Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pentecost 22C

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

34Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

38Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem: to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have a passage similar to this, which means sit up, take notice, and ask why!

We know God as light, love, and life. God has nothing to do with death, nothing about God concerns death. In many ways we can't even contrast God with death, because death and God don't belong in the same sentence or the same thought.

Sadducees were the religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection. Rather than affirming all the [Hebrew] scriptures, their bible was only the Pentateuch or Torah, the "Five Books of Moses" that don't explicitly reference resurrection. The Sadducees assumed that with Moses and God being such good friends, God would have informed Moses if resurrection from death existed. Quite a few of our readings have included Pharisees, another group of religious leaders who were ultra-legalistic and added extra commandments and requirements, though for the good reason they wanted to lead perfect lives and please God. Pharisees did believe in resurrection! The easy way to remember which group was which is to realize the Sadducees didn't affirm resurrection, so they were "sad-you-see."

Today's text: like most humans, the Sadducees who interacted with Jesus had a lot of anxieties about death and about continuing a presence and influence in the world after they died. Sadducees believed death of the human body meant total annihilation of everything that individual had been. In their minds, the only way to keep on "living" was to have kids (posterity, offspring, descendants) who'd keep the family name going and keep doing good in the community. With their preoccupation about death, they teased Jesus' theological sensibilities with a question about seven serial spouses.

Jesus explains God has nothing to do with death; everything about God is deathless, everything about God relates to life. Jesus tells his interlocutors that to God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who in human terms died a long time before Moses) still are alive, never had been dead—though as Pastor Peg pointed out, in human terms, physical, biological death still affects us, death is a human reality. Although we humans consider anyone who has died as not alive (true in basic human terms), to God there is no death. God has zero to do with death, so we can trust in life. Resurrection isn't a free-floating, spiritual, disembodied presence; as we confess in the creeds, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." Jesus' friends recognized him in his post-resurrection appearances! His hands carried the scars of crucifixion, but he was totally healed and whole, still the same person, which will be our experience, as well.

The Sadducees' seven serial spouses? For them, marrying and having kids related to their anxieties about overcoming death. In the reign of God, people get married or otherwise form a lifelong public commitment; they often have offspring because it's a way to celebrate life that comes from God and continues forever in God.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Reformation 2019

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major – "wear red" – festival of the Holy Spirit. Two years ago we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming—a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church in the sense of speaking the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity (that's so very other than business as usual, other than status quo) with vocabulary and symbols everyday regular people understand.

Instead of different scriptures for each lectionary year, every year Reformation repeats the same four readings. Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation.

God's covenants or agreements with humanity and with all creation are a prominent feature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and continue into the New Testament / New Covenant scriptures with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from co-venire, coming together, and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East. Old Testament covenants include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David... creation itself was an act of covenant. Last spring on Lent 4 we specifically talked about covenants.

A new anything implies an old one, but this is more a new location than it is a new agreement. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions we consider it in the contemporary, post-enlightenment global west. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart goes beyond will or intention to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment, etc. (and also emotion). Jeremiah announces a covenantal word about the neighbor. This new proclamation of God's eternal covenanting relates to creating and sustaining community by following the guidelines God gave the people with the commandments; it will become natural and almost instinctive because it will embodied as part of everyone's being.

The people received the commandments as words of grace in the wilderness on their way to settling in the promised land—not when they reached their destination. The commandments shape the people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering each other's needs, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is the ultimate ruler, yet the commandments allow us to live as self-governing people. Maybe particularly with this being Luke's lectionary year that includes a fair amount from Jeremiah, we can view this new covenantal location as an opportunity for neighborology. After all, this newness supremely is about the neighbor, about creating and sustaining community by observing the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai covenant.

This new covenant location is an incarnate, enfleshed one. We discussed the role of our hearts in our bodies. Everyone realized when your heart stops beating you're dead. Among other aspects of hearts, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other and to our neighbors!

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the Sinai covenant of the ten commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the reverse of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets our wrongdoings.

Luke 22:20 Jesus – "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." This probably was the third cup, the cup of blessing or redemption after the Seder meal. It evoked or re-membered the rescue from Egypt and also referred to Isaiah 53:12 with the servant whose life is poured out.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pentecost 19C

Genesis 32:22-31

22The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives Leah and Rachel, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking."

