Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reign of Christ 2020

Prayer

From Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, 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.


Matthew's Year

This is the last Sunday in Revised Common Lectionary Year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew. What does Matthew emphasize?

Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy as the story of a new creation. Matthew's Jesus is God-with-us, from an angel instructing Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel (God with us), to the end of his narrative when Jesus promises to be with us always, and then sends his followers out as his presence in the world. Only Matthew brings us the flight into Egypt, where Jesus becomes a refugee. Matthew's Jesus is the new Moses and the new King David.

• This Outline and Review of Matthew's gospel is considerably longer than the above paragraph, but not full of endless details.


Reign of Christ / Christ the King

Every year the church's year of grace ends with the feast of Christ the King / Reign of Christ. Just as every Sunday is Easter, every Sunday acknowledges Jesus' reign and rule. Jesus reigns at the intersection of creation's need and human response. The world knows the fullness of the reign of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ when all creation experiences God's grace-filled abundance right here and right now.

This is Jesus' final address before his trial, conviction, passion, death, and resurrection.
Matthew 25:31-40

31"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. 32Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
35I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37-39"Then those sheep are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 40Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'"

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Royals and Rulers

Talk about royalty–kings, queens, duchesses, dukes, princesses and princes? Kingdoms and principalities? In this digital age we still see scandal sheets at the supermarket checkout. Social media teaser links and TV magazine shows love stories about royals, especially British ones, but have Harry and Meghan and Archie faded into near-oblivion? British royals particularly are well aware of their positions of service to the people. What about others in authority? What about Jesus' rule? How about ours?

Martin Luther reminds us if we want to see God's power, sovereignty, and lordship, look to the Bethlehem manger. Look to the Calvary cross. This Jesus, this Christ, rules against all ordinary human assumptions of power, glory, fame. Unlike other gods of the ancient near east, Jesus reveals a god not of a particular people and place, but a God for all people and all places. Jesus' authority and reign is one of servanthood. Our presence in the world as Jesus' hands, voice, eyes, and ears also is the way of service, the way of being and acting we sometimes call neighborology.

The sacraments model our everydays outside of our gathering around Word and Sacrament on Sundays and other feast days. The sending charge at the end of the liturgy often is something like, "The service is ended; our service begins" – "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." What about Jesus' rule? How about ours? Jesus serves at the intersection of creation's need and our human response. Even during COVID-tide, we discover Jesus in those around us. Exactly as Jesus explains in today's gospel reading, we serve Jesus by responding to the needs of our neighbors. And it gets reversed! In our presence among them, in our service to them, our neighbors meet Jesus. In us! Talk about royalty!

Next week we start a new year of grace with the first Sunday of Advent and the gospel according to Mark, Revised Common Lectionary Year B.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Matthew Outline and Review

Matthew's Year

Revised Common Lectionary Year A has featured the Gospel According to Matthew. Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that have a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive focus and personality.

Author

• No indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but we can assume followers of apostle and tax collector Matthew.

Date

• Circa 80 - 90. By the time Matthew's community recorded this gospel, the second Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed, but the J-Temple still was standing during Jesus' earthly life.

Sources

• Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Matthew may have drawn upon one or two other written sources, but there's no consensus.

Language

• Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke.

Opening

• Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos. Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he narrates Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
• Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation; Luke's genealogy goes back to Adam, father of all humanity.

Setting

• Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch, Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch is part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.

World View – Content

• Salvation (integrity, wholeness, redemption, shalom) for all the world, for everyone everywhere
• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God
• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions
• New David, "Son of David" not a temporary short-term monarch; this new David reigns forever.
• Jesus as God-with-us, from the time an angel instructs Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel, to Jesus' Great Commission at the end of the gospel and his promise to be with us forever.
• Matthew tells us about Jesus' earthly father Joseph; Luke tells us about Mary.
• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany: ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world, the young Jesus as Savior of all. Tradition says three kings because of three gifts.
• Flight into Egypt: a new Exodus out of Egypt with Jesus as the new Moses/liberator; Jesus' family unwillingly uprooted as refugees parallels dislocation during the Babylonian exile.
• Five discourses parallel the five books of Torah/Pentateuch. Sermon on the Mount explains ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses from Mount Sinai.
• Some parables are unique to Matthew.
• The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia" with some guidelines for church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiastical and ecclesiology are words about the church.
• Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Pentecost 24A

Matthew 25:14-30

14"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Prayer from Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Amen!


