Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Easter is Fifty Days! This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter—next comes Easter 6 and Easter 7 when we celebrate Jesus' Ascension (Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter is the official Ascension Day), then on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost before we move into the season of the Spirit, time of the Church that will be another green and growing segment of Ordinary Time.

Bookends in the canon of scripture reveal God as origin and end of all things:

• Genesis 1 and 2: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a Garden

• Revelation 21 and 22: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a City that grows out of a well-tended garden

Revelation was written during the reign of Roman emperor Caesar Domitian; very briefly, the book of Revelation shows us how empires everywhere operate. It's somewhat of a guide book for living baptized in the context of empire—any empire. Imperial-style governments such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia in biblical times, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, present-day USA later on; trans-national imperial entities such as Bayer and Monsanto that surreptitiously creep into almost every aspect of the planet's existence. This week and next week the passages from Revelation especially show us ways to live baptized into the new creation.

The book's author, John the Revelator, is an unknown individual, but he's not Jesus' cousin John the Baptist or Jesus' beloved disciple John of fourth gospel fame and renown.

Much of Revelation is in the literary style of apocalyptic; we've previously mentioned apocalyptic uncovers/reveals something hidden as it uses symbolic language, physical symbols, and indirect speech. Other scriptural examples of apocalypse include – but aren't not limited to – sections of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Isaiah, and Mark's gospel.

We discussed Patmos that may have been a Roman prison island; a class participant who'd visited Patmos later emailed me it's "a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea," though as our quick internet search discovered during class, it's physically close to present day Turkey. Wikipedia provided a link to Patmos' Greek language website.

"Ocean no more" in Revelation 21:1 isn't about ecological disaster! It's a code word for untamed chaos. In the famous passage that opens Genesis 1 the Spirit of God hovers and breathes and speaks over the "deep," the unordered chaotic waters. In our baptism with Water and Word, God calls and enables us to speak words that tame and order the chaos of empire.

Revelation 21:3 where God makes a home with creation uses the same word as in John 1:14 (the gospel according to John). Late Pastor Eugene Peterson describes it aptly as God "pitching a tent," a portable dwelling or shelter that allows God to journey step by step alongside creation. We find similar imagery in the Exodus desert account with evidence of God's presence in a cloud by day, fire by night, in the portable ark of the covenant the people carried with them.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Easter 4C

Acts 9:36-43

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the twenty-second day of Easter, the fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the world-changing, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel readings are from John.

Backtracking:

The same Luke who compiled the gospel put together the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a pattern similar to Luke as it records events Doctor Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

Today's Reading:

This account begins, "Now in Joppa..." Besides in the Acts of the Apostles, where else in the bible do we hear about Joppa, that's now usually called Jaffa? Jonah 1:3 – "So Jonah went down to Joppa," bought a ticket and boarded a ship for Tarshish in his attempt to run away from the Lord.

This is the only place in Acts that uses the feminine word for apostle. Last week when we discussed the conversion of the apostle Paul, we learned Saul was his Hebrew/Jewish name, Paul was his Greek name. Depending on where he was and with whom he interacted, he always was both Saul and Paul. In today's scripture pericope or selection, the woman Peter raises from death to life is Dorcas in Greek, Tabitha in Aramaic. Pastor Peg mentioned retired United Methodist bishop Will Willimon (check out his writing! Although he's very theological, he presents complex ideas very clearly) suggests the "room upstairs" reference in verse 37 is an additional way Luke uses to identity Tabitha/Dorcas as Jesus' disciple because it connects her with the upper room experiences of Jesus' male disciples.

Verse 40: before taking action, Peter sends everyone else outside and intently prays in order to discern what God would have him do. Peter's word commands Tabitha to"get up" and (Verse41) he takes her hand and helps her up. Jesus still raises the dead! In baptism we receive the Spirit of Resurrection! For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.

Verse 43: Peter then stayed for a while in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Tanners made shoes, clothes, saddles, and other items from the hide of dead animals. Contact with dead carcasses made Simon ceremonially unclean. Peter associating with Simon reflects the radical inclusion of women, social underclasses, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized people we hear about in Luke's gospel; this trajectory continues in the book of Acts and during the later history of the church.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Easter 3C

Acts 9:1-6

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the fifteenth day of Easter, the third Sunday of Easter. Easter Day, the festival of resurrection, is the second of our great Trinitarian feasts.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that provides our scripture readings schedules passages from the Acts of the Apostles for the first reading (lection or lesson). That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the (thoughts and prayers and) activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The stories in Acts reveal the shape, mission, witness, power, and faithfulness of the nascent church. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel accounts are from John.

By definition, Christianity is incarnational; Christianity is about God's embodiment/enfleshment in the world, most specifically in Jesus of Nazareth and now in the church (that's us!) as the incarnate body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. All four canonical gospels affirm this reality early on:

• Mark: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
• Matthew: you shall call him Emmanuel, God-with-us.
• Luke: you shall name him Jesus; he will be son of the Most High.
• John: in the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The same person who compiled the gospel according to Luke put together the Acts of the Apostles. Since the middle of the last century, scholars have affirmed Luke's gospel as volume 1, the book of Acts as volume 2, and frequently refer to the dyad as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a similar pattern as it records events Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

By definition Christianity is incarnational as it celebrates God's embodiment in all creation.