But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 27So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 29Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?"

And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

For today's first reading we're in Genesis, the first book of the bible that means origins or beginnings. As the commentaries warned – and as I cautioned – this story contains a lot of ambiguity and it definitely lacks clarity; despite its wide openness to interpretation, don't try to wrap it up too tightly. This Jacob account is about identity, theophany, and incarnation.

Identity

When we study the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, we often consider the main identity-formation events for God's people as:

• the liberation account of the 40 years God's people spent in the exodus desert on their way to the promised land as they radically trusted God's provision and

• the freedom in obedience God's gift of the Ten Commandments or Words from Mount Sinai.

Theophany

Theo refers to God, phan is showing, manifesting, revealing, so a theophany is a revelation of God. Earlier this year we had theophanies at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration. Those specifically revealed God as triune, a three-in-one trinity = tri-unity.

This passage includes Hebrew words ending with "el" that indicate a god or divinity.

Incarnation

Christianity is about God's incarnation (embodiment, enfleshment) in Jesus of Nazareth. In this Genesis scripture, the Hebrew word for the person Jacob wrestles with is "man" — a human.



Context: in high anxiety, literal fear and trembling, Jacob is on the way to meet up with Esau, maybe even reconcile with him. Jacob is not traveling light! His entourage includes his spouses and kids; he is bringing dozens of animals as gifts for Esau. This happens after his famous "Jacob's ladder dream" that leads to his naming a place or location—Bethel, or house (beth) of God (el).

Jacob has crept away from his retinue off to a quiet place by himself, beside the Jabbok (note how j-b-k echo the letters in Jacob's name), a stream or tributary of the Jordan River. Night falls (the sky gets dark), and somehow Jacob and a stranger encounter each other in an actual physical and verbal battle.

In the cultures of the bible, names described people and places to a far greater extent than they do for us today. Barbara reminded us how (among other devious events) Jacob stole his older fraternal twin Esau's birthright. The ongoing Genesis narrative reveals(!) a lot about Jacob, whose name can mean trickster, conniver, supplanter.

32:27 the stranger asks Jacob's name ... 32:28 and then renames him. First part of "Isra" has several possible meanings that include strive, contend, fight; the "el" ending is about God. Not only the NT with Jesus but also places in the OT bring us God incarnate, enfleshed, embodied. Jacob recognized the stranger as God, and named that place with the "el" suffix.

Here we have a type of death and resurrection with Jacob shedding his old name, assuming a new one.

Until the homecoming from Babylonian exile when they became Jews, God's people claimed the name Israel as those who trusted God so, who lived so intimately intertwined with the God of heaven and earth, they fully lived into the name as they dared battle, contend with, challenge, fight with God.

As Pastor Peg pointed out, Jacob didn't suddenly become the ultimate good guy! From the start, his entire story was vital in God's dealings with the nation of Israel, and shows how God *even* uses us with our imperfections and our frequent three steps forward, two steps backward attitudes and behaviors.

Read ahead to Genesis 33 and find out what happens what Jacob/Israel and Esau meet each other again! It's a really good one!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Pentecost 18C

2 Timothy 2:8-15

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 14Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

We started with a very short version...

...of my intro to the pastoral epistles and the Timothy letters from three years ago, 2016.

The two Timothy letters and the epistle to Titus sometimes are called the Pastoral Epistles. [side note: "pastoral" means rural.] The apostle Paul definitely did not write them. 1 and 2 Timothy contain vocabulary and syntax Paul never used; some of the words are in no other NT document.

Authorship and literary conventions were very different in the first and second centuries, without our well-developed and very legally-tinged concepts of copyright, intellectual property, and reuse rights. What we'd call "false attribution" was no big deal back then; it could be a compliment to a colleague, classmate, or teacher; it simply could indicate the author's attempt to continue writing in the style of the person cited as author; it could lead to wider readership if people thought someone famous was the author. The person who pulled together these letters – probably around the start of the second century – wrote them as Paul's final summary discourse with reflections and advice: "Concluding Unscientific Postscript."

