summer solstice!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Earth Day 2018

Romans 8:19-21

Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God ... in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For Sunday School / Adult Forum on Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday – we went off-lectionary because it was Earth Day 48! Our focus scripture was from Romans 8 that many times I've interpreted as when we claim the fullness of our divine nature and image, we'll steward creation more carefully and help restore, revitalize, and resurrect aspects of creation that are less than fully alive.

I'd asked everyone to bring an earth-related idea, dream, incident, or experience. For my contribution, I arranged a separate edition smaller (than my bigger) notebook portfolio with only Earth Day and Season of Creation-related design and briefly explained each piece in a show and tell presentation. You can see versions of most of them on my main theology blog: Earth Day Art and Design.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Easter 3B

Luke 24:36b-48

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [and of a honeycomb] 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 times 7. The third Sunday of Easter is the fifteenth day of the fifty days of Easter! The day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter.

Over the past few months we've experienced and discussed the examples, actions, instructions, and counsel Jesus gave his followers during his earthly ministry. But during the forty days (more or less) after his resurrection he needed to show them more; they still needed to learn how to be, to act, to serve, to be Jesus' crucified and risen presence. So for those approximately forty days he again walked the earth in a fully human body that showed scars from his crucifixion, in a similar way to how we serve and act as Jesus' presence on earth. Remember, we've been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection; in baptism we've already received our first death and second birth.

Today's reading from (almost) the end of Luke's gospel again demonstrates Jesus' full humanity with the restoration of his physical body, though clearly it now has another dimension—we have accounts of Jesus' suddenly simply appearing in ways that weren't possible before his death and resurrection. Among other things, today's reading includes Jesus' second Last Supper. Most English bibles translate verse 43 to say Jesus took the fish and ate it in their presence, but more recent scholarship says they all ate the fish together. This sums up well Luke's emphasis on table fellowship throughout his gospel; people have observed Jesus always seems to be going to a meal, feasting at a meal, or coming from a meal in Luke!

This year's lectionary doesn't include the Emmaus Road account from immediately before this in Luke, but there and in today's lection Jesus again interprets scripture. As Christians, we read all scripture (both Hebrew Bible /Old Testament and New Covenant /New Testament) through the lens of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Although it's not an ultra-major concern, Luke's ongoing emphasis and this reading's confirmation of Jesus' full humanity helps negate heresies of gnosticism (over-emphasizing the spiritual) and docetism (Jesus only appeared human).

As this year of grace continues through seasons of Easter and Pentecost, we'll hear many stories of resurrection, healing, and restoration. We can remember the risen Christ carried scars and evidence of the death he'd experienced. God gives us the Spirit of Resurrection as we continue our ministry as the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Not only do we ourselves as individuals (and as a community, too) already have quite a few scars; God particularly will call and enable us to help heal the earth. We've already discovered rivers, canyons, prairies, cities, and other aspects of natural and built environments can be revived and revitalized, but like Jesus and like us, they still will bear scars and other evidence of their pasts.

Next Sunday we'll be going off-lectionary to celebrate Earth Day 2018—the 48th, so two years from now will make fifty years of Earth Days! Let's all bring a story, a picture, a hope, or a dream related to Earth, its waterways, or critters, the sky, any aspect of creation. Every year I design for Earth Day, so I'm planning a presentation of my art and design for the past dozen earth days.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Easter 2B

Acts 4:32-35

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The second Sunday of Easter concludes Bright Week. For a long time the church has celebrated especially important festivals in octaves of eight days—same as an 8-note octave in music.

Easter is 50 Days – 7 x 7, a week of weeks. The Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter.

Every year on Easter 2, we hear the account of Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on Easter evening from John 20:19-31.

Although Jesus taught, demonstrated God's presence, and provided other evidence of the Reign of Heaven (Kingdom of God, sovereignty of God, etc.) during his earthly ministry, he still needed to show and teach and tell his followers more, because during that first part of his earthly ministry he hadn't yet been killed by imperial forces and raised from the dead. The approximately forty days between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension are especially important for us because Jesus calls and in the power of the HS enables us to be his crucified and risen presence in the world after his ascension. Jesus doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't already done!

We need to keep in mind that we have written scriptures that include the four canonical gospels. However, those books within the big book of the bible didn't get written down until decades after Jesus, so his disciples' scriptures still were what we refer to as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. People were in process of writing down stories and accounts of Jesus' ministry. The communities and individuals that brought us the four gospels drew upon scrolls or sources in compiling their accounts. Those writings partly came from the dynamic, fluid, oral tradition with its narratives that typically changed and morphed some in order to fit a particular context. Rather than being the kind of rote recitation we aim for when we memorize poetry (or a passage of scripture!) everyone told, retold, interpreted, literally incarnated and embodied Jesus in and for particular communities, times, and places.

Acts 1

6When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

The Revised Common Lectionary that gives us our scripture readings assigns portions of the Acts of the Apostles during these Sundays of Easter, showing the style and substance of the post-resurrection, post-pentecost church. The approximately forty days between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension are especially important for us because Jesus calls and in the power of the HS enables us to be his crucified and risen presence in the world after his ascension. Jesus doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't already done!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Lent 4B

Ephesians 2:1-10

1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ –by grace you have been saved– 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

We're still in the slowed down forty days and forty nights of Lent that emphasizes repentance, walking with Jesus to the cross and to Easter, as we spring clean every aspect of our lives. Decluttering! Lent is an old word for the season of spring; the music tempo lento means slow. The fourth Sunday in Lent takes a short break from the overall penitential feeling as the liturgical colors change from purple to rose or a deep pink. Sundays in Lent all have designations based on the traditional introits or entrance prayers of the liturgy; Lent 4 is Laetare or "rejoice," from Rejoice, O Jerusalem."

On Lent 1 we considered God's covenant with Noah; for Lent 2, God's covenant with Abram/Abraham. Last week on Lent 3, we reflected on the Ten Commandments or Sinai Covenant God gave us through Moses.

The second reading for today is from the epistle to the Church at Ephesus. Despite the header that denotes the Apostle Paul as author, he almost definitely didn't write Ephesians. Back in those days, attributing your writing to a teacher or friend or someone else you admired was commonplace and not considered wrong in the least; in fact, it complimented the person you designated as author. Although the theology of Ephesians generally piggybacks on Paul's undisputed letters, some of the vocabulary and sentence structure is quite un-Pauline. However, in alignment with the epistles to the churches at Rome, Philippi, Galatia, etc. the insistence on our already being redeemed by God's grace at no cost to us makes Ephesians very Pauline and extremely Reformation central.

In the wake of considering specific biblical covenants on Lent 1, 2, and 3, today's Ephesians passage logically develops from God freely coming together in grace-filled covenant or agreement with humanity and with all creation.

I hadn't done any serious research on the Ephesus situation, mentioned I only knew the city was a commercial crossroads (like literally every prominent city then and now) and had a temple to the goddess Diana; Barbara filled in by telling us Diana was the main deity out of thousands! We went online and discovered Ephesus is part of present-day Turkey.

The Greek text starts out by acknowledging we were dead. Throughout this selection, "dead" is nekros, where we get words like necrology, necromancer, necrologist. All the explanations related to "in which you once lived" "once lived among them" aren't zoë or life (the name Zoë means life); they're peripatetic, going about our daily walk, our routine, our generic lifestyles. However, in 2:5 in a word that contains the zoë / life root, God makes us alive, quickens us (you may know the version of the Apostles Creed that talks about "the quick and the dead" rather than "the living and the dead"?); in 2:6 God resurrects us and seats us together with Jesus Christ.

In this entire passage from Ephesians, all the words about God's activity are grace and gift. With its emphasis on salvation and the Savior as gifts of grace, this text is strongly Reformation Central, yet it concludes by reminding us God has created us to do good works that are the result of his graciously choosing us and saving us. God even already prepared those good works that help transform the world to be our way of life, our daily walking about – peripatetic – routine, our lifestyle. Theologian of grace Martin Luther insisted he loved good works so much he'd like to be called the Doctor of Good Works!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lent 3B

Exodus 20:1-5, 7-17

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; ...

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We're continuing in Lent as the days lengthen into Spring. Time to slow down to the music tempo Lento that means slow, and in many cases as Sara suggested, to ultra-slow Lentissimo. Lent features the liturgical color purple that denotes repentance; besides slowly becoming aware of our failing to miss the mark and slowly resolving to better obedience, better service to others, during Lent we remain very conscious of living in grace, of receiving life as gift.


For the third Sunday in but not of Lent the lectionary brings us another covenant (on Lent 1 and Lent 2 we discussed the readings from Mark's gospel).

Lent 1: Genesis 9:8-17 – God's covenant with Noah

Lent 2: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – God's covenant with Abram / Abraham

Lent 3: Exodus 20:1-5, 7-17 – Sinai covenant, also known as The Ten Commandments

Covenant comes from co and venire – a coming together agreement. The bible is full of covenants between God and creation, though just how many is up for dispute. All biblical covenants are covenants of grace; in many ways creation itself is a covenant. Although we know about the triune interrelationship of the Trinity / Godhead, God has such passion for giving, for relationship, for grace, creation is like James Weldon Johnson's poem that begins, "And God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said: 'I'm lonely—I'll make me a world.'"

As Christians we live baptized. Baptism is a sacrament that's also a covenant between God and the person being baptized and the assembly that agrees – or covenants – to support the newly baptized in their walk by faith. Christian marriage is a covenant.

Let's look at the historical setting of the Sinai Covenant / commandments. We're in the book of Exodus, which means "departure," in this case departing from slavery in imperial Egypt. After a series of devastating plagues that apparently came from the god of the Israelites (there needs to be cause and effect, correct?)...


Exodus 12: the Egyptian Pharaoh finally tells Moses, "Take all your people and get out of here right now."
Exodus 13: celebrating Passover; God leads the people by going before them in a cloud by day, fire by night.
Exodus 14: Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry ground.
Exodus 15: Song of Moses; Song and dance of Miriam
They arrive in the Desert of Shur. A fresh tree branch sweetens the bitter waters at Marah – nature healing nature.
Then to Elim with its 12 springs and 70 palms.
Exodus 16: another desert / wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai.
Bread from heaven, quails from the sky. Manna = "what is it!" probably coriander/cilantro seeds
Israel receives sustaining food as gift; then they know God is Lord.
Exodus 17: another desert – Rephidim. God provides water from the rock for the thirsty people, "that the people may drink."
Exodus 18: choosing elders / judges to help Moses
Exodus 19: three months out of Egypt, Israel reaches the Sinai desert in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

Sabbath-keeping is a specific commandment, yet the Israelites already had been observing Sabbath during the three weeks before God formally gave them the Ten Commandments via Moses.

Immediate Setting for the Ten Commandments

Exodus 19: Moses consults with God, who tells the Israelites if they obey, they will be God's treasured possession (Hebrew segullah), a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The baptismal hymn in 1 Peter 2:9 parallels this and describes us as a chosen generation, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people. The people respond with, "We will do all the words the Lord has spoken." {Also in Exodus 24:3)

The desert became a place of trusting God for everything related to life. In the desert you can't plan or plant, administer or stockpile anything. You only can receive life as gift—similar to when we find ourselves in life's metaphorical or actual deserts.

Sinai Covenant / Ten Commandments / Exodus 20

God's ongoing presence and actions – maybe especially during the three weeks before they reached Sinai – set up Israel to trust God's supply, to convince them this was a God worthy of obedience, so the commandments became a gift of grace.

During Luke's lectionary year, we discussed neighborology, the word about the neighbor, about the other. We asked "And who is my neighbor" and considered Jesus' replying with the story of the Good Samaritan that's unique to Luke's gospel. This decalogue or set of ten commands is about living together in community, about receiving and giving life as gift, about considering and responding to the needs of our neighbor, the needs of the other.

We've observed that almost every time the Apostle Paul refers to law, he means ceremonial, ritual, sacrificial law and definitely not the commandments. However, when magisterial Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin talked about the uses of the law, they meant the commandments. Their third use of the law is about the neighbor, about the other, about neighborology. The Ten Commandments literally are the working papers for life in covenantal community.

Exodus' commandments/ Sinai Covenant text begins by telling us "God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." therefore. This is a God worthy of trust, worth obeying.

Elsewhere in scripture we hear about ordinances, statutes, laws, counsels, ways, testimonies, precepts, commandments, ways, paths, chart, guide, promises, commands, judgments, ordinances, decrees. Pastor Eugene Peterson's Message version refers to course, map, road, road signs, directions, instructions, rules, revelations. You probably can find more words in other translations and versions.

God spoke the commandments after Israel had enough experience with God's gracious provision to trust God, but before they reached the Promised Land where they'd begin a settled life together on the land, where they'd need to trust God and each other. In his Small and Large Catechisms, Martin Luther presents the commandments as the gifts of grace they are by telling us how not to break the commandments (what does each commandment forbid?) and how to keep the commandments (what does each commandments encourage?); the Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms do the same. So it's not only a matter of not breaking the commandments; it's even more about keeping the commandments.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lent 2B

Mark 8:31-37

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38

Today is the second Sunday in (but not of) Lent. Today's passage from Mark's gospel ends the first half of Mark's gospel. Maybe surprisingly, it comes before the Mark 9:2-9 Transfiguration account we studied two weeks ago. The peeps who assembled the Revised Common Lectionary that provides most of our scripture readings didn't include Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ that immediately precedes today's reading and that we'll hear next September 16 on Pentecost 17::

Mark 8:27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

As we discussed extensively last week, the word lent derives from days lengthening as we move toward spring in the northern hemisphere. Lent is a penitential time to repent of past misdeeds and turn around in the opposite direction to do better. Lent also is a time of awareness that we receive life as a gift of God's grace and mercy, and a time freely to offer grace, mercy, and life to others. Life as gift and not transaction! Richard and Julie both mentioned being more thoughtful and intentional before saying anything to anyone; Pastor Peg explained Lent is like our personal spring cleaning time and if we don't slow down, we'll relocate the dust bunnies of various kinds instead of getting rid of them. Sara said she needs to do everything Lentissimo that's the extremely slow tempo designation in music.

Here Jesus talks to his disciples about the way of the cross, about paradoxically losing their lives in order to gain their lives. In verses 35, 36, 37 the word for life is the same as "psych" where we get a wide group of English words. It implies not only psychological and emotional, but every aspect of our being—similar to heart in Hebrew. It is not the Zoë life that brings us the familiar name Zoe.

During Revised Common Lectionary year C, Luke's year, we talked about neighborology, the word about the neighbor. During that year we heard a lot from the prophet Jeremiah with his concern for the neighbor, the other than us. In today's scripture Jesus essentially talks about giving up our own druthers and preferences to help take care of the needs of our neighbors. For most of us, service to the neighbor begins where we find ourselves here and now. It's unlikely God will send us to spend a season with St. Teresa of Kolkata's peeps or on a mission of some kind to the people of Syria; it is for sure that God's calls us to thoughtful action and service in order to offer life as gift to those nearby us.

Today's scripture portion opens with Mark 8:31 that's Jesus' first passion prediction of three in Mark.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lent 1B

Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

The Church's year of grace has moved into the 40-day long season of Lent. "Lent" is an old word for springtime that refers to lengthening days and more daylight. The music tempo lento is a lengthening, slowing-down pace. Lent is one of the church's oldest observances that probably began not long after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, although throughout the centuries lent has had different lengths ranging from a few days to our current practice of forty days minus Sundays. As our worship folder cover indicates, Sundays are In Lent but not of Lent, since every Sunday is a festival of resurrection.

Like 7, 40 is a famous biblical number. Moses spent 40 days of Mount Sinai; Elijah spent 40 days on Mount Horeb. Israel trekked through the exodus desert for 40 years. Jesus 40 days of being tempted in the wilderness.

Lenten practices and observances emphasize repentance – thus colors of purple and lavender – and baptism. Just as with baptism, the turning around, repentance aspect of Lent is one of daily walking and living bathed in grace. Traditionally Lent has been a time of preparation for baptism that historically happened during the Easter Vigil; it's also a time for those of us already baptized to remember how in grace God claims us, names us Christian, calls us to witness and service, and in the power of the Spirit sends us into the world to be the gospel, to live as good news to everyone everywhere we venture.

Every lectionary year (A, B, and C) the first Sunday in Lent features Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. The reading for Mark's year includes the account of Jesus' baptism we studied a few weeks ago. You probably remember Matthew and Luke both specify the exact temptations Jesus underwent; Mark doesn't. It's striking how we move from Jesus' baptism in the wilderness alongside the Jordan River to the Holy Spirit Jesus received in his baptism catapulting him out into a deeper, denser, level of wilderness.

After talking about the scripture text, we discussed some of our particular Lenten practices for this year and what we've done in previous years. Consensus was we need to slow down, be very thoughtful and intentional. As Pastor Peg observed, Lent is a kind of spring cleaning, and if you rush through the process you'll relocate all the dust and clutter rather than get rid of it.