summer solstice!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Transfiguration B

Mark 9:2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany that's three days before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Western Protestant churches celebrate the trinitarian feast of the Transfiguration. The Roman Catholic Church observes Transfiguration (T-Fig) on the second Sunday in Lent; Eastern Churches celebrate Transfiguration during August as an octave or 8-days long festival; it's that theologically important to them!

Jesus' baptism by John with its trinitarian theophany or revelation and Jesus' transfiguration with its trinitarian theophany bookend the Epiphany season. The declarative voice at Jesus' baptism speaks to Jesus, "You are my beloved son." The voice at T-Fig announces to everyone, "This is my beloved son."

"Six days later" happens after Jesus [in Mark 8] reminds his disciples about his feeding the crowd with a few loaves and fishes, after he heals a blind man at Bethsaida, after Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, after Jesus' talk about denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him. Mark 9 opens with Jesus telling them some people in his midst will not taste death (still will be alive) before they see God's reign arriving in power. Death and resurrection!

All three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – include similar accounts of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop. The scripture passage is packed full of symbolism.

In judaism, mountains were places of divine revelation; examples include Moses on Mount Sinai, Ezekiel on Mount Horeb. Pastor Peg and Charlene told us Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the Transfiguration, though scripture doesn't cite a place. Related to mountains of God's self-revelation, the NT brings us Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; God's ultimate self-revelation in the cross of Mount Calvary.

Transfiguration in the Greek text is the familiar to us metamorphosis. The light show on the T-Fig mountain continues the epiphany theme of light as an aspect of God's revelation. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – yet ultimately we need to listen to Jesus, not to his antecedents.

Elijah represents or symbolizes the prophets; Moses the law. In Jesus we encounter the fulfillment and the embodiment of the law and the prophets. Three dwellings, small houses, tabernacles, refers to Succoth, the Jewish liturgical festival of booths that commemorates the exodus desert wanderings. Word here for dwelling is the same word John's gospel uses for Jesus dwelling amount us, "pitching a tent" a portable structure, as The Message expresses it. The tent or booth is open to the natural elements and it also shelters inhabitants from the elements. Peter was correct about Jesus' bringing a new exodus, a new liberation. The Hebrew scriptures feature the cloud of the shekinah, of God's presence. Today's lectionary passage ends with another instance of Mark's messianic secret: tell no one what you've seen and hear until Jesus (the son of man, the human one) has risen from the dead—until Easter, which is especially ironic since original versions of Mark's gospel don't include a resurrection account.

There are many possible interpretations of this passage. Let's move beyond the truth that you can't stay at the party forever, you can't remain on the mountaintop, engrossed in deep conversation (or whatever your pleasure) because you need to get back to real life, return to the daily walk of the public witness. Let's move beyond the fact you can't contain God, put God in a box, beyond the truth the God of the bible is not a place god for a particular location.

Ash Wednesday starts the 6-week long season of Lent. "Lent" comes from a word for the season of spring and refers to days lengthening. This is similar to the music tempo "lento" or slow.

One more thing! On Transfiguration we bury the alleluia because we don't sing or pray "alleluias" during the penitential seasons of Lent.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Epiphany 5B

Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany in the church's year of grace that began a couple months ago with Advent. Epiphany (revealing, revelation. manifestation) emphasizes the universalism of Jesus as redeemer, savior, sovereign for all people and all creation everywhere—not solely for his own ethnicity, nation, and geography. Epiphany features light! We know how far into the dark a tiny candle shines. Scripture readings for epiphany also include call stories that relate to God's calling people who lived long before us, and relate directly to places and ministries God calls us to shine as light in our own worlds.

Next Sunday the season of Epiphany concludes with the Feast of the Transfiguration. On Transfiguration (T-Fig) we experience a theophany, or trinitarian revelation. Earlier in the season at Jesus' baptism we also had a theophany of the triune God. That pair of manifestations of the Trinity basically bookend the epiphany season. Lent, the season of lengthening, longer days that initiates spring in the northern hemisphere) follows epiphany. Lent begins in ten days on February 14, Valentine's Day.