The pastoral letters emphasize emerging church structure and organization, "ecclesiology," =the word about the church. As soon as you have many people with similar goals and purposes you need organization. We find requirements for bishops/overseers, deacons, widows—"Church Ladies". We read about laying on of hands, which would be ordination, commissioning, consecration of people called to public, vocational ministry. The Timothy letters refer to immortality—a Greek or Hellenistic concept that implies lack of death. Resurrection from the dead is the biblical reality; you need to die in order to be resurrected!

Content

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the Dead—for the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection. Though Paul didn't compose this letter, it bears some marks of his theology and this is a strong one.

2:9b But the word of God is not chained. This may have been a prison or captivity letter as we find in Paul's Philippians letter, later on from Martin Luther at Wartburg Castle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and many less-renowned individuals, thus the "chain" reference. God's word is not in handcuffs and shackles, not in a county jail cell or in a federal prison. The written word and Jesus Christ the incarnate Word are not captive to geography or culture or nation (thus no national flag in the worship area), not limited by any time or any place; they are wired for every time and every place. God's word is free-range, has no boundaries or borders.

However, we get to interpret/conceptualize and contextualize the word for this place, this time, and especially for where our neighbors and newcomers to church find themselves. The NRSV Bible we generally use is a revision of the RSV where this verse says, "The word of God is not fettered." So poetic!

2:11-13 probably is a hymn already known to the recipients of the letter, similar to the hymn inserted into Philippians that tells us Christ Jesus did not count equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant....

Where We Live

"Wrangling over words!" The written word can be a bit ambiguous? The spoken word, as well? So God gave us the incarnate word, and continues giving the world an incarnate, enfleshed, living word through us, those baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Each of us walks, prays, and talks through responses to our neighbors in this very ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood. People from all types of backgrounds come to church, join us, often choose to be baptized. We need to be adept at contextualizing, enculturating, translating into their vernacular.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Blessing of the Animals 2019

Job 38:1-11; 16-18

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

2"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

8"Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?

16"Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this."

Blessing of the Animals / Integrity of All Creation

Every year many churches and a few other organizations celebrate a Blessing of the Animals on St Francis of Assisi day on 06 October, or on a Saturday or Sunday near the 6th.

Just as for previous years, instead of beginning with background for the day and appointed scripture text, I suggested everyone say a little about connections with non-human aspects of creation that especially interested them. Not surprisingly, most of it was about Pets Everyone Has Loved.

Job resides in the Writings section of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible; in terms of origins, it's probably the oldest book of the bible and most likely circulated widely for a very long time in the dynamic oral tradition before getting written down—and even later on, finally edited into its current form. Final compilation may have even as late as during the Babylonian exile or even later after a remnant returned to Jerusalem and started to rebuild community, religion, and life in general. Job is one of the main books cited for answers to why bad things happen to good people. In the end, God's response to Job turns out to be God is God and we're not.

Today's second reading from Job is one of at least four biblical creation accounts that include Genesis 1 (that we also read), Genesis 2, and Psalm 104. Steve W. received a Lutheran Study Bible when he formally joined the church, and we often have him read its commentary on our current reading, but in Steve's absence Pastor Peg read the LSB's notes that pointed out how this creation account is more playful and casual than any of the others. How fitting for a day when critters come to church!

Friday, October 04, 2019

Michaelmas 2019

Luke 10:17-20

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

The context for this very short passage:

Jesus has given instructions for proclaiming the reign of heaven, Kingdom of God on earth. He wisely advises everyone to travel in pairs (just as everyone now has been insisting kids always do on their way to and from school, or going anywhere); Jesus tells them to announce the presence of the Realm of Shalom to all they encounter. They need to accept the hospitality and act as guests of households they visit. Eat whatever people give you! "You are what you eat" – "we are what we eat" – we are our hosts. They and we are one.

Eating "whatever" would have been a major problem for people with religious dietary laws; in Luke Volume 2, his Acts of the Apostles, we read a fame account of God declaring all food that's a gift of creation good:

Acts 10

9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
14"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Luke 10:17 – the number 70 combines 7 – the number of perfection and 10 – the number of completion in Hebrew numerology

Luke 10:18 "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning." Jesus declares Satan, the powers of evil, the devil, oppressive imperial structures, ecological degradation, (insert long list here),everything that hinders life no longer has power, authority, staying power, or sovereignty. Jesus holds all power and authority with no checks or balances.

