Friday, January 27, 2023

Epiphany 4A

Matthew 5:9 Happy are the Shalom Makers
Happy are the Shalom Makers
for they will be called
Children of the Father.
Matthew 5:9

Matthew 5:1-12

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

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

Matthew's gospel…

…includes Jesus as the New Moses with an emphasis on the righteousness and justice of God we find throughout the Hebrew Bible. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus provides formal instruction in the Sermon on the Mount and offers parables about the reign of heaven.

Chapter 5 opens Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Its five sections parallel the five books of Moses (not written by Moses, but with Moses as a central actor) in the Torah or Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Jesus brings us words of life in the Sermon on the Mount, with a different style from the ten words or commandments God gave us through Moses, yet like the ten words/decalogue, Jesus is all about our flourishing together in safe, healthy, productive community. Jesus' entire ministry shows us how to live and love together in service, how to be church together.

It's interesting that Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word church or ecclesia. This called out assembly (us) is similar to the Roman City Council, the Los Angeles City Council, the New England Town Meeting that gathers together, deliberates together, and in our case, prays and worships together.

Matthew and Luke…

…both include this talk that describes characteristics or attributes of disciples or people who follow Jesus. Matthew and Luke tell about the same event; each evangelist makes a particular theological point. Like almost any teacher or preacher, Jesus would have taught the same lesson to different people at different times, with both planned and organic variations to customize the message to his current audience. For Matthew, Jesus is the ultimate teacher who wants his followers to be the best learners ever.

Jesus on the mountain or hill parallels Moses receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. In Luke, Jesus teaches similar content from a level place [Luke 6:20-26] and reflects Mary's Magnificat/Hannah's song [Luke 1:46-55; 1 Samuel 2:1-10] that promise God will raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty to create a world – a lifestyle – of distributive justice, where no one has too much, no one has too little. The sermon on the plain also fulfills Jesus' announcement of jubilee justice during his first act of public ministry in the synagogue service [Luke 4:16-21]. Besides a list of blessings, Luke's Jesus includes woes.

Blessed, Happy

This is not the deep well of joy we sometimes experience as Christians in spite of less than ideal circumstances. Blessed is participation in the reign of heaven on earth and being well-regarded by God. Blessed, happy is not consumer happiness as in "if I buy this tablet or take this trip I'll be happier"; "If I buy that tablet, take this trip, and attend that concert series I'll be the happiest." I thought carefully about my list because those items are valuable and life-enhancing, and though a new tablet, phone, or laptop is a material object, it's mostly a means of communication and can be used in ways that develop an individual's creative abilities and community connections. Travel almost anywhere enhances our perspective and expands our horizons. Music is the food of love, the soundtrack of life!

Backtracking to Luke, Pastor Gene Peterson in The Message translates woe as "trouble," but this wouldn't be the good trouble God calls us to so we can help change the status quo. Sorrow, sadness, grief, and similar better convey Jesus' concept of woe.


My illustrating "Blessed are the Peacemakers" as Blessed are the Shalom Makers takes some liberty. The biblical shalom is peace that's more than absence of conflict, but the Greek here is the root of our word irenic. Irenic peace is basic cease-fire, lack of overt conflict, a conciliatory attitude. When the Lord's Prayer or Our Father prays, begs, and pleads for the reign or rule of heaven on earth, it asks for the fulness of shalom.

The important beginning of irenic peace eliminates obvious disagreements, but shalom goes beyond that. Shalom is enough of everything we need to