I asked Steve and Charlene to note highlights of the Gospel According to Mark from the intro to the gospel in their study bibles. Today's assigned text brings us a pair of Mark's ongoing emphases: resurrection and service. In 13 verses, we get a tremendous amount of action, several changes of scene. I asked Richard (who's a member of the Motion Picture Academy, grew up in the field and is an expert on most things film-related) if this would make into a 90-minute movie; he replied it would be two hours long. Mark uses the word for "raised up" we find in 1:31 sixteen times in his gospel; it means resurrection to new life. In fact, the theme of resurrection from death pervades both Old and New Testament.

Service is the second prominent biblical current in this particular passage. Diakonia / deacon and related nouns and verbs make a pathway through the entire New Testament; this includes Jesus' declaration he is among us as "one who serves." In today's text, Jesus raises Simon Peter's MIL to new life so she'll be able to serve again. Pastor Peg mentioned some very cool interpretations of this in her sermon! From the Acts of the Apostles, we learn the early church first ordained (laid hands upon and prayed over to authorize for a particular ministry) deacons or servants.

Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7

1Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word." 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Deacons daily model Jesus's act of foot washing – towel and basin ministry – that many churches demonstrate during their Maundy Thursday worship. The church didn't first ordain Ministers of Word and Sacrament that we tend to think of as the church's primary "ministers"! Created in the image of God and called to lives of neighbor-oriented service as God acts, the servant class or group or tribe of deacons historically has had a world-facing, world-serving call. To the world the church is supposed to look like people called to serve. Of course, that includes Ministers of Word and Sacrament or pastors when they're out in the world, too, although the Minister of Word and Sacrament's primary stance is facing the church.

Stay tuned for next week's Transfiguration!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Epiphany 4B

Mark 1:21-28

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany and counting Sundays according to the Feast of Epiphany that's 06 January every year (we celebrated on the closest Sunday 07 January). Epiphany especially reveals Jesus as light for all people and all creation everywhere—not only for ethnic, religious, and geographical people like him! Scripture readings bring us images of light and also a series of call stories that remind us of God's call to everyone to live as light to the world. During this entire year of grace that opened with the First Sunday of Advent on the first Sunday of December (Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day on 30 November), our gospel readings mostly come from Mark's Gospel; today we hear about Jesus' first act of public ministry. He's in the synagogue after calling Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, which happened after John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. We find a contrast between the Holy Spirit of God and an Unclean Spirit Jesus casts out of the guy in the synagogue. Countless interpretations of the unclean spirit have been suggested and insisted upon.

I mentioned how each of the four gospels brings us different stories and a different overall view of Jesus—even the synoptic gospel Matthew, Mark, and Luke with their basic "one eye" overview also have marked distinctions. Our major discussion for Epiphany 4 was what each of us would choose for our gospel account: particular stories, parables, events? Since I sprung the idea and hadn't even considered my own response, I plan to talk more about it on Epiphany 5.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Epiphany 3B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.


The church's relatively new year of grace still is in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes God as God for all people and all creation, Jesus as savior and redeemer for all the world, not only the Jewish people. Scripture readings for epiphany emphasize a far-reaching universal salvation; they also include several call narratives—God calling all of us to be light to the world, especially the world that immediately surrounds us. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus that's a call – and identity – narrative, just as our baptisms are.

The Revised Common Lectionary that chooses our scripture readings brings us a chunk of Jonah only once in the 3-year cycle, and it's more of a very small sliver than a substantial chunk. Let's do a quick summary of the entire book of Jonah today. Jonah features God calling Jonah to a particular task more than once; Jonah also features God's love for the brutal Assyrian empire that's an enemy of Jonah's people. Who are our brutal enemies? Do we want to tell them about and show them them God's infinite, expansive love and mercy?