Although we need to live – and work – without fear as God's hands, feet, voices, minds, imaginations, we can trust God already has been at work in the world before God leads us to a particular situation—God has been to our future! That's sometimes called the previousness of God.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pentecost 15C

Amos 8:4-6, 11

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."

11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Today we're considering a reading from the prophet Amos. We find Amos in the Book of the Twelve [prophets] sometimes called the Minor Prophets, but they're minor only in length, definitely not in impact and import. Along the lectionary way we've heard readings from former prophets that include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Amos probably is the earliest of the writing prophets. He lived and prophesied during the eighth century, not long before 1st Isaiah [1-39], Hosea, and Micah, all of whom generally come under the "eighth century prophet" category. I tend to say words like probably, maybe, possibly, most likely a lot, because we're constantly discovering more about the historical and cultural background of the scriptures.

Especially when we recently discussed the major prophet Jeremiah, we talked about the classic prophetic stance of speaking truth to power, words against the establishment, unsettling the status quo. A prophet announces God's expectations of justice, righteousness, mercy, and love, particularly toward marginalized people such as widows, orphans, immigrants, and chronically ill who are far from self-sufficient. The late Robert Farrar Capon used a memorable list of the "last, least, little, lost." Pro-pheteia literally means against the king or ruler. Like Jeremiah, Amos fits that expectation extremely well.

Although Amos lived in Judah, the southern Kingdom, God sent him to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel (Jacob, Samaria), where people worshiped at shrines of the tribal confederacies (Amos mentions Gilgal and Bethel) rather than the Jerusalem Temple that was central to the south.

By trade or profession, Amos was an urban forester, a vine-dresser, who tended sycamore (and likely other varieties of) trees. The sycamore was the national tree of Israel! Amos tells us he is not a professional prophet, which may seem a strange to us, but in sections of the OT you'll find guilds or groups of prophets for God's people and for neighboring religions, just as there also are professional priests. Notably, Amos brings us (what's probably, ha ha) the very earliest articulation of monotheism in scripture.

• In Amos 5:24 we find "Let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream," made ultra-famous by MLK.

• Amos 7:7 "...the Lord stood by a wall built true to plumb, with a plumbline in his hand," is another especially memorable image from Amos.

As cultural anthropology emphasizes and celebrates, humans are symbol-makers who tend to be adept at interpreting and giving meaning to objects, signs and symbols. In fact, written and spoken words themselves qualify as symbols.

God speaks through Amos with quite a few natural and other everyday, real-life symbols people easily would recognize and interpret. Cedars, oaks, locusts, fire, a plumbline, waters, rivers; immediately before today's selection there's a basket of summer fruit.

Back to today's reading:

Amos speaks judgment against merchants who are not dealing fairly. They didn't have coinage yet; ephah was a volume measurement, shekel (that later became the name of a coin) was a weight measurement. Markets or other locations where people sell, barter, use means of exchange to acquire goods they need to survive are totally legitimate by biblical or any other standard, and they've been necessary ever since humans stopped living as hunter-gatherers and foragers. Making a profit in excess of your asking price also is fair, just, and necessary, since sellers need to become buyers to acquire items that meet their needs. Back then in the 8th century BCE and now in the 21st century CE, problems arises when sellers misrepresent their offerings in terms of quality and quantity, and when they realize excessive profits.

The merchants Amos addresses also had no interest in keeping the commandment to observe Sabbath or in keeping other mandated religious festivals. They only wanted to return to making money and even exploiting people. Besides providing the gift of needed rest, Sabbath remains a time to trust God will provide for our needs; when we keep Sabbath we don't count, produce, (or ideally) even slice or dice or chop—or turn on a stove and cook.

Furthermore, "selling the sweepings of the wheat" refers to gleanings that didn't always get caught during harvest, and that scripture commands be left so people in need can pick them up and benefit from them.

We had a wonderfully interesting discussion about contemporary agricultural gleanings. Many local Trader Joes/TJs have become well-known for re-distributing quality produce and other food that hasn't sold by tag date. Someone told us about a nearby charity organization checking in to her supermarket that's part of a nationwide mega-chain and leaving most mornings with a truckload of mostly baked goods, sometimes fruits and veggies.