Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Epiphany 5C

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

With the fairly short season of Epiphany, the church's year of grace is in a segment of ordinary time that's carefully arranged, structured, organized and "ordered." Starting in the spring when we number Sundays after the festival of Pentecost, we get a many months long segment of ordinary time.

Last week we considered the prophet Jeremiah's call story, a narrative about God's claim on Jeremiah and God's words to Jeremiah that outlined his call, calling, or vocation (same word, different languages). We've also heard and discussed the opening acts of Jesus' public ministry in versions from the gospels of Luke and John; those also are call stores, with Jesus affirming and announcing God's call and claim on him.

This week the Revised Common Lectionary that gives us the scriptures for each Sunday brings us two call stories: the call of the prophet Isaiah and Jesus' calling his first disciples, who worked in the fishing profession. Isaiah is a very long book that historically spans at least two centuries and includes writings from at least three different people. Today's passage is from early in the first section of the book that's mostly by the guy we refer to as Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Contrasting Jeremiah and Isaiah

(1) last week Jeremiah hesitated and was reluctant to accept the ministry task God was calling him to do. The young Jeremiah felt unqualified, but as we studied the text. we saw that God would equip and enable Jeremiah to do everything God asked and sent him to do.

(2) this week Isaiah responds to God's call in a very positive manner announcing he's right here and ready to go where God sends him.

Isaiah's royal sensibility

All three sections of Isaiah affirm God's lordship and sovereignty; today's reading opens with the historical circumstance of the death of King Uzziah who'd been a relatively good and faithful human ruler; here Isaiah receives a vision of the God he knew as the real king, the true ruler of all creation.

Today's reading

Seraphs or seraphim are snaky creatures with wings; elsewhere in the bible, cherubs or cherubim have lion faces. Neither creature is the adorable chubby-cheeked baby angel figure of Renaissance and later paintings, of Christmas and Valentine's Day greeting cards.

Although this is one of the scripture texts for Trinity Sunday (and on Sunday we sang Steve W's favorite majestic Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy") Holy, holy, holy in this passage is not a trinitarian proclamation—it's an artifact of Hebrew and other semitic languages. English adjectives have basic, comparative, and superlative forms, so we say good-better-best, pretty-prettier-prettiest. If I were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic and really liked a Sunday brunch, I might say it was good-good-good or tasty-tasty-tasty. In English I'd tell the chef of the day or the companion sitting beside me today's menu was the best or the tastiest. In this first reading for today, Isaiah tells us God is holy-holy-holy or The Holiest.

Discussion of God's many callings to each of us, wherever we are. Contrast between major life calling/vocation or series thereof (today most people have four or five or six separate careers, or sometimes engage in two or three different ones at the same time) and the many smaller circumstantial callings we each receive literally all the time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Epiphany 4C

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [strike, jolt, shock: not gentle] my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

As we number Sundays after the feast of the Epiphany, the church's year of grace has moved into a short segment of green and growing Ordinary Time. After the Festival of Pentecost, we have a many months long season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary refers to structured, organized, patterned, arranged: "in order."

Today we'll mention Luke's gospel – the prophet Jeremiah – the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy – neighborology, the word about the neighbor. All these sources and concepts are about living together in covenant as God's people, rather than existing alone in isolation.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C when we focus mostly on gospel readings from Luke. You may remember Luke emphasizes making opportunities and resources such as food and housing level and equal for everyone: no one has too little or less than they need; no one has too much or more than they need. That's also very much the style of Deuteronomy, which along with Leviticus is one of the places we find the Ten Commandments that supremely are about living together as God's people with distributive justice, fairness, and compassion.

Today's first reading comes from Jeremiah. Last Sunday we talked about scripture becoming codified, throughly written down, preserved, and in a sense canonized, or made into the standard or measure that describes who God is, what God requires, how God's people live. Although he may have been in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah also likely had some written-down texts (he had his own scribe, as well) and would have been very familiar with the book of Deuteronomy that influenced his own spoken and written words during his forty year long ministry.

