summer solstice!

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.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
• Third Sunday of Advent! Two Sundays ago linear time and scripture opened a new year of grace to the church; we are the church, so that's a brand-new year for all of us. Gospel readings in this 12-month stretch mostly will be from Matthew. The liturgical year in general, Advent in particular are seasons of mercy and grace; Advent also brings a hint of judgment and self-examination.

• Remember for the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection! A couple months ago we discussed how Christianity is not about immortality, about never ever dying. Scripture and our lives witness to death, destruction, desolation, loss, and then being resurrected to brand new life.

• Similar to last week, today's first reading, chapter 35 of 1st Isaiah, follows chapter 34 about horrendous environmental devastation.

• Throughout scripture – and all three sections of the Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah make it super-clear – the natural creation is not an incidental backdrop to the action, is not simply a stage, but lives and breathes as an integral part of God's story on earth. Scripture as a whole witnesses to the redemption, ransom, integrity, wholeness, restoration and resurrection of the natural world—not only human creatures. However, but the emphasis we often make on humanity may be valid, since for the most part creation needs redemption because of human sin, greed, and guilt.

• This whole passage is Messianic and eschatological! Check out Isaiah 35:5-6 – blind will see, deaf will hear, lame will walk, the dumb won't only speak, they will sing! Luke 7:18-23 and Matthew bring us:
Matthew 11

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
• Two weeks ago on Advent 1, our Isaiah reading refers to God's people as "Jacob," a common scriptural convention. Do you remember Jacob's dream and God's promises to Jacob?
• Fertility of both land and descendants
• Homecoming on this earth
• God's constant, unmediated presence with Jacob wherever he traveled
• We discussed our call to be God's hands, feet, voice, and simply to be God's presence in the Spirit to everyone we meet, everywhere we go.

• Last week I asked about fave Advent and Christmas Songs. Julie mentioned White Christmas; Pastor Peg loves a certain musical setting of O Little Town of Bethlehem; Do you Hear What I Hear? is one of my special faves. All of those, along with songs people mentioned today – Good King Wenceslaus and We Three Kings, The First Noel, Angels we Have Hear on High – reveal Jesus' birth in history, in quantifiable time and space, in geographical longitude and latitude.

• In Isaiah 35 the desert itself rejoices with joy and singing! Psalms 96, 98, and 148 appointed for Christmas also are about trees and plants and oceans and rivers participating in the general all around joy and excitement of Jesus' Nativity!

• The water we import from out of state and from northern California makes it easy for us to forget we live in a coastal desert. Have you ever visited the desert (Anza-Borrego, maybe?) in spring bloom? Water makes the difference; water restores life! Water is life!

• Most likely all of us in the room and in the church make a point regularly to Save The Drop LA.

• Due to our lively discussion of Christmas music and Lessons & Carols that would be our main worship service this week, we didn't get to my notes about the desert throughout scripture (esp the exodus desert) or to further consideration of water as the womb of creation and re-creation.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, linear time and the scriptures opened to us a new Year of Grace!

Chapter 11 of Isaiah comes right after... chapter 10, that tells about a clearcut forest, so we start out today with a tree stump (branch, scepter, rod). Jesse was the father of King David. The carol anthem "Lo, How a Rose" sings about Jesus' descent "Of Jesse's lineage. " For this year's lectionary year A, Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus as the new King David. A lot!

[11:2] Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

[11:3-4] This offspring of Jesses does not go by hear say or hear see, but assesses people and situations objectively. Later on in Isaiah 28:17 we read, "I will make justice the measuring line, righteousness the plumb line." [11:5] Clothed, dressed, arrayed in righteousness. In baptism the righteousness of Jesus Christ clothes us, helps us stand upright! [11:4] Also includes the creative, redemptive, Word that re-orders and reconciles.

For today's first reading, 1st Isaiah brings us an amazing vision sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom [11:6-7]. American artist Edward Hicks painted at least 50 different versions of wild and tame animal – lion, leopard, bear, wolf, sheep, cow, goat; many of his Peaceable Kingdom paintings include a toddler-age child. if you've sung in choirs or listened to much choral music, you may know the Peaceable Kingdom American composer Randall Thompson wrote for double mixed choir. [11:8] Part of the reign, that kingdom, is the end of human/serpent enmity we know from genesis 3:15.

