing history:

historicism = reading the past through the present—how can that be? To some extent that's what we do when we read and interpret scripture, engage in theology.

presentism = reading the present through the past as cause and effect, actions and events leading to more or less reasonable responses, "cause and effect."

6. We find John baptizing Jesus in all four gospels! For his cousin Jesus, John the Baptist is very much Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah, end of the time of promise, start of the time of fulfillment. Next week in St. John's gospel we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Lots of "spilled ink" asking why Jesus, the perfectly sinless Son of God would need baptism. First of all, John's baptism was more of a new beginning for the nation, for the whole people of Israel than it was for individuals. Israel stepped into the Jordan River that formed a border and boundary between slavery in Egypt, exodus desert wanderings and their new promise landed life of obedience, repentance, and grace in covenanted community. Remember, they'd received the commandments on Mount Sinai during the course of their wilderness trek.

7. Secondly, when Matthew's community assembled this gospel account, questions of Jesus' full divinity hadn't yet started circulating; those concerns belong to a century or two later, so Matthew's community would not have asked why the sinless Son of Heaven needed to be baptized. The Definition of Chalcedon that describes Jesus Christ as fully human, completely divine, dates from 451.

Furthermore, our trinitarian baptism is into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

8. Jesus stepped into the Jordan River that was border and boundary between his earlier, more private life and his public life of obedience, grace and keeping righteous covenant. God the Father names, claims, and calls Jesus in this event.

This passage from Matthew brings us a Trinitarian Theophany as the heavens open! Father, Son, Holy Spirit are the three Persons of the trinity; theophany is showing forth, manifesting, displaying divinity.

9. In our baptism, God the Father names, claims, and calls us. The heavens open at our baptism and fill us with the HS, equipping us to serve others, sometimes to subvert empire. As part of the baptismal promises we or our sponsors renounce sin, death and the devil. Luke reports Jesus announcing, "I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven." Living baptized means no longer giving credence or credibility or acknowledgment to the empty, shallow, fruitless, sometimes spectacular displays of the devil.

10. In his small catechism, Martin Luther asks, "How can water do such great things?" It is not only water, but water combined with the Word of God...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted."
Let's talk about signs, symbols, and situations. A sign points or directs us to something other than itself. Street sign. Product packaging. Warning labels in many places. A symbol is somewhat related. The scriptures and the sacraments are the symbols of the Church: although they carry and convey profound realities in themselves, they also point beyond themselves to God's gracious redemptive actions in Jesus Christ. In churches of Reformation heritage, we sometimes include the Confessions (Creeds, Catechisms) as symbols. For all varieties of Lutheran that would be the Book of Concord; for the Presbyterian Church (USA), their Book of Confessions. Other Reformed church bodies affirm the Canons of Dordt as reliable expositions of scripture. God often communicates with us via life situations we're in. Examples?

This week for Advent 4 we have another text from the first part of the book of Isaiah, probably from Isaiah of Jerusalem. Similar to Martin Luther, Matthew's community that produced the featured gospel readings for RCL year A had a habit of discovering and uncovering Jesus Christ in every passage of the Old Testament. No, I have that backwards: similar to Matthew's community, the Reformer Martin Luther loved to discern and explain the presence of Jesus in almost every phrase of the OT. This passage has become one of the most famous predictions of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, yet its origins are anything but. In these very very political verses, King Ahaz of the southern kingdom Judah is very very concerned about the military and poetical threats from Samaria [Ephraim] in the northern kingdom of Israel, from Damascus in Syria.

Discussion: in the world of Jesus' day, it was commonplace for you to be conversing with or find yourself in the marketplace beside someone who was the offspring of a god and of a mortal, thus half human and half divine. In Jesus the Christ we have a savior, a redeemer, a messiah who is fully human and fully divine. Writing to mostly Jews, Matthew drew upon this passage from 1st Isaiah in his gospel-long affirmation of Jesus as the New Moses, the Son of David, the New King David, the Messiah of Israel. Mary named her son Jesus / Joshua / Savior, yet his presence in first century Palestine and 21st century Christianity everywhere is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

I reminded the group the Hebrew scriptures distinguish between the prophet or nabi, one who speaks truth to power, lines out if-then alternatives regarding the future (as in this situation with Isaiah and King Ahaz), and the roeh or seer, someone who predicts future events and happenings.

We'll have a 2-week break from Sunday School, and that back to Matthew. I plan to discuss Bap-J and also at least mention the Magi and the Flight into Egypt, both unique to Matthew's gospel.