This Week

The famous Parable of the Talents! Although parables in the gospels often begin with, "The reign of God is like, the kingdom of heaven will be like," you'll notice this story doesn't mention the Reign of Heaven/Kingdom of God. The Parable of the Talents, beloved of stewardship committees and stewardship drives. Parables are a type of story that compares – literally "casts alongside" different ideas. In Matthew chapter 25, this one comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited people in need.
• The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. verses 16-18

A talent was approximately what a laborer would earn in twenty years. We derive our talent concept for special abilities from this word. The year 2020 has been different from any other, but during normal formal stewardship times the church asks us to pledge financial and other ways we'll contribute our particular talents to the church's ministry and the world's future.

In Jesus's time and place, people believed all resources were finite, so everyone assumed a zero-sum existence. If the rich got richer, the poor must have gotten poorer. If someone's social status increased, someone else's must have decreased. Given that embedded expectation, the third slave did the logical thing by burying the money he'd received so his assets wouldn't decrease. After all, in his lowly situation, he could not have expected better finances or a better social position, meaning any changes he experienced would be negative ones. However, a slave was bound to do the master's grunt work, in this case growing his wealth, which explains the master's anger.

The master chides, "Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest." verse 27

Despite the master telling the guy he could have invested that money, the Old Testament forbids banking and interest on loans; Jesus announces the Time of Jubilee when debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough." When that time arrives, saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations.

Textual note: New Testament words for slave and servant get translated into English almost randomly as either servant or slave, but the Greek in this passage actually is slave.


Stewardship

One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic moving up on ten months—depending on how and when you started counting.

As we've frequently observed, we first ask about scripture's original context, yet we need to contextualize scripture by placing it in our own social, cultural, and economic setting. in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make the gospel local! This passage from Matthew's gospel isn't about entrepreneurship, it ain't Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, it's not investment banking or municipal bonds, although we absolutely need ways to get what we need, whether that means using dollars, pesos, or euros; whether it leads to baking for baby-sitting, or another type of exchange.

In Matthew chapter 25, this parable comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited those in need. We hear about bridesmaids waiting for the groom (interpreted in several places as the church awaiting Jesus); we hear Jesus retrospectively looking back at how his followers lived out the gospel.

Stewardship committees and stewardship endeavors love this parable because it is about using God-given resources of talent, treasure, and time in ways that multiply the presence of the reign of God in the world; as that happens, both giver and gifted enter into the joy that results from faithful use (stewardship) of monetary and other gifts God has given us. The gospel abolishes counting and calculation, but individuals, churches, and other organizations need money to survive and thrive. Keeping track of cash flow and reserves is an important aspect of trusting God in those areas of receiving and giving.


COVID-19 / Into God's Future

"Well done, good and trustworthy one, enter into the joy…" The master promises faithful servants will be in charge of (steward of) many things, "more will be given."

One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic for too long. During formal stewardship times the church asks for pledges of money, abilities, and linear time people will contribute to the church's ministry and the world's future. God already has been to our future and waits for us there; we've received talents/gifts to contribute to "The Exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the World" as one of the PC(USA)'s Great Ends of the Church describes it. But unless we're an essential worker, what on earth can we do during Stay Safe Stay Home / Safer at Home / Tier Four Lockdown?

Matthew 25:19, "After a long time" impresses me as being about the gift of time. Weeks, months, and years it takes to earn enough to support yourself and your household, to have enough to donate to causes. Minimally it takes months to acquire basic skills in a craft or a trade, longer to become an expert. If you study music or accounting or history in school, four years of classes is only the beginning. You'll need more time to become close to expert. You know what else? We've had time to pray more!

• Rather than identifying with one of the three servants/slaves or imagining the master specifically as Jesus, what does this passage reveal about the gifts of God?
• Does it promise or imply anything about trusting God with our future?
• Would you call this a parable of grace or a parable of judgment?
• Jesus announces Jubilee when all debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough" so saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations. Amidst uncertainty during COVID-19, what do you imagine God is doing at your future, at the church's future, and for the world's future?

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Pentecost 23A

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
• Intervening verses 3b-13 narrate from Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, and Esau; to Egypt, Moses and Aaron; then to deliverance in the Red Sea to Exodus wanderings through the desert; finally entry into Canaan with the gift of the land with its bounty along with many descendants. God's actions. God's faithfulness. This history with God's grace-filled provision forms "why" for Israel continuing to trust Yahweh as their real god.
14"Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

16Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." 21And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the Lord!" 22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Prayer: Psalm 70

Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt. Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.