Today's first reading comes from the beginning of Jeremiah. Please notice God is the main actor here assuring Jeremiah God has known, consecrated, appointed, and will send, command, and be with Jeremiah.

Like Jesus' call narratives, Jeremiah's call or vocation (same word from different languages) account fits our lives, too. We often think of calling or vocation as the major profession, job, or series of different more or less full-time work opportunities we'll have in our lives; of course those are important, but all of us have noticed God calls, sends, and enables us to smaller jobs, ministries, or acts of service. For every one of those mega or micro opportunities, ministries, or tasks (all the same thing), just as for Jeremiah, God leads us to it, enables us to do it, and will be with us through it. Just as for Jeremiah, we sometimes feel unqualified...

Discussion of language and other cultural conditions we need to meet, of particular gifts or assets we may need to have.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Epiphany 3C


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."

During this fairly short season of Epiphany, the Church's year of grace is in Ordinary Time. You may remember when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost we get a many months long green and growing season. Ordinary means ordered, regulated, measured, not messy or dis-ordered. I mentioned how much I love the way the color green represents growth and change; Pastor Peg commented there are literally countless different hues and varieties of green. I replied there just may be more types of green than of any other color? Exaggeration, but I like to think that's so.

Last week: John's version of Jesus' public ministry debut, his IPO/Initial Public Offering, was a party!

This week: we have Luke's version of Jesus public ministerial debut. Just as it was for John, it's also in his Galileean hometown, a place that was very working class, full of reprobates, thieves, robbers, disreputable people in general—and gentiles! This text emphasizes Luke's themes of Holy Spirit, the marginalized, the underprivileged. Nazareth is Jesus' hometown; he's in his home synagogue. Jesus was 30 years old and had been attending synagogue there for a long time. He knew the texts of scripture well, so after the attendant handed him the Isaiah scroll, Jesus would have been familiar enough to pick and choose the passage he wanted to read that comes from the third section of the long book of Isaiah 61:1, 58:6, 61:2.

In all four of the canonical gospels, before his first formal act of public ministry, Jesus calls disciples—followers, students he teaches/disciplines, people who later become apostles or "sent people" in the power of the same Holy Spirit that filled and accompanied Jesus, that fills and accompanies us.

A note about the word canon: canon literally is a measuring device, a yardstick, something used to compare other products of a similar genre. For an excellent description of a canon (that's not a gun that fires ammunition) via Isaiah, God announces, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line."

Besides this reading from Luke's gospel that displays the authority of the written word in the life of the synagogue and in Jesus' life and ministry, today we have an amazing reading from the Hebrew Bible book of Nehemiah 8:1-10. It describes an event that occurred shortly after Jews who returned came back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon where they'd had little or no access to scripture. This happened at a time in history when previously spoken or orally transmitted texts were starting to be written down by people from many religious and spiritual traditions, with those words then gaining an authority that came from their being codified. As I've described, the oral tradition was dynamic and fluid, definitely not the same as if one of us scheduled as lector decided to recite a Sunday lection from memory because the passage was fairly short and easy. Not only did parts of passages get changed through the process of telling, hearing, and retelling; scribes who copied texts onto scrolls sometimes made mistakes, which partly accounts for our having more than one authoritative "received tradition" of scripture.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we heard Mary's Magnificat (a canticle, song, or psalm also from Luke's gospel that describes magnifying or glorifying God) where Jesus' mother announces great leveling and immense reversals of have-nots gaining essentials for life, those who have-a-lot in a material sense losing some of their wealth in a massive re-distribution move. On Advent 4 we sang Canticle of the Turning that paraphrases Mary's words. Jesus' announcement of himself as God's justice and reversal embodied (enfleshed, incarnated) picks up on Mary's themes of distributive justice and equality. As I previously noted, Mary would have known Hannah's song from 1 Samuel 2:1-10 so well she could create a riff on it for herself.