The writer of Luke's gospel ends his account with Jesus before his ascension or return to the Father telling his followers to wait until they are "clothed with power from on high." The disciples then go back to Jerusalem. Luke begins Acts with the disciples asking the resurrected Jesus if he'll now finally restore the kingdom. Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong, and tells them to wait because they will receive power from on high, because they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. In continuity with Jesus' original followers, we live as God's presence on earth. As the denomination's tagline expresses it, "God's Work – Our Hands."

In Acts 6:36 we read about the first ordination in the New Testament. The early church first ordained or set apart for a particular purpose the servant class of deacons. Historically deacons have looked out on, faced and interacted with the world, while ministers of word and sacrament (pastors, once they're called or appointed to that role) historically have faced and interacted with the church. So to outsiders, the church first looked like people who picked up their towels and basins in service, as Jesus modeled when he washed his disciples' feet in the upper room before his death.

Verse 9:2 of today's passage refers to the church as followers of The Way; that would be the way of Jesus, the road to Jerusalem, the cross, the empty tomb. Later on in Acts 11:26 we read Jesus' followers first were called "Christians" at Antioch.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday – Triduum 2019

Palm/Passion Sunday – Holy Week – Triduum

Palm/Passion Sunday
Many churches combine Palm Sunday's triumphant entry into Jerusalem with Jesus' Last Supper
and the trial, conviction, crucifixion, death and burial narratives because many people don't attend any Holy Week Services.

Isaiah 50:4-9a • Philippians 2:5-11
Palm Sunday gospel reading: Luke 19:28-40 • Passion Sunday gospel reading: Luke 22:14-23:56

Lent concludes at sundown or at midnight on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Triduum – Three Days

Maundy – "Mandate" – Thursday
The Three Days is a single liturgy that begins with Maundy Thursday's worship that concludes without a benediction, often ends with the worship space stripped and in darkness. Historical Lenten practice waits until Maundy Thursday to pronounce absolution or forgiveness to the gathered assembly.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 • Exodus 12:1-4, [5-10], 11-14 • Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Good Friday
The Three Days continue on Good Friday, the day of Jesus' death. Although the Revised Common Lectionary specifies scripture readings for Friday, many churches' traditions include other scriptures such as noon through 3 pm with Jesus' seven last words or statements, reading or singing one of the full scriptural passion narratives in the evening, or something else.

Holy Saturday
The day nothing apparently happens is the day everything actually happens. We spend a lot of our lives in the interstitial, liminal time between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday dawn. Theology of the cross especially lifts up this day before Easter when we almost hang suspended in time anticipating gifts of rebirth, of spring, of new life.

Easter / Resurrection
Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter. The Three Days/Triduum liturgy concludes by celebrating Jesus' resurrection. The Council of Nicaea (325) that gave us the Nicene Creed calendared Easter for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Easter Vigil
The Vigil of Easter revisits the meta-narratives of creation and of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories. The essential readings for the Vigil of Easter:
Genesis 1:1—2:4a • Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 • Ezekiel 37:1-14 • Jonah 1:1—2:1-3 [4-6] 7-9 • Romans 6:3-11 • Luke 24:1-12

Easter Sunrise / Morning
Acts 10:34-43 • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 • Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

Easter Evening
Isaiah 25:6-9 • Psalm 114 • 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 • Luke 24:13-49

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lent 5C

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

We opened by praying Graham Kendrick's Knowing you, Jesus based on Philippians 3:7-11:

All I once held dear, built my life upon,
all this world reveres and wars to own,
all I once thought gain I have counted loss,
spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You.
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy,
my righteousness; and I love You, Lord.

Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
to be found in You and known as Yours,
to possess by faith what I could not earn,
all surpassing gift of righteousness.

Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,
and to know You in Your suffering,
to become like You in Your death,
My Lord, so with You to live and never die.

Three weeks ago on Lent 2 we talked about Philippians as the Epistle of Joy! This week on Lent 5 and next week for Lent 6 (Palm/Passion) Sunday, the second reading again will be from Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi where he was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. Philippians is one of Paul's captivity letters from when he was incarcerated (by humans)—probably in Rome. The readings for today and next Sunday reveal Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ as a no holds barred prisoner of his Lord!

The church's year of grace has moved into the conclusion of Lent and is getting ready for Easter. That means we're seriously getting into some theology of the cross. Theology of the Cross was at the heart of Martin Luther's theology, and if we read both the OT and NT carefully, we discover it's at the heart of God's self-revelation.
In very short:

• Theology of the cross is about God's own self-revelation, especially in Christ crucified. Theology of the cross is about God's often hidden, paradoxical both/and presence in the comment things, people, and situations.

• Theology of glory is about human ideas and imaginings of how a powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God might act. How humans wish God would behave?

This section of Philippians starts out with the Apostle Paul's / St. Paul's / Saul of Tarsus' résumé, CV, biography. Paul loves to make lists: fruits/gifts of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23; bads of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21... Paul goes on to describe how he wants to become like Jesus Christ. This Paul does not use the words disciple or follower or related; for him it's always about being "in Christ," the organic incorporation into Jesus' death and resurrection that God accomplishes in each of us at our baptism.

