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.