Maybe you know about what we sometimes refer to as types or icons of Jesus Christ in scripture? For example, Moses as liberator and law-giver is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ as ruler or sovereign. Adam, the first human is an icon of Jesus Christ, the new human. Jonah spent 3 days and 3 night in the belly of the great fish, just as Jesus spent 3 days and 3 nights buried in the ground. Beside God call to Jonah and God's love for all people and all creation, something else we find in Jonah? Death and resurrection! BTW, in middle-eastern culture considers a day or a part of a day an entire day. Also, semitic languages have no word for "some, a few, or several," so they use the expedient "three."

Over the past two plus years, we've studied many (many) passages from the apostle Paul. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection! For us as well, the good news of the gospel is our dying in every way possible, God raising us to every possible kind of new life. I asked Steve W to read short passages from Matthew and Luke along with the commentary in his study bible.

Matthew 12

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." 39But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!"

Matthew 16

1The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away.

Luke 11

29When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation."

Long ago I learned a Vacation Bible School song about Jonah by the late (as in deceased) pastor Ewald Bash.


1. We sail a ship with a man named Jonah... early in the morning.
2. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ... early in the morning.
3. Fall on your knees, for the sea is raging ... early in the morning.
4. Who is the guilty one among us?...
5 Cast the lot, and the number's Jonah ...
6. Row, men, row to save this Jonah! ...
7. O Lord God, we've got to drown him ...
8. Done, and the sea has ceased its raging ...
9. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
10. What shall we do when the world is drowning?...
13. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
12. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ...

I mentioned how in the early days of Christianity if someone wondered if their conversation partner was Christian or not, they'd casually draw half of a simple fish in the sand with their foot; if the other person was Christian they'd complete the fish figure from their side—if not, nothing subversive revealed. They did this because the Greek word for fish spells out the first letter of each word in the phrase, "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." (Ichthyology is the study of fish.) What's a bit crazy is when I finally looked at our Sunday bulletin beyond ascertaining it included the text I planned to discuss, it mentioned that Fish Fact! Cool!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Baptism of Jesus B

Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

This week for the baptism of Jesus, we continue in the gospel according to Mark—the short, direct, energetic account for texters and tweeters.

We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany. Last week we discussed the "epi" (upon) and "phan" {revealing, revelation) roots of the the word. The feast and the season of epiphany specifically brings us the revelation of Jesus as savior and lord for all the world. On the Day of Epiphany (or the nearest Sunday, as we observed Epiphany last week), we hear about the wise guys, star gazers, astrologers, Zoroastrians, foreigners to Israel (etc.) from the east visiting Jesus. That event has become an icon of God's gracious universalism that in Jesus Christ redeems all people and all creation. We know how a special star guided the magi from their country to Jesus; then we discussed choosing a star word, or a word to guide us through this year, which several of us did.

Today for Jesus' baptism by his cousin John the Baptist, we experience a trinitarian theophany, or revelation of the trinity: the voice of God the Father; the presence of Jesus God the Son; the familiar dove symbol or icon of God the Holy Spirit / Holy Ghost. Mark 1:10 brings us the heavens torn apart with a word that means a rip or rupture that can't be mended. I asked Steve W to read from Mark 15 in his study bible along with the commentary:

37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

This "tear, tore, torn" is the same word for an irreparable rupture or break. I explained how important the temple imagery is; Israel built the Jerusalem temple modeled after temples of other religions because they wanted a contained place where God (actually the name of God that in Hebrew Bible theology is God's presence, identity, etc.) could reside and be kept safe. HIstorically, only the high priest had access to the central chamber of the temple, the Holy of Holies, and only one day each year, the Day of Atonement. Tearing or ripping wide apart the temple veil or curtain that separate the holy of holies from the rest of the world revealed the reality of a God of all, God for all, who cannot be limited or contained anywhere. Another revelation of God's universal salvation and redemption of all creation.