We don't memorize scripture enough! Barbara mentioned the almost incredible power of concentrating throughout each day on only two or three verses of the book of scripture they're studying in a group she belongs to.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Almost two months ago, on the first Sunday of December this year, the church began a New Year of Grace with the waiting, anticipatory, expectant, hope-filled season of advent. So far during this year of grace we've encountered Jesus' cousin John the Baptist, we've met Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus; we've become acquainted with magi who were foreign religious leaders from the East—from the direction of the rising sun, where every new day begins.

Thanks to Barbara and to Pastor Peg for facilitating when I stayed home with the flu last week...

Last Sunday on the Baptism of Jesus, 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. Last Sunday we celebrated the first theophany with the Baptism of Jesus; three days before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, we'll experience Jesus' Transfiguration.

Today our gospel reading is back in the Gospel According to John, the latest of the 4 canonical gospels, compiled between 90 and 110. John gives us a different worldview from the synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke that despite marked differences, perceive Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner. This John most likely is John the son of Zebedee, brother of Peter and James—John the "beloved disciple." More accurately, the fourth gospel comes out of John's community, the people who surrounded John.

John brings us the most explicit new creation of the four canonical gospels. Besides events remembered from Jesus' life and ministry, John's gospel brings us seven signs and seven "I am" statements that the community likely found, discovered, or uncovered in separate written-down documents. Seven is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology.

Today our gospel reading brings us John's version of Jesus' first act of public ministry. In all four gospels, Jesus first calls disciples (followers, people he taught or "disciplined"), and then the text reveals the direction of God's call to Jesus with a specific act. As I've explained, John is the rogue, outlier gospel that almost didn't make the canonical cut; John shows us the reign of heaven on earth, the kingdom of God as an endless party, so what else to start out with but a wedding banquet?! In the ancient near east, an opulent, exorbitant, inclusive wedding feast would be one of the main signs or indicators of the messianic age.

John speaks of signs rather than miracles. We've talked about signs pointing to or indicating something other than themselves. Street signs that say Santa Monica Boulevard are not the actual reality of Santa Monica Blvd, though they're mostly located on the street itself. Signs in John's gospel all point to Jesus; in contrast, people would be apt to view a miracle as a suspension of natural laws, as a spectacular event that drew attention to itself.

The reality of this Messianic Feast or Wedding Banquet that begins Jesus' public ministry is not Canned Heat's hippy anthem that sings about where "the water tastes like wine." It's about water that has been changed into wine, into the fruit of the vine, that's one of the agricultural gifts of the Promised Land. It's important to realize this Cana in Galilee was a place full of shady characters and reprobates, and not exactly an elite suburb where people would hanker to hang out.

Next Sunday we'll return to this Revised Common Lectionary Year C's featured gospel according to Luke with Luke's version of Jesus' first act of public ministry.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Epiphany 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' " 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate Jesus as light of the entire world and we particularly recognize the God of the bible as God for all, God with all religions, ethnicities, abilities, social statuses, etc. Despite the Twelve Days of Christmas song, the day of the Epiphany actually is the thirteenth day of Christmas.

Epiphany means revelation, revealing, uncovering. We sometimes tell people we've just "had an epiphany." The "epi" prefix means upon; "phan" is revelation. We've discussed theophanies and fantasies quite a few times; the name tiffany actually means theophany, or a revelation of God: theo= god; phan=revealing.

The church began a New Year of Grace on the first Sunday of Advent that this year also was the first Sunday in December; today is only the sixth Sunday of that new year. On the day of Epiphany that this year happens on a Sunday and during the Season of Epiphany we concentrate on Jesus' early public ministry and celebrate the universalism of God for and with all people and all creation, the God who breaks ordinary barriers and shatters conventional boundaries and expectations.