Again we need to remember 98% of the time for Pauln "law" means the sacrificial and dietary laws and circumcision. He does not mean the Ten Commandments or Jesus' Great Commandment capsule summary.

Although in Philippians 4:9 different translations read either "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ," faith of Christ that's about Jesus infinite faithfulness probably is more accurate and almost definitely was Paul's intent.

Our organic incorporation into Jesus Christ? For Paul, the gospel is Death and Resurrection, so baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection re-creates us as a gospeled people, gospeled community, as gospeled individuals.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Covenant :: Lent 4

Rather than discuss one of the specific Revised Common Lectionary readings on Lent 4, I prepared an overview of covenant throughout the bible. As one of my seminary professors observed about our assigned reading of Delbert Hillers' Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, "If you don't understand this book, you won't understand your seminary education." I've linked to my blog post that then links to the book on Amazon.
Covenant in the Bible
Our English word covenant implies coming together = co+venire. A covenant is an agreement – contract – pact – compact – treaty with responsibilities and requirements for both parties. Covenants usually include a spoken or written promise and a sign of that promise; the physical sign can be sharing a meal or another type of ritual action; it can be an object that stands as a witness.

God's covenants are acts of grace! As Pastor Peg pointed out at the start of our pre-LA Marathon Saturday evening Bible study, God always reaches out for us; God always makes the first move!
God covenants with us and with all creation in the sacraments. As Christians – members of the body of Christ – we live in covenant with God, with one another, and with all creation. Church membership and Christian marriage are covenants.

Significant Biblical Covenants
Creation
Genesis 1 – 2:7; Psalm 104
from The Creation by James Weldon Johnson
And God stepped out on space, And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely—I'll make me a world.

Adam
Genesis 2:15-17
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Noah
Genesis 6:18 "But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you."
Noah continues – Genesis 9:8-17
12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

Abram/Abraham
Genesis 15
5 God brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
15:18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."

Moses / Sinai Covenant / Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:1-17
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore] 3 you shall have no other gods befor me.
Deuteronomy 5:1-21
Moses reiterates Sinai/Horeb covenant

Joshua
24:1-28 covenant renewal ceremony in context of history of Israel starting with Abraham
24:15 "Now 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."
24:16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for 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; 18 and 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."

David
2 Samuel 7:1-16
7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
Psalm 89:19-37
89:28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for David, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Jeremiah
31:31-34 Not so much covenant in itself as it foretells God's ultimate covenant of grace in Jesus Christ
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
33b 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.

Jesus
1 Corinthians 11
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Luke 22
17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Lent 2C

Philippians 4:1-13

1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
The church's year of grace has moved into the season of Lent that counts the biblical number of forty days minus Sundays: Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week. Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve/Day form a single liturgy of the three days or Triduum.

A couple weeks ago on Transfiguration Pastor Peg explained the recent Lenten emphasis on living grounded in our baptism into Christ, in an attitude of joy, works and words of mercy toward our neighbors (and ourselves, as well). Of course we need to acknowledge our wrong doings, we sometimes need to turn our direction around in prayers and acts of repentance, but the idea is to get away from feeling hopeless and no good, receive the gift of forgiveness and new life, affirm and live out our baptismal identity.

Today we'll check out a passage from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians is known as the epistle of joy and connects extremely well with the current emphasis for Lent. In this short 4-chapter long letter, the "joy" or its cognates occurs at least 16 times.

The words for grace and joy in Greek come from the same root, so you could say to have joy means to recognize and embody grace.

χάρις = grace

χαράς = joy

Paul wrote this epistle to the church at Philippi where we was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. As a Roman colony, the citizens and congregants had dual citizenship similar to ours: baptized citizens of heaven on earth, denizens of imperial Rome, the occupying power. Like us, although they needed to defer to Rome's wordily power to some degree in order to survive, they ultimately needed to order their lives and days around their Christian identities. Philippians is a captivity or imprisonment letter Paul probably wrote from some type of incarceration—possibly house arrest or from a dungeon in Rome around 61 or thereabouts. Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, also wrote well-known letters from prison. Do you know anyone who has written meaningful or memorable letters from prison or jail? Maybe poetry or a novel?

In this letter Paul rejoices despite extremely difficult and discouraging circumstances. In Acts 16:25 we read about Paul and Silas praying in prison; that may have been the same one.

We had a longish discussion of 4:1, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord." This section is in the contemporaneous literary form of paranaesis that's encouragement or exhortation to keep on keepin' as you have been and almost never is about reproach or reprimand. Because the lectionary where we get our weekly scripture readings appoints this text for several occasions, I found about a dozen commentaries and current consensus is Paul's ministry coworkers and companions Euodia and Syntyche were doing just fine and needed to keep going as they had been, as 4:9 suggests. On an important side note, here and elsewhere in Paul's seven undisputed (definitely written by him and not by someone else who used his name, which was a commonplace compliment back then) epistles we see quite a lot of evidence of women leaders in the early church.

Philippians 4:8 brings us one of Paul's famous lists: true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; commendable; excellence; worthy of praise... God bestows those wonderful characteristics on us in our baptism; we bestow them on others with our presence and activity in their lives. What a way to start and continue in this season of Lent as we journey toward Easter.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lent 1C

Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.' " 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' " 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' " 12Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Lent

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 – Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week – minus Sundays. 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 spent 40 days of being tempted or tested 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 about 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.

Recently in Luke's Gospel

2:21-22 Jesus' baptism
3:23-38 Jesus' genealogy, ending with son of Adam, son of God
4:1-13 Jesus, full of the HS – continuing with the rest of today's gospel reading
4:14-21 Jesus, filled with the power of the HS – his first formal act of public ministry in the synagogue when he reads from Isaiah and announces release to the captives, the year of Jubilee fulfilled at this time in this place. This was our gospel reading on Epiphany 3 this year.

Lent 1

Every lectionary year (A, B, and C) the first Sunday in Lent features Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. It's striking how we move from Jesus' baptism in the wilderness alongside the Jordan River to the Holy Spirit Jesus receives in his baptism catapulting him out into a deeper, denser wilderness.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C, also known as Luke's year. Luke emphasizes neighborology, the word about the neighbor. This year we hear a lot from Jeremiah, a lot from Deuteronomy; both books emphasize living together in covenantal community. Deuteronomy records the Ten Commandments that supremely instruct us how to live into the fullness of the reign of shalom where no one has too much or too little, everyone has as much as they need.

Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke all include an account of Jesus' testing by the devil, Satan, traditionally the prosecuting attorney in Judaism. Mark provides no details; Matthew and Luke reverse the order of the second and third temptation or test. Luke places this passage about Jesus, son of God immediately after his version of Jesus' genealogy that ends with "Adam, son of God."

• Luke 4:3 Turn these stones into bread?

But Jesus himself is the bread of life, he is far more than basic survival food, Jesus is The Stuff of ultimate revival, a.k.a. Living Bread, nutritious grain that won't rot or mold or decay!

• Luke 4:6-7 Give Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world?

Jesus is Lord over and against the insufficiency of temple sacrifice, the dehumanization and violence of Roman imperial rule. In Christ Jesus all the world possesses the cross of Calvary, power of life over the death-dealing, life-negating pretenses of too many ecclesiastical and earthly governments.

• Luke 4:9 Throw yourself down from the temple spire?

But Jesus himself is the temple; Jesus is more than the temple. In fact, each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so no further need for a brick and mortar structure because we have and we are living temples.

In today's passage, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, with words that point to the neighbor, the other, and not to himself. Jesus had spent a lifetime attending synagogue and being instructed in Torah, so he carried the substance and meaning of scripture in his heart. We've mentioned Mary praying the Magnificat recorded in Luke 1:46-55 – "My soul magnifies the Lord, and spirit rejoices in God my savior" – that's roughly based on Hannah's song in the OT. Like Jesus, she'd been raised an observant Jew and that meant learning and knowing scripture.

How about us? What about us? What scriptures, prayers, hymns, do we rely on when the going gets rough and tough? When we're confused or uncertain about our next move? What scriptures do we recall when life is glorious and we want to thank and acknowledge God?

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Transfiguration C

Luke 9:28-36

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"―not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Today the church's year of grace concludes the Epiphany segment of green and growing Ordinary Time. This is the Western Protestant Church's Transfiguration Sunday, or (this year, since it's calendared according to the date of Easter Sunday) the eighth Sunday after Epiphany. The Roman Catholic branch of the church celebrate Transfiguration on the Second Sunday in Lent; Eastern Orthodox and some Anglican churches on August 6th. Transfiguration is an octave of eight days in the East—theologically and liturgically, it's that important! Actually... some churches celebrate it twice.

trans figure = change shape
transfiguration= change of shape
transformed, transcended

Just as at Jesus' Baptism, at Transfiguration we experience a Trinitarian theophany: manifestation, showing forth, revealing of all three persons of the trinity. The "Theo" prefix is God; remember other words that include "phan"? Epiphany, Tiffany, Fantasy... other?

Today we're looking at Jesus' transfiguration. A quote from Nelson Mandela: "We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us."

So far in Luke 9:

• Jesus calls the 12 together and gives them authority to heal and cast out demons.
• Sends them out to proclaim the gospel and heal; charges them to find and stay at houses of peace/shalom, with the famous exhortation to shake the dust of that place off their feet it it doesn't prove to be one of peace.
• Charged the 12 to feed the crowd—"you give them something to eat." 5 loaves, 2 fish.
• Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, the Christ of God
• Jesus' passion predication—suffer, die, be buried, raised.
• Jesus calls us to bear his cross, to lose our lives in order to save our lives.

In scripture mountains are places of special revelation. Both Moses [Exodus 20:1-17] and Elijah [i Kings 19:12] received revelation on mountains. With Jesus' crucifixion, Mount Calvary is the ultimate mountaintop revelation.

In Hebrew cosmology, the cloud of the Shekinah was a frequent feminine image that referred to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

v.28: "About eight days" could refer to approximately one week, or it could refer to the 8th day of the New Creation. 40 days in scripture is about one month; 40 years is a month of years. In their parallel passages, Mark and Matthew tell us 6 days, which also is about one week.

v.29: As often happens in Luke's gospel, Jesus was praying when this revelation happened. Compare Jesus' baptism.

They'd just been celebrating the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles or Tents when people remembered and celebrated God's protection during their wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:39-43), therefore giving mountaintop guys sons of Zebedee Peter, James, and John the idea of huts or little booths.