Pastor Peg also pointed out a similar tear between heaven and earth that we'll experience on Transfiguration, that's always the last Sunday after Epiphany—February 11th this year.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Epiphany 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6

1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms. 5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

epiphany, epiphanies, darkness, light, stars star words

Let's start by looking at the word epiphany:

epi – upon

episode / epistle / epiclesis / epistle / epistemology / epigraph / epigram / epiphany

phan / fan – appearance, revelation, showing, manifestation, etc.

tiffany / theophany / fantasy / fancy / epiphany / phantom / phenomenon

I mentioned a fan that gives us a breeze isn't from the same root. Steve asked about fanatic, and I promised to check it out—but I'm posting this blog before researching fanatic.

The early church numbered Sundays according to Epiphany, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost. Epiphany was a huge deal!

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as savior to all nations, a light to all the world. Technically Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, but that was yesterday, so we're having thirteenth night rather than twelfth night. Epiphany is Three Kings Day, when we remember magi (astrologers, wise guys, stargazers) visiting Jesus from an country east of Judea. Scripture doesn't tell us how many there were, but they brought three gifts, so tradition again sings about and talks about three kings. Their religion probably was Zoroastrianism. Today's passages from 3rd Isaiah and from Matthew both emphasize east, dawn, rising, light. As you know, it takes only a tiny amount of light to begin transforming darkness; only a small candle or flashlight literally to light our way, at least to the next step or two we need to take. I mentioned the city of Tucson is an official International Dark Sky Place that forbids businesses and buildings to emit more than a limited amount of artificial illumination—a formally protected nightscape. Being able to see that many stars within the city limits is astonishing! Pastor Peg mentioned a stargazing area outside Holden Village that's famous for blankets of stars covering the sky.

Immediately after God speaks through a dream to the rulers from the east, Matthew's gospel brings us another of Joseph's dreams, telling him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt.

On the festival of light that's Epiphany, a new tradition has started of choosing star words to guide us for the calendar year. You can ask someone else to choose your word; you can look over the past year and at your current situation and in the Spirit decide on an emphasis to guide you the way a star led the magi. Particularly throughout scripture (and in the world of design, as well), we know word holds source (origins / beginnings), and immanence (future /possibilities). That's also the case with our star words.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 3B

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Short explanation again of how Hebrew bible prophets technically spoke against the ruling status quo – political, economic, social, religious. Prophets also called people to repentance, to turning around and change the style and direction of their lives. But more than anything, prophecy announced God doing a new thing, the inbreaking of the reign of heaven, resurrection from the dead! This week's particular proclamation is exactly that: urban rebirth; rebuilding cities from ruins and blight and devastation; reversing, turning upside down, the community's sorrow, grief, lack of initiative. Resonating with the universalism we find throughout the entire book of Isaiah, these words affirm God does all this for everyone, everywhere!

Verse 11 in the Hebrew uses the word sprout three times: earth sprouts; garden sprouts; righteousness sprouts.

Interesting how this passage uses three different words for God/Lord: Yahweh; Adonai; Elohim

I had so many notes and ideas about this amazing passage from 3rd Isaiah, who wrote for the people who'd returned from exile in Babylon and also for the people who never left Jerusalem, but had stayed behind. However, we can't do everything every week or any week, so at least I pointed out how in Luke's gospel, Jesus' reading and commenting in the synagogue on these promises via Isaiah opened Jesus' public ministry.
Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

As I'd planned, we took time to discuss our most memorable and meaningful advent and Christmas memories and traditions. I mentioned Blue Christmas again, because this time of year is unhappy, difficult, and challenging for many people who hardly can wait until the media and local blitz of carols, decorations, and festivities ends.

Stayed tuned for next week, Advent 4, and the Magnificat from Jesus' mother Mary / Miriam!