We recently had four Advent Sundays of waiting, hoping, and anticipating Jesus' arrival; then we celebrated Christmas, the Nativity of the Bethlehem Christ Child on Christmas Eve; on the first Sunday of Christmas we sang a lot of Christmas carols and didn't even have a musical guest soloist so we could enjoy our own singing.

From now on until Lent, we'll number Sundays after Epiphany. Next week, the First Sunday after Epiphany, we'll re-experience Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist and we're experience a trinitarian theophany, or revealing of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This year we'll read about two of Jesus' first acts of public ministry, his Initial Public Offerings from both Luke (our featured gospel account for this lectionary year) and from John. In Luke's emphasis on the neighbor, Jesus reads scripture in the synagogue and announces himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah's call to justice, economic and social leveling, the reign of Shalom. John brings us Jesus at the Wedding at Cana with water that not only tastes like wine, but water that has turned into wine as a sign of the ongoing feast that's the reign of heaven on earth.

Today we'll sing "We Three Kings" for the worship entrance song, but scripture doesn't say the gift-bearing visitors were kings, and it doesn't say how many visitors from the east there were. However, it does mention three gifts, which likely is the reason we talk about three guys.

There's very little historical information in scripture or anywhere regarding Jesus' very early life, but many traditions have grown up around Christmas and Epiphany. That's fine, because traditions such as naming three kings Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, traditions like decorated evergreen trees, carols and songs, and giving gifts rooted in creation are ways we make Jesus' life real to ourselves and our neighbors. Those and other traditions are ways of incarnating, enfleshing, embodying the Nativity or birth account. You've likely noticed our Christmas story combines narratives from Luke's gospel and from Matthew's.

The only Kings in this story are the Roman puppet King Herod and the infant King Jesus.

These three guys from the east along with their retinues most likely were religious leaders, probably Zoroastrian priests who also were astrologers who studied and interpreted stars in the sky for signs and meanings; they well may have been astronomers in our sense of people with expertise about the heavenly bodies. In any case, they were of a different culture, religion, and ethnicity then the Jews (Israelites, Hebrews) the bible has written about as the distinctive people of God. These wise persons who almost definitely were guys based their decision to set out for Bethlehem on studying signs in the skies, on reading their own scriptures or holy book, on heeding messages they received in a dream. They got outside themselves and their everyday endeavors to figure out where they were supposed to go. The word for worship/homage/adoration in this passage is the word the bible uses for the worship of God. These religious and ethnic "others" recognized Jesus as a very special baby, possibly recognized him as divine.

I mentioned Bruce Springsteen's song The Rising about 911 that can be given many interpretations, including variants in the meaning and location of The Rising title.

This story of wise guys from the East, from The Rising – the direction where the sun rises to start a new day – opens up questions of inclusion, boundaries, people who are like us, people who are different from us, in a similar way to Jonah's encounters with the people of Nineveh.

Us/them, insiders/outsiders, natives/strangers talk. Even earlier than the three-part Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah, scripture reveals (gives us an epiphany) of the real God who fills heaven and earth as God for all, God with all, yet we still need some bounded, contained places and relationships, we really cannot leave all our doors unlocked for everyone to enter and violate our space. As families, as individuals, as a church, it often can be difficult to discern answers about who we let in or keep out.

We discussed King Herod's insecurity at the idea of another King. Steve mentioned the territory of any monarch or ruler (both then and now) typically was very limited. Although most of the world follows the British royals to some degree, Elizabeth II is head of state only for the British Commonwealth of Nations or whatever its current nomenclature and has no real authority over anyone anywhere else.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Advent 4C

Luke 1:39-55

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Three weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, the Church began a (Happy) New Year of grace. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent; this year Christmas is on Tuesday, so we have less than two days to wait for Jesus' birth.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C, Luke's year, so most of our gospel readings come from the Gospel According to Luke. As we journey through calendar year 2019, we'll get a good taste of Luke's perspective, Luke is a synoptic account that views Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner to the gospels according to Mark and Matthew, despite all three having pronounced distinctives.