Moses and Elijah visit. Why Moses and Elijah? What do we already know about them? Moses – Sinai Covenant/Ten Commandments, "Law"; Exodus. Elijah – Prophets.

v.31: in Greek, Jesus' exodus, departure.

They talked about Jesus' departure: "Exodus" in the Greek. Although all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the transfiguration, Jesus speaks of his exodus only in Luke. Luke's gospel particularly emphasizes a new freedom, new liberation.

Listen to Jesus! not "look at him," despite all the resplendent shiny heavenly glory and bling that surrounds him.

Listen to jesus, not to Moses or to Elijah, who didn't quite get everything right all the time.

Listen to Jesus and not to any other (cultural, economic, consumer, ecclesiastical) voices evokes the Barmen Declaration [1934] from the Confessing Church in Germany in the wake of the idolatry of nazi national socialism

Barmen Declaration 8:11: "Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death."

Today we looked at Jesus' transfiguration. A quote from Nelson Mandela: "We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us."

Monday, February 25, 2019

Epiphany 7C

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

1Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.

3Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there -- since there are five more years of famine to come -- so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'"

15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
The church's year of grace has reached the seventh Sunday after Epiphany; this has been an exceptionally long epiphany season that will conclude next week with Transfiguration. And then? Ash Wednesday followed by six Sundays in (but not of) Lent. More about the shape, history, and purpose of Lent when that time arrives.

Although today's gospel reading continues Jesus' sermon on the plain from Luke, We'll briefly study the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible first lesson that's a small segment of the story of Jacob's son Joseph that spans Genesis 37 through 50.

Joseph as a Type of Christ

Joseph is about forgiveness, reconciliation, and newness. Joseph is very much like Jesus. Joseph's behavior and attitude is similar to the be-attitudes Jesus calls us to in his sermon on the mount (in Matthew) and his sermon on the plain (in Luke) we'll continue reading today.

We often refer to characters in scriptures as "types" or images/icons of Jesus Christ. For example:

ª Adam – firstborn of the old Creation // Jesus – firstborn of the new creation.

• Moses and Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai // Jesus as the new Moses in several senses that include sermon on the mount, the new exodus of liberating humanity and all creation from bondage of several kinds.

• David the shepherd who later becomes king // Jesus as the new shepherd, new king.

• Jeremiah the weeping prophet // Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

• And there are more—Martin Luther read Jesus into almost every sentence of the OT!

Living in Empire

The story of Joseph and his brothers is about living well and fruitfully under empire (in this case Egypt). Last year we talked a little about Ezra and Nehemiah living well under another empire when they returned after Babylon. It's impossible to escape influence of empires, whether they're national governments (Babylon, Persia, Rome, Spain, Great Britain) or transnational corporations (Monsanto, Bayer, Nestle...). Because we can't escape into a bubble or to a remote island, we need to find ways to live and sometimes thrive whether it's resistance or even some degree of cooperation. In the Joseph narrative, with famine all around, they had no choice but to go to a place where crops would grow and they could be fed.

Joseph and forgiveness – Jesus and us – God reconciling and resurrecting

Pastor Peg did a fairly complete but quick(!) Joseph summary. You need to read the whole entire thing in Genesis 37-50! You'll notice some backtracking and repetitions that occur because Genesis was compiled from different separate sources.

Joseph's brother had intended serious harm (as in killing him) to Joseph, but Joseph was wise enough to recognize the action of God's Spirit of life in redeeming an incredibly bad situation. in today's reading, Joseph keeps giving God the credit; in fact, in the last chapter of Genesis, chapter 50, Joseph again credits God.

In spite of us, in spite of other people, in spite of circumstances, God heals, mends, renews, resurrects. Because of time constraints, we're not hearing 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 (today's second reading) that's the apostle Paul's assurance of resurrection from the dead. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection!

Final note: God even redeems (literally takes back, buys back) death into new life!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Epiphany 6C

Luke 6:17-26

17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

Because I was late getting to church last Sunday and the pastor led the class, we didn't get into the discussion I hoped these ideas would lead to, so these notes are extremely basic and undeveloped.


Comparing the beginning of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) and Luke's Sermon on the Plain or Level Place is a classic move that to a degree is essential in differentiating the style and emphasis of both gospels.

Matthew's Jesus proclaims and declares from a high place, a mountain—Matthew brings us Jesus of Nazareth as the new Moses. You probably remember God spoke Ten Words (Commandments, called words in the Hebrew text)) on Mount Sinai or Horeb through Moses. Matthew's Sermon on the Mount includes only blessings that follow from certain attitudes and behaviors. This list sometimes is called the beatitudes. It may not have been original with her, but a participant in a study group I once was in called the beatitudes "be-attitudes." These blessings are quite spiritual in nature. (You may recall Matthew also emphasizes Jesus as the new King David.}

Consistent with his emphasis on distributive justice, common-wealth, and the well-being of the neighbor we've been referring to as neighborology – the word about the neighbor – in Luke's gospel Jesus descends from the hill he'd been on with his disciples so he can stand on the same level or elevation as they are. Besides blessings that are more earthbound than Matthew's, in Luke Jesus follows with woes or sorrows. Earlier in Luke we've seen social and economic leveling in Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:39-55}; Jesus' first act of public ministry (Luke 4:14-24) picks up Mary's theme as he quotes from Isaiah and promises jubilee: good news (gospel) to the poor, liberty to captives and oppressed, overall economic and social justice where no one has too much or too little, everyone has enough. But this is not sameness! It's a situation that draws upon everyone's unique gifts and ability to contribute, as the apostle Paul often writes about.