The end of today's passage tells us [11:10a] "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples..." A sign, standard, signal, icon, ensign: the cross of Jesus Christ.

The reality of new life coming our of the death, the end of the old. For the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection! God redeems and recreates our failures, our disappointments, losses, illnesses, etc. Particularly here in southern California, the reality of new verdant growth from the ashes of a wildfire amazes me every time—but probably shouldn't, since death is God's best and most fave way of brining resurrection.

I mentioned the new creation is not pristine, but builds on the ruins of the old. Los Angeles River, Clark Fork in Idaho. Both inspired human projects to restore riparian habitat that had been devastated unto death.

We've all experienced death by drowning in baptism. We all live daily in our second birth.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
All three advent lectionary year begin with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it. Revealing, uncovering, signs and wonders in creation, in the natural world. Today's apocalypse is a strangely interesting parable from Matthew 24.

We concluded the year of grace that ended last week with Reign of Christ / Christ the King with part of Melchior's song from Gian-Carlo Menotti's Ahmal and the NIght VIsitors:

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom...
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

The first Sunday of advent opens wide a new year of grace. This new year does not begin with scriptural creation accounts! We hear Genesis 1 at the Easter Vigil during all three lectionary years and also onTrinity Sunday Year A, Baptism of Jesus Year B; the Day of Pentecost A, B, and C feature the creation account from Psalm 104.

The first advent, ad-venire, coming, or arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome.

During this Advent 2016 we anticipate the infant Jesus' arrival into occupied territory: consumerism? military? wall street? social media? religion of excessive sports?

Blue, the color of hope, is the liturgical color for advent. Advent is a season of hope, and a time of repentance in the face of God's mercy-filled judgment.

During Matthew's RCL year A, the first readings for all four Sundays of Advent are from 1st Isaiah, Isaiah of Jerusalem, "the pre-exilic Isaiah," though the entirety of chapters 1 through 39 are not from the same author.

8th century contemporaries Isaiah of Jerusalem (2:2-4) and Micah 4:1-3 both include this passage.

Isaiah 1: violence, travesty, bribery, injustice, empty religious festivals, sacrifices, extravagances. Via Isaiah 1:17 God charges the people "Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend, the orphan, plead for the widow."

All three Isaiah prophets bring us a wide world view with universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Paradox is Zion was not the highest mountain, "the nations" were not caravanning to Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Also, God's people were not unique in considering their capital city the center of the world.

Isaiah 2:1"The word Isaiah ... saw." A visible word! Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action. Visible words? How about us? Sacraments, visions, dreams, paintings... advertising art!

Isaiah 2:3 "God of Jacob" – Genesis 28:13-15, Jacob's dream, Jacob's ladder: land, offspring, God's constant, abiding presence, homecoming.

Psalm 122 for today: 1I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" 2Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Matthew: RCL A Intro

On the first Sunday of Advent the church begins a new year of grace; gospel scriptures for the year are mostly passages from Matthew.


circa 80 - 90


No indication of "Matthew" until the second century, but for discussion purposes we can assume followers of the apostle and tax collector Matthew similar to the way we consider the gospel according to John authored by the community that surrounded John the beloved disciple.


Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke both contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Scholars still speculate there might have been a no longer extant written collection of Jesus' sayings, sometimes referred to as "Q", from the first word of the German Quelle—river or source. Matthew's community may have had a third written "M" source.


Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke. Not really certain.


Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch in Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That Antioch's now part of present-day Turkey.

World View, Content

Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God

Concerned about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions

Jesus as new Moses, new David, "son of David"

Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation

Visit of the Magi at Epiphany – God for the world. Scripture doe not say how many kings there were, but tradition has it at three.

Flight into Egypt – New Exodus

The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia," and brings us some ecclesiology related to church order and structure. Ecclesis is the Roman city council, New England town meeting.

Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Great Commission – Gospel for the world

Five discourses, possibly to reflect structure of the Pentateuch, possibly presenting Jesus as a new Moses, the gospel as a new Torah.

(1) chapters 5–7
(2) chapter 10
(3) chapter 13
(4) chapter 18
(5) chapters 24–25

Parables unique to Matthew

• weeds among the tares of wheat
• the treasure
• the pearl
• the net
• the unforgiving servant
• the laborers in the vineyard
• the two sons
• the ten virgins