Luke uniquely brings us three canticles that essentially are psalms or songs:

• Mary's Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly..." –Luke 1:46-55

• Zechariah's Benedictus: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." –Luke 1:67-79

• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared..." –Luke 2:29-32

Psalm Notes

You may remember the psalter is the synagogue's prayer book or hymnal; rather than divine words addressed to humanity, psalms are human words addressed to God. The psalter was the hymnal for John Calvin's Geneva Reform; many of the hymns in our current cranberry red hymnal are directly based on psalms; many many others contain an allusion or reference to one or more psalms. Every week our worship service includes a psalm or portion of a psalm. Technically those are not scripture lessons or readings, but responses, as in "responsive psalm."

Magnificat

Among other specialties, Luke emphasizes women, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and history. Today for the psalmody and the gospel reading, we hear Mary's Holy Spirit-inspired canticle called the Magnificat. We've mentioned how well people knew and memorized scripture two millennia ago; although we have the words Luke wrote, it's very likely Mary sang a very similar song because this passage is closely based upon Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. In other words, Mary would have been so familiar with large chunks of scripture, she'd have been able to recite and paraphrase them, making those texts her own.

Magnificat is Latin for making larger, magnifying, making greater. Like a magnifying glass; same root as "magnificent." The office of Vespers/Evening Prayer (that's ideally prayed just at sunset) in the liturgy of the canonical hours always includes a spoken or sung Magnificat.

Neighborology – the word about the neighbor, the word for the neighbor – is another strong theme throughout Luke. Mary's description of how the world will change when Jesus arrives promises no more super-rich, no more super-poor, because there is enough for everyone if those rich folk don't insist on keeping more than they need. Mary anticipates how The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent 3C

Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent, the church started a new year of grace. Today we hear about John the Baptist from Luke 3:7-18 as he instructs people (a brood of vipers who need to repent) how to get ready for the arrival of God in their midst in the person of his cousin Jesus.

Do you remember John and Jesus were very close in age? J the B's official church birthday is June 25, right after the summer solstice; although Jesus's birth likely was during the season of spring, we celebrate his birthday right after the winter solstice, on December 25. Birthdays of increasing and decreasing light symbolize nicely John's observation, "Jesus must increase, I must decrease." Actions of Jesus' followers – ordinary, everyday lives of those baptized with water and with fire – become a big aspect of Jesus' presence increasing and growing on earth.

People in general imagine doing things the world will consider amazing, nut Jesus' cousin tells us to get ready for The Coming One by living life simply where we already are and sharing essentials like clothing and food. He doesn't even advise tax collectors and soldiers who are in the employ of the occupying Roman government to quit their jobs that potentially oppress and even could bankrupt people. We basically need to bloom where we're planted, and do everything the best we can with fairness and righteousness.

Two Sundays ago in my intro to Luke's gospel, I mentioned he emphasizes:

• neighborology – the word about the neighbor! The actions towards the neighbor! During Year C the lectionary includes quite a few readings from jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also emphasize the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community.

Would God among us not be an alleluia moment, a time to sing praises?! In this riverside narrative, John the Baptist has people preparing for God's arrival in their midst by starting to live as he knew Jesus would teach us to be and to act; when that happens, everyone will shout alleluias!

• Starting with John the Baptist down by the riverside counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in our midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" throughout Luke. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.

Today's gospel reading anticipates the same Luke's Acts of the Apostles where everyone has everything in common, where members of the nascent church literally provide for the common good. Acts includes some pretty amazing accounts of missions to distant places, too, but more than anything, it's about serving the people, right here in this very place, giving of ourselves and our excess. This is the outcome of the presence in our lives of the One who baptizes with cleansing water and purifying fire. Our everyday lives become part of the magic of the ordinary for our neighbors.

Just as Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness, Luke never lets up on living for the other, for the neighbor, correcting the imbalance of some having more than they need, others trying to get by with less. Early on in Luke's

Acts 2

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.