As we continue in Luke's Revised Common Lectionary year C, we'll continue tracking these themes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Epiphany 5C

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

With the fairly short season of Epiphany, the church's year of grace is in a segment of ordinary time that's carefully arranged, structured, organized and "ordered." Starting in the spring when we number Sundays after the festival of Pentecost, we get a many months long segment of ordinary time.

Last week we considered the prophet Jeremiah's call story, a narrative about God's claim on Jeremiah and God's words to Jeremiah that outlined his call, calling, or vocation (same word, different languages). We've also heard and discussed the opening acts of Jesus' public ministry in versions from the gospels of Luke and John; those also are call stores, with Jesus affirming and announcing God's call and claim on him.

This week the Revised Common Lectionary that gives us the scriptures for each Sunday brings us two call stories: the call of the prophet Isaiah and Jesus' calling his first disciples, who worked in the fishing profession. Isaiah is a very long book that historically spans at least two centuries and includes writings from at least three different people. Today's passage is from early in the first section of the book that's mostly by the guy we refer to as Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Contrasting Jeremiah and Isaiah

(1) last week Jeremiah hesitated and was reluctant to accept the ministry task God was calling him to do. The young Jeremiah felt unqualified, but as we studied the text. we saw that God would equip and enable Jeremiah to do everything God asked and sent him to do.

(2) this week Isaiah responds to God's call in a very positive manner announcing he's right here and ready to go where God sends him.

Isaiah's royal sensibility

All three sections of Isaiah affirm God's lordship and sovereignty; today's reading opens with the historical circumstance of the death of King Uzziah who'd been a relatively good and faithful human ruler; here Isaiah receives a vision of the God he knew as the real king, the true ruler of all creation.

Today's reading

Seraphs or seraphim are snaky creatures with wings; elsewhere in the bible, cherubs or cherubim have lion faces. Neither creature is the adorable chubby-cheeked baby angel figure of Renaissance and later paintings, of Christmas and Valentine's Day greeting cards.

Although this is one of the scripture texts for Trinity Sunday (and on Sunday we sang Steve W's favorite majestic Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy") Holy, holy, holy in this passage is not a trinitarian proclamation—it's an artifact of Hebrew and other semitic languages. English adjectives have basic, comparative, and superlative forms, so we say good-better-best, pretty-prettier-prettiest. If I were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic and really liked a Sunday brunch, I might say it was good-good-good or tasty-tasty-tasty. In English I'd tell the chef of the day or the companion sitting beside me today's menu was the best or the tastiest. In this first reading for today, Isaiah tells us God is holy-holy-holy or The Holiest.

Discussion of God's many callings to each of us, wherever we are. Contrast between major life calling/vocation or series thereof (today most people have four or five or six separate careers, or sometimes engage in two or three different ones at the same time) and the many smaller circumstantial callings we each receive literally all the time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Epiphany 4C

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [strike, jolt, shock: not gentle] my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

As we number Sundays after the feast of the Epiphany, the church's year of grace has moved into a short segment of green and growing Ordinary Time. After the Festival of Pentecost, we have a many months long season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary refers to structured, organized, patterned, arranged: "in order."

Today we'll mention Luke's gospel – the prophet Jeremiah – the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy – neighborology, the word about the neighbor. All these sources and concepts are about living together in covenant as God's people, rather than existing alone in isolation.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C when we focus mostly on gospel readings from Luke. You may remember Luke emphasizes making opportunities and resources such as food and housing level and equal for everyone: no one has too little or less than they need; no one has too much or more than they need. That's also very much the style of Deuteronomy, which along with Leviticus is one of the places we find the Ten Commandments that supremely are about living together as God's people with distributive justice, fairness, and compassion.

Today's first reading comes from Jeremiah. Last Sunday we talked about scripture becoming codified, throughly written down, preserved, and in a sense canonized, or made into the standard or measure that describes who God is, what God requires, how God's people live. Although he may have been in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah also likely had some written-down texts (he had his own scribe, as well) and would have been very familiar with the book of Deuteronomy that influenced his own spoken and written words during his forty year long ministry.

Today's first reading comes from the beginning of Jeremiah. Please notice God is the main actor here assuring Jeremiah God has known, consecrated, appointed, and will send, command, and be with Jeremiah.

Like Jesus' call narratives, Jeremiah's call or vocation (same word from different languages) account fits our lives, too. We often think of calling or vocation as the major profession, job, or series of different more or less full-time work opportunities we'll have in our lives; of course those are important, but all of us have noticed God calls, sends, and enables us to smaller jobs, ministries, or acts of service. For every one of those mega or micro opportunities, ministries, or tasks (all the same thing), just as for Jeremiah, God leads us to it, enables us to do it, and will be with us through it. Just as for Jeremiah, we sometimes feel unqualified...