King James Version


Hearing, Doing

This alternate first reading for today from the book of Joshua pairs well with the designated first reading from Amos 5:24 that concludes, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Joshua, the sixth book of the OT chronicles Israel's actual entry into the Promised Land of Canaan forty years after leaving Egypt. Canaan already was occupied with people who worshiped many other gods of various types. Joshua 24:15 includes the famous "…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." This is another covenant text; here's the covenant handout from Lent 2019 again.

Before Joshua asks the people whether or not they will serve the real God of heaven and earth, "The Lord," he gives them reasons for trusting God by retelling substantial portions of the people's centuries-long experiences with God. This God hears and heeds, acts and cares; God rescues, protects, frees, and redeems. This God of signs and wonders is powerful enough to annihilate enemies. This God reliably comes through for the people every time.

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. … 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."

After the people affirm they will serve God, Joshua tells them they cannot serve this holy God, yet again they insist they definitely will. What does it mean to put away other, "foreign" gods (we all have them now and then—a god is anything we put before and above God at any time) and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Israel, God of Jesus Christ?


Holy God, Holy People

What does it mean to put away other gods and put the real God first before anything or anyone else? What does it mean to serve a holy God? What does it mean to be holy people in the image of that Holy God?

In Leviticus 19:2 God instructs Moses, "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." The chapter then summarizes the commandments and even includes love your neighbor as yourself in verse 18b. We know the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant call us to righteous lives of justice, love, and mercy.

Most likely everyone has some acquaintance with the worldwide United Methodist Church that's probably the largest church body in the tradition of John and Charles Wesley, and you may know about holiness churches that later derived from that tradition. Historically members of those churches don't drink alcohol or smoke nicotine; recreational drugs are off limits, too. (Some don't dance socially… just like some midwestern Lutherans and Scots Presbyterians?) Those practices and prohibitions help keep head, heart, and body clear and clean for lives of service to God and neighbor, because true holiness in God's image is both inward and outward.


Witness, Testimony

22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."

Although the people agreed to testify to their choosing to serve God, chapter 24 continues,
26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God." 28So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

• Stones and other objects that serve as witnesses (seeing or hearing) in the Hebrew bible would make a interesting standalone study if someone would like to prepare and present one when we begin gathering in person again.

• You might enjoy Joshua 16-17-18-19 where Joshua portions out those inheritances of allotments (land plots and cities) to the different tribes.

• No questions this week! Please be well, stay well, and continue praying for our country and our world.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

All Saints 2020

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Praise Prayer from Psalm 34

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with God's praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news; together let's get the word out.

God met me more than halfway, and freed me from my anxious fears.
When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.
Can't wait zeach day to come upon beauty?

Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, God will help you catch your breath.

Keep blessing God every chance you get! Let your voices circle the earth!

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson


All Saints Sunday is All Saints Day this year!

Halloween is All Hallows Eve. A hallowed person, place, or event is a holy one. The traditional version of the Lord's Prayer in English asks that God's name be hallowed or made holy. All Hallows Eve anticipates the holy persons the church remembers and celebrates on the following day, All Saints.

Saints or holy ones we've known could be neighbors, parents, friends, relatives still on earth or in heaven. Saints could be people in scripture or famous saints like Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Kolkata, Francis and Claire of Assisi, Augustine, Susanna, John, and Charles Wesley. Although historically this day has focused on the church triumphant, the remembrance includes those of us still in the visible church that's sometimes called the church militant. "All of us" because in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus in Latin) and become hallowed or sanctified; we become saints.

The sanc prefix to a word also means holy, just as in the Sanctus–"Holy, Holy, Holy" we sing during the liturgy. Western churches often use the term sanctification to refer to the Holy Spirit-inspired process of people more consistently acting with justice, love, mercy, and righteousness, of becoming more holy, just as God is holy. Hallowed be each of our names?

Legend says Martin Luther posted his 95 theses or ideas about needed church reform on the church door because: (1) the church building was the town's cultural center, so people got their important news from the door of the church—similar to our narthex bulletin board; and (2) All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation with people required to attend mass, so chances were high that everyone would read Luther's ideas. Therefore… the church celebrates Reformation Day on 31 October, but with All Saints coming up the following day, Reformation Sunday gets scheduled for the previous Sunday.


Matthew's Gospel and the Beatitudes

Three more Sundays, and then a new year of grace begins with the first Sunday of Advent, so this lectionary year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew is almost over.

Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as the New Moses, Jesus as the new King David. Matthew has a strong emphasis on God's righteousness and justice we find throughout the Hebrew Bible. You probably remember God spoke the Ten Commandments – words in the Hebrew text – through Moses on Mount Sinai or Horeb? In Matthew, Jesus' IPO – Initial Public Offering – after his baptism and call of his first disciples is the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-26) interpretations of the Ten Commandments. The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

As he begins his homily or talk, Jesus describes attributes or characteristics of his followers with blessings they receive as a result. In turn they (that's us) use those blessings to bless others. Beatitude comes from the Latin beatus or happy. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them demands our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are about how we are supposed to be.

In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times to different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people… flash mob! We can speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and often need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own place and time.


COVID-19 and the Beatitudes

The saints we've been seeing during this pandemic! Countless people worldwide have risked their lives, comfort, and safety to help others and keep the planet running. We've seen healing, protection, rescuing, praying, hoping, governing, sustaining, waiting, loss and grief. We've observed heroes on television and elsewhere; we know scientists on several continents have been developing vaccines behind the scenes (among many other less visible contributors). No one can count or celebrate sufficiently those COVID-19 saints who embody and rock the beatitudes every day. God works through everyone; God doesn't mind being anonymous. Many essential workers and other pandemic heroes intentionally follow one of the Abrahamic religions or another spiritual-ethical way of life that acknowledges the divine in creation, but many don't. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the world…

The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

• Is there any group you especially appreciate during this time of lockdown, pandemic, uncertainty, and opportunity?
• Is there some way we can thank the first responders?
• How can we pay forward their amazing service?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Reformation 2020

Reformation 2020 Psalm 46

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.

Prayer from Psalm 46

God is our safe place to hide,
    ready to help whenever we need help.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.

River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe.

See the marvels of God!
    God plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    God remains above politics, above everything."

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson


Reformation: event – day – movement

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major wear red festival of the Holy Spirit. The church uses red for celebrations of the Holy Spirit and to commemorate prophets, martyrs, and renewal.

Martin Luther and other reformers acted as God's agents in response to the Holy Spirit of life, restoration, and resurrection. Three 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 (the common, ordinary, easy to understand language regular people spoke) was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church that speaks the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity with vocabulary and with symbols everyday regular people understand.

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


Jeremiah – New Covenant

God's covenants or agreements are a prominent feature of the Old Testament and continue into the New Testament with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from the Latin 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. On Lent 4 during spring 2019 we talked about covenants; here's the handout I prepared.

Jeremiah was very much into the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant the people received as gifts of grace and that we've described as working papers for our lives together. The commandments are about creating and sustaining community as they shape God's people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is our ultimate ruler, yet the commandments help us live as self-governing people.

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the 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 opposite of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets anything we've done wrong.

A new anything implies an old something, but this is much more a new location than it is a different agreement. Jeremiah says God's eternal covenanting will become natural and instinctive because it literally will be embodied in each of us and within the community itself. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions as we often consider it. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart is where a person's will or intention resides and goes beyond that to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment—and also emotion. During one of our discussions in a previous year, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other!


COVID-19 – Still Reforming

Although most churches own, rent, or borrow a physical, geographical space because they need a gathering place for worship and other meetings, during non-pandemic times the church (that's us) always leaves the building after worship and brunch to continue the lives of service Word and Sacrament have modeled. However, for the past eight months we've stayed outside the building most of the time, so we've been experimenting with new ways of being church. Fortunately(?) this pandemic has happened during a time digital connections are easy to come by, when almost everyone has at least a minimal online presence beyond an email address. These factors have made Zoom and YouTube worship, committee meetings, and bible studies commonplace. Months ago people seriously started discussing the possibility – or not – of virtual sacraments; by now many churches and pastors have gone beyond asking and have started offering online communion services with participants widely scattered, yet still gathered together through the electronic amazement of the internet.

In his seven marks of the true church, Luther mentioned worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular. Especially for churches in the Reformation traditions, Word and Sacrament remain earthbound, physical evidence we can sense (smell, hear, taste, see, touch) of God with us and among us.

• In the tradition of the Reformation, how can we interpret or re-interpret scripture, sacraments, and our everyday lives into a language or modality our neighbors from different cultures and countries easily understand?

