summer solstice!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pentecost 7A

Romans 8:12-25

12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that 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. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

For the past few months we've studied and discussed Jesus' instructions, promises, and cautions to his followers from John's gospel and from Matthew's gospel As we continue in the Time of the Holy Spirit, Season of the Church in the Church's Year of Grace, today we take an excursion into the book of Romans. The apostle Paul's letter to the church at Rome also details and explains some of the characteristics and behaviors that accompany our identity in Jesus Christ.

Romans is the seventh and the latest of Paul's undisputed epistles. "Undisputed" means they definitely carry marks and evidence of his authorship, although most likely all of these letters garnered edits and additions as they circulated among various churches round-robin style. We sometimes refer to Romans as Paul's systematic theology. Systematics is the philosophical-style theology that presents ideas about God with definitions, outlines, logic, and structure. By standards of people like Augustine and Barth, Romans isn't all that systematic, but it still gives us Paul's mature, well-developed theology.

Today's very famous passage from Romans is about the interwoven interdependence and interconnectedness of human creatures (that's us!) and the rest of God's created order that we sometimes refer to as the natural creation. We've heard these words so often it may be difficult to read and hear them with fresh eyes and new ears! What happens with us affects all creation; what happens in the rest of creations affects humanity.

Paul distinguishes between flesh (sarx) and body (soma). For Paul, "flesh" is bodily tendencies and predilections carried out to an excessive degree: too much food, sex, drink—sometimes too much to a detrimental degree, as in addictions and other compulsive behaviors. Working out too often and too extensively! Insisting on soaking up too much sun?!

In Romans 8:12-25 Saul/Paul of Tarsus insists all creation waits for redemption because true children of God, humans who authentically mirror and embody the Divine Image in which God has created them, care for the earth and all of nature differently from many others, in a manner that reflects their Divine Nature. In the witness of scripture all creation is mutually covenanted and covenanted with heaven; all creation carries within itself breath of the Divine and breathes the Spirit of Life.

In Spanish the same word, espero (esperare, etc.) means hope, expect, and wait. I always find that helpful whenever I read wait, hope, or expect in any scripture text.

Despite current interest in ecological theology emphasizing the redemption and integrity of all creation – not solely human creatures – a lot of teaching and preaching in the Church still focuses on humanity, which in some ways may not be all that "off," given that so much of the rest of creation is in need of restoration, revitalization and resurrection from death primarily because of human sin and failure to steward creation—which naturally results in failure to take proper care of human needs.

We had a long and helpful discussion of ways everyone can be better stewards of create and help reverse many of the negative effects other human activity has caused. I mentioned that the freedom of humans and of the natural creation Paul references always is bounded freedom with limits. "God marked a line and told the sea..."

Christianity's central proclamation is God's definitive self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth, in a body formed from the "stuff" of the earth. Jesus the Christ, the one whose body his followers would become... now the Church as the body of the crucified and risen Christ is God's Presence on earth. The Holy Spirit fills and indwells our bodies formed from stuff of the earth, as the God of heaven and earth still chooses to make shekinah, a dwelling on earth, to live right here in the city, right there on the beach, everywhere all over the place.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Pentecost 6A

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!"

18"Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
We get several famous scripture selections today!

• Isaiah 55:10-13 – with God's assurance the Word will bear fruit, will do God's thing on earth. Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action—walking the talk. This scripture promises God will send us out with joy, lead us with shalom; mountains and hills will sing, trees will applaud like an excited audience.

• Romans 8:1-11 – no condemnation ("down-judgment") for us who live in Christ. Freedom from sin and death!

• Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – Parable of the Sower with Jesus' own interpretation. Fruitful, faith seeds grow into whatever the source of the seed promises. Greek for grain" in 13:8 is fruit.

• Our responsive Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-13 – offers universalism that includes rivers full of water that help crown the year with bounty so wilderness pastures overflow, meadows become beautifully arrayed, valleyed decked out with grain shout for joy and sing. All this glory in creation happens because God "visits the earth." Those images in the psalm and in the reading rom Second Isaiah remind us that in the Psalms 96, 98 and 148 appointed for Christmas when God visits the earth in the baby Jesus of Nazareth, mountains and hills, valleys, streams and rivers also sing for joy, clap their hands....

So far in the church's year of grace in chapters 10 through 12 of Matthew's gospel we've had Jesus' instructions and commissioning for mission, for the church sent out into the world (that's us, because all of us are sent people or apostles), along with his warnings of what may happen. In Matthew 8 and 9 we experienced Jesus moving from proclaimed word into the enacted deeds that help explain his words. Before that, chapters 5 through 7 covered the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 1 through 4 tell us who Jesus is with his genealogy, birth, and very early life.

Matthew 13 includes the biblical number of 7 parables, starting out with a parable about seed, sower, and earth (ground, land). Everything we have originates in the earth. In scripture the earth of Genesis becomes the land of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that God graces us with as gift and charges us to steward and care for.

Para is beside, alongside, in a similar sense to a medical, legal, or other para-professional, who works with and supports a professional in that field (though today's paraprofessional are highly-trained and professional in their own right). Paraclete as one of the words for the Holy spirit refers to clesis or "called" by our side. Etc.

At the beginning of the passage Jesus leaves the house, sits by the sea (of Galilee, almost definitely), and then goes out into a boat because so many people had gathered around him. Charlene mentioned that sound carries well over water, so everyone could hear people better and it was a way of the crowds being able to notice and focus on him. This was an agricultural society that well would have grasped concept of seed – sower – different types of ground. But we can parallel this parable into other settings, as well.

Everyone agreed we didn't need Jesus' explanation of the different types of soil; everyone agreed each of us is every one one of these soil or ground conditions at various times, often during the same day.

Sara and I had attended Reformation Roadtrip 6 the day before; it emphasized Luther as an interpreter of scripture, with many cautions about the hazards and difficulties of translating any document of any era from one spoken or written language into another. The translator always is somewhere between the original text and their translation or paraphrase. I mentioned our need to contextualize our ministries of speaking and service into culturally congruent words and actions very much included spoken and written words.

Although I'd planned to discuss stewardship of finances, property, and other resources, the other discussions and observations took enough time and become so detailed and interesting I didn't even mention ways we can be too fear-filled, too cautious, focusing on observable limitations rather than trusting God's limitless giving. Like the different stool types, that also tends to be all of us at one time or another.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pentecost 5A

Zechariah 9:9-12

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

16"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon'; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

25At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Today we get selections from Handel's Messiah! Second Zechariah brings us the florid soprano "Rejoice, greatly, O Daughter of Zion" that announces messianic redemption over all the world; a soprano sings Jesus' "Come Unto me" after the alto/mezzo promises "He shall feed his flock." All four canonical gospels identify Zechariah 9:9 with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week:

• Mark 11:1-11
• Luke 19:28-38
• Matthew 21:1-11
• John 12:12-19

For Pentecost 5 Matthew's gospel continues Jesus instructions for mission that we started considering on Trinity Sunday, the octave of Pentecost. Jesus has more directions and cautions for the church in motion, because to be church means to be "sent people" or apostles sent into all the world, starting right where we are here and now, sent in the power and presence and discernment of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.

Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word ecclesia / church, and outlines some structural and organizational ecclesiology or ways to be church.

Today's gospel reading gives us that famous contrast between wild and crazy and ascetic John the Baptist down by the riverside and his cousin Jesus (though quite counter-cultural by religious and societal norms), known to love parties, conversation, clearly a lover of questioning and debunking political and religious establishments. It's become commonplace to say Jesus shows the lifestyle God's people are supposed to have, John's style doesn't make it. Even "people like us," tend to think we know how Jesus' followers are supposed to be, to appear, to act, yet we've been seeing the same God acing in different ways in wildly different people and circumstances.

We looked around the room and noted among the class regulars many of us have served as readers, ushers, counters, musicians, donated flowers, hosted Sunday brunch. Steve noticed the sign in front needed major help, so responded to God's call to use his gifts and time by upgrading the sign so it looks new.

In the power of the Spirit of Pentecost, individuals move from being atomized, isolated, and widely scattered into the gathered-in, interconnected Body of Christ, where each person brings particular gifts, has different functions and callings. The same God acts in different ways through different people!

I mentioned monastic communities with very ascetic lifestyles compared to our urban ones. Some wear very simple clothing, farm the surrounding land to help feed themselves and the surrounding community, spend a lot of time in prayer. Some monasteries have guest houses and sponsor retreats.

Scripture shows us many instances of finding God's presence particularly on the margins in those "other than, different from us." Maybe most stereotypically and characteristically in little kids, strangers, poets, artists, homeless, anyone person or situation vulnerable and marginalized—rather than centralized.
Matthew 11

7What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8A man in soft raiment? 10A prophet? Yes, and much more than a prophet. Behold, I send my messenger before thy face to prepare the way for thee. 11No one greater born of a woman than John, but the least of these in my kingdom still is greater. 14And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, that is to come. 15He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Just before today's text Jesus admiringly tells us about J the B: "No one born of a woman [no human] is greater than John" – yes despite that, the least of the ones in the kingdom, empire, sovereignty of God still are greater than his cousin John. Even though for Jesus, John is so great he is the prophet Elijah who had to come again before the Messianic age could happen.

Discussion

Different styles of church buildings. Especially because we're in movie land Los Angeles, several people told us about movie theaters re-purposed into churches. I mentioned new churches often begin by gathering for Sunday worship in a living room, school, or hotel function room. No one in our group was there at the time, but LCM started out in a dance studio. Given that God apparently favors the unpretentious, what do we make of Center of the World Riverside Church in NYC? Can God be there as much as God is in a back alley outcast on the edges of existence in Chicago?

Riverside Church NYC and St. Patrick's Cathedral, too. Steve and Richard both mentioned the sense of awe and heaven as soon as you enter St. Patricks, the wide diversity of people who spend time there. I mentioned the relatively new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in LA that's my idea of the ultimate church building. All of these cost a lot to build and to maintain. Barbara reminded us it's all for the glory of God. Barbara and Sara both mentioned some very large donations to LCM that included an individual who paid for about one-third of the cost of the current pipe organ.

Me: in Salt Lake City during the long time it took to renovate Cathedral of the Madeleine, worship at the Lowell School got dubbed "St. Lowell's." Another cultural piece: when I lived in the very diverse but historically ethnically Italian-American North End of Boston, they renovated St. Stephen's Roman Catholic church on the corner of my street to light, bright, austere, northern European standards. In plain language, the updated style was very Protestant and easily could have passed for Scandinavian Lutheran! Because she was accustomed to and preferred florid southern Italian excesses that to me bordered on tacky and vulgar, my landlady told me she "felt like lighting up a cigarette" when she entered St. Stephens. Not her cultural idea of a sacred space, but it definitely was mine!

Further discussion: what people in different professions tend to wear to work. Legal and financial services still usually rock more formal, sober, attire.

Matthew 11:28-29, rest – Exodus 33:14, "I will give you rest." Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:1-3

Matthew 11:29-30, yoke – yoke of oxen to share the burden (Filipino guest preacher told us a well-constructed yoke rests lightly on the beasts' shoulders). The negative yoke and burden of imperial oppression and demands. The light-weight yoke of Torah obedience, of wisdom.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Pentecost 4A

Matthew 10:40-42

40"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."
backtracking

Pentecost 1 | Trinity | Matthew 28:16-20


• all authority in heaven and earth
• go, sent, into all the world – make disciples
• baptize!
• I am with you! Refers back to Emmanuel, God-with-us, at the start of Matthew's gospel

Pentecost 2 | Matthew 9:35-10; 10:19-20

• Jesus proclaimed Good News / Gospel
• called, authorized, sent 12 – Jesus told us he has all authority; he gives us an extension of his authority
• charges disciples (us!) to preach the gospel, heal, raise the dead, etc.
• announce kingdom of heaven, reign of heaven has come near you
• travel very light
• don't sweat what to say; HS will give you the words

Pentecost 3 | Matthew 10:24-30

• disciple / teacher // master /slave
• don't fear x 4 – Sara pointed out "in only about 12 verses," but it's actually in only 7 verses!
• not peace but a sword of division
• new family configuration. Though it's clearly there, nuclear family as we know it isn't prominent in scripture; this new family comprised of Jesus' disciples has experienced the new birth of baptism
• to be worthy of Jesus, take up your cross – both Roman empire's literal cross of execution and the crosses of giving up our own preferences for the well-being of the other and of the community

Today, Pentecost 4 | Matthew 10:40-42

Again, the church's year of grace has moved into the green and growing season of Ordinary Time that's anything but ordinary as it emphasizes the church in the power of the Holy Spirit of life, of resurrection, of love, of newness. "Ordinary" refers to structured, ordered, arranged, laid out in a pattern. In this segment of Ordinary Time we number Sundays after the Day of Pentecost.

• emissary, ambassador, representative brings with them the presence, the authority, the function, and the words of the one who sent them.
reward here is about earned wages, payment you're entitled to, and not a gift of grace
• how did Israel historically treat the prophets?
• hospitality begins and ends this short passage

Scripture distinguishes between the prophet who speaks truth to power and roeh the seer, who peers into the future, though telling if/and/ but alternatives also is part of the word and work of the prophet.

Prophecy in Israel officially began because of the whole Kings Thing they insisted on. Prophecy literally is speaking against the reigning monarch, against any expressions of death-dealing social, economic, cultural, political empire.

In a somewhat permissible official capacity, we sometimes find a court jester or a motley fool, who almost can say what they want in the presence of the official authorities.

Prophets also call people back to the freedom of a new covenantal obedience to the commandments.

Prophets particularly speak God's word of hope and promise for a different future; the end of the old, the beginning of the new. Resurrection from the Dead; a New Creation. In the Hebrew bible we officially find the four "books" of former prophets Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; and four of latter prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve. Although we don't formally list Moses among the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth was "a prophet like Moses," because they both spoke the word of God. So roughly, a prophet is anyone who speaks for God. That includes us with our baptismal roles of prophet (speaker of God's word), priest (mediator between earth and heaven), and sovereign (caretaker of creation).