Discussion of language and other cultural conditions we need to meet, of particular gifts or assets we may need to have.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Epiphany 3C


Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

During this fairly short season of Epiphany, the Church's year of grace is in Ordinary Time. You may remember when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost we get a many months long green and growing season. Ordinary means ordered, regulated, measured, not messy or dis-ordered. I mentioned how much I love the way the color green represents growth and change; Pastor Peg commented there are literally countless different hues and varieties of green. I replied there just may be more types of green than of any other color? Exaggeration, but I like to think that's so.

Last week: John's version of Jesus' public ministry debut, his IPO/Initial Public Offering, was a party!

This week: we have Luke's version of Jesus public ministerial debut. Just as it was for John, it's also in his Galileean hometown, a place that was very working class, full of reprobates, thieves, robbers, disreputable people in general—and gentiles! This text emphasizes Luke's themes of Holy Spirit, the marginalized, the underprivileged. Nazareth is Jesus' hometown; he's in his home synagogue. Jesus was 30 years old and had been attending synagogue there for a long time. He knew the texts of scripture well, so after the attendant handed him the Isaiah scroll, Jesus would have been familiar enough to pick and choose the passage he wanted to read that comes from the third section of the long book of Isaiah 61:1, 58:6, 61:2.

In all four of the canonical gospels, before his first formal act of public ministry, Jesus calls disciples—followers, students he teaches/disciplines, people who later become apostles or "sent people" in the power of the same Holy Spirit that filled and accompanied Jesus, that fills and accompanies us.

A note about the word canon: canon literally is a measuring device, a yardstick, something used to compare other products of a similar genre. For an excellent description of a canon (that's not a gun that fires ammunition) via Isaiah, God announces, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line."

Besides this reading from Luke's gospel that displays the authority of the written word in the life of the synagogue and in Jesus' life and ministry, today we have an amazing reading from the Hebrew Bible book of Nehemiah 8:1-10. It describes an event that occurred shortly after Jews who returned came back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon where they'd had little or no access to scripture. This happened at a time in history when previously spoken or orally transmitted texts were starting to be written down by people from many religious and spiritual traditions, with those words then gaining an authority that came from their being codified. As I've described, the oral tradition was dynamic and fluid, definitely not the same as if one of us scheduled as lector decided to recite a Sunday lection from memory because the passage was fairly short and easy. Not only did parts of passages get changed through the process of telling, hearing, and retelling; scribes who copied texts onto scrolls sometimes made mistakes, which partly accounts for our having more than one authoritative "received tradition" of scripture.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we heard Mary's Magnificat (a canticle, song, or psalm also from Luke's gospel that describes magnifying or glorifying God) where Jesus' mother announces great leveling and immense reversals of have-nots gaining essentials for life, those who have-a-lot in a material sense losing some of their wealth in a massive re-distribution move. On Advent 4 we sang Canticle of the Turning that paraphrases Mary's words. Jesus' announcement of himself as God's justice and reversal embodied (enfleshed, incarnated) picks up on Mary's themes of distributive justice and equality. As I previously noted, Mary would have known Hannah's song from 1 Samuel 2:1-10 so well she could create a riff on it for herself.

We don't memorize scripture enough! Barbara mentioned the almost incredible power of concentrating throughout each day on only two or three verses of the book of scripture they're studying in a group she belongs to.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Almost two months ago, on the first Sunday of December this year, the church began a New Year of Grace with the waiting, anticipatory, expectant, hope-filled season of advent. So far during this year of grace we've encountered Jesus' cousin John the Baptist, we've met Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus; we've become acquainted with magi who were foreign religious leaders from the East—from the direction of the rising sun, where every new day begins.

Thanks to Barbara and to Pastor Peg for facilitating when I stayed home with the flu last week...

Last Sunday on the Baptism of Jesus, we begin the liturgical season of Epiphany, a short segment of the green and growing Ordinary (ordered, structured) Time. Every year during the time after the Great 50 Days of Easter we have a long segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost that's the 50th day of Easter. The Epiphany season begins and ends with a trinitarian theophany—a showing-forth, manifestation, of the triune God. Last Sunday we celebrated the first theophany with the Baptism of Jesus; three days before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, we'll experience Jesus' Transfiguration.

Today our gospel reading is back in the Gospel According to John, the latest of the 4 canonical gospels, compiled between 90 and 110. John gives us a different worldview from the synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke that despite marked differences, perceive Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner. This John most likely is John the son of Zebedee, brother of Peter and James—John the "beloved disciple." More accurately, the fourth gospel comes out of John's community, the people who surrounded John.

John brings us the most explicit new creation of the four canonical gospels. Besides events remembered from Jesus' life and ministry, John's gospel brings us seven signs and seven "I am" statements that the community likely found, discovered, or uncovered in separate written-down documents. Seven is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology.

Today our gospel reading brings us John's version of Jesus' first act of public ministry. In all four gospels, Jesus first calls disciples (followers, people he taught or "disciplined"), and then the text reveals the direction of God's call to Jesus with a specific act. As I've explained, John is the rogue, outlier gospel that almost didn't make the canonical cut; John shows us the reign of heaven on earth, the kingdom of God as an endless party, so what else to start out with but a wedding banquet?! In the ancient near east, an opulent, exorbitant, inclusive wedding feast would be one of the main signs or indicators of the messianic age.

John speaks of signs rather than miracles. We've talked about signs pointing to or indicating something other than themselves. Street signs that say Santa Monica Boulevard are not the actual reality of Santa Monica Blvd, though they're mostly located on the street itself. Signs in John's gospel all point to Jesus; in contrast, people would be apt to view a miracle as a suspension of natural laws, as a spectacular event that drew attention to itself.

The reality of this Messianic Feast or Wedding Banquet that begins Jesus' public ministry is not Canned Heat's hippy anthem that sings about where "the water tastes like wine." It's about water that has been changed into wine, into the fruit of the vine, that's one of the agricultural gifts of the Promised Land. It's important to realize this Cana in Galilee was a place full of shady characters and reprobates, and not exactly an elite suburb where people would hanker to hang out.

Next Sunday we'll return to this Revised Common Lectionary Year C's featured gospel according to Luke with Luke's version of Jesus' first act of public ministry.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Epiphany 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' " 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate Jesus as light of the entire world and we particularly recognize the God of the bible as God for all, God with all religions, ethnicities, abilities, social statuses, etc. Despite the Twelve Days of Christmas song, the day of the Epiphany actually is the thirteenth day of Christmas.

Epiphany means revelation, revealing, uncovering. We sometimes tell people we've just "had an epiphany." The "epi" prefix means upon; "phan" is revelation. We've discussed theophanies and fantasies quite a few times; the name tiffany actually means theophany, or a revelation of God: theo= god; phan=revealing.

The church began a New Year of Grace on the first Sunday of Advent that this year also was the first Sunday in December; today is only the sixth Sunday of that new year. On the day of Epiphany that this year happens on a Sunday and during the Season of Epiphany we concentrate on Jesus' early public ministry and celebrate the universalism of God for and with all people and all creation, the God who breaks ordinary barriers and shatters conventional boundaries and expectations.

We recently had four Advent Sundays of waiting, hoping, and anticipating Jesus' arrival; then we celebrated Christmas, the Nativity of the Bethlehem Christ Child on Christmas Eve; on the first Sunday of Christmas we sang a lot of Christmas carols and didn't even have a musical guest soloist so we could enjoy our own singing.

From now on until Lent, we'll number Sundays after Epiphany. Next week, the First Sunday after Epiphany, we'll re-experience Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist and we're experience a trinitarian theophany, or revealing of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This year we'll read about two of Jesus' first acts of public ministry, his Initial Public Offerings from both Luke (our featured gospel account for this lectionary year) and from John. In Luke's emphasis on the neighbor, Jesus reads scripture in the synagogue and announces himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah's call to justice, economic and social leveling, the reign of Shalom. John brings us Jesus at the Wedding at Cana with water that not only tastes like wine, but water that has turned into wine as a sign of the ongoing feast that's the reign of heaven on earth.

Today we'll sing "We Three Kings" for the worship entrance song, but scripture doesn't say the gift-bearing visitors were kings, and it doesn't say how many visitors from the east there were. However, it does mention three gifts, which likely is the reason we talk about three guys.

There's very little historical information in scripture or anywhere regarding Jesus' very early life, but many traditions have grown up around Christmas and Epiphany. That's fine, because traditions such as naming three kings Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, traditions like decorated evergreen trees, carols and songs, and giving gifts rooted in creation are ways we make Jesus' life real to ourselves and our neighbors. Those and other traditions are ways of incarnating, enfleshing, embodying the Nativity or birth account. You've likely noticed our Christmas story combines narratives from Luke's gospel and from Matthew's.

The only Kings in this story are the Roman puppet King Herod and the infant King Jesus.

These three guys from the east along with their retinues most likely were religious leaders, probably Zoroastrian priests who also were astrologers who studied and interpreted stars in the sky for signs and meanings; they well may have been astronomers in our sense of people with expertise about the heavenly bodies. In any case, they were of a different culture, religion, and ethnicity then the Jews (Israelites, Hebrews) the bible has written about as the distinctive people of God. These wise persons who almost definitely were guys based their decision to set out for Bethlehem on studying signs in the skies, on reading their own scriptures or holy book, on heeding messages they received in a dream. They got outside themselves and their everyday endeavors to figure out where they were supposed to go. The word for worship/homage/adoration in this passage is the word the bible uses for the worship of God. These religious and ethnic "others" recognized Jesus as a very special baby, possibly recognized him as divine.

I mentioned Bruce Springsteen's song The Rising about 911 that can be given many interpretations, including variants in the meaning and location of The Rising title.

This story of wise guys from the East, from The Rising – the direction where the sun rises to start a new day – opens up questions of inclusion, boundaries, people who are like us, people who are different from us, in a similar way to Jonah's encounters with the people of Nineveh.

Us/them, insiders/outsiders, natives/strangers talk. Even earlier than the three-part Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah, scripture reveals (gives us an epiphany) of the real God who fills heaven and earth as God for all, God with all, yet we still need some bounded, contained places and relationships, we really cannot leave all our doors unlocked for everyone to enter and violate our space. As families, as individuals, as a church, it often can be difficult to discern answers about who we let in or keep out.

We discussed King Herod's insecurity at the idea of another King. Steve mentioned the territory of any monarch or ruler (both then and now) typically was very limited. Although most of the world follows the British royals to some degree, Elizabeth II is head of state only for the British Commonwealth of Nations or whatever its current nomenclature and has no real authority over anyone anywhere else.