• How do we separate appreciation for other languages and cultures from what people sometimes view as mis-appropriation of cultural styles and artifacts? (Cue endless discussion…)

• Are we spiritually and emotionally mature enough to direct newcomers to a church with a different overall style if our fairly formal, traditional worship doesn't attract them?

Reformation Sunday is an especially good time to reconsider dreams for this congregation, this neighborhood, and this city.

• When we return to more frequent in-person yet masked and distanced worship and other meetings, do you think our sense of mission to the surrounding neighborhood will have changed or been revised?

• If so, how?

• If not substantially, why not?

As people in mission, we live with and work through those concerns all the time, but this pandemic may make the questions clearer, finding answers more urgent.

• Or does it?

All Saints' Sunday next week!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Jubilee Weekend 2020

This week we take a short excursion away from the lectionary to celebrate an interfaith Jubilee Weekend: Curing Poverty, Inequality and the Coronavirus – October 16-18, 2020.


Prayer

God of hope, we lament the suffering and isolation, and sometimes death, that the pandemic is causing our world, our communities, our families. Give us protection, especially all those on the front line of medicine and research, and those whose work makes them in contact with many people. Give us our daily bread, as so many are hurting economically now. Give us hope to see beyond this turmoil and teach us lessons of endurance, faith, and love, as we pray constantly for an end to the virus.

God of creation, quiet the earth where it trembles and shakes. Help us to protect vulnerable ecosystems, threatened habitats, and endangered species. Prosper the work of scientists, engineers, and researchers to find ways to restore creation to health and wholeness.

May your Spirit strengthen each of us with words of hope and love, that we might be the church for this time, and share that same hope and love with our neighbors. With your steadfast love, dear God, hear these and all our prayers as we speak them to you, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Adapted from Prayers of Intercession for Jubilee Weekend by Pastor Steve Herder, Ascension ELCA, Thousand Oaks, California.


Jubilee

Instructions in the book of Leviticus for observing a jubilee year inspired this Jubilee Weekend. As scripture explains, seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years – and then the fiftieth year, a year-long Sabbath grants freedom and new beginnings to all the people, all the animals, and to the land—although apparently God's people Israel never celebrated a jubilee year to the fullest. Before looking at today's passage from the poet synagogue and church sometimes call Third Isaiah, here's part of the jubilee year description from Leviticus. By the way, does "seven times seven" sound familiar? Seven times seven also measures the fifty-day long week of weeks celebration of Easter, and isn't the end of death and dying the ultimate freedom?


Leviticus 25:1-17

1The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land …7for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. … 17… for I am the Lord your God.


Isaiah Outline

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon, 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other memorable passages
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile, back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures


Isaiah 58:6-12

6"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
7What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.
8Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.
9Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I’ll say, 'Here I am.'

"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,
10If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
11I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
12You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Background

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; some who left settled in Babylon permanently and helped create good living conditions there. The prophet and poet called 3rd isaiah wrote to the few who'd remained in Jerusalem and to exiles who returned. The temple was gone, the city in disrepair, no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild infrastructure that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild reliable human community that would help with physical, material needs. They wanted to rebuild the temple.

Leading up to the Isaiah passage for today, people had been performing empty rituals and not backing up their claims to love God and neighbor with actually loving, life-affirming, situation-transforming actions. One of the revolutionary things about Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is that unlike other gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh didn't require appeasement, tribute, protection, or beseeching. Through Isaiah and other prophets, God tells us holy righteous living means to share your food, invite the homeless / poor into your spaces, put warm clothes on people who need them, be available to your own families. [Isaiah 58:7]

In an echo of the year-long Jubilee Sabbath, this passage connects being good neighbors with proper religious observance. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effective outcomes. This is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another. It's a word about a Holy God and a holy people of God.

You may remember Luke 4:16-19 records Jesus of Nazareth's first act of public ministry when he reads from Isaiah 61 and announces good news to the poor and release to the captives? That proclamation ties in closely with this week's passage and to the ministry God calls us to wherever and whenever we are.


COVID-19

Although when we read scripture we first ask about the historical setting that inspired it, most times we want to know "what's in it for us right here and right now." Cities and communities that need rebuilding have become familiar to us. A couple of times I've asked if our current unsettled situation with a global pandemic that seemingly won't quit, worldwide environmental devastation, ongoing social unrest, qualifies as exile, sabbath, winter, or something else. Whatever anyone names it, instructions for the Jubilee Year and from Third Isaiah give us workable ideas for rebuilding our own surroundings. Let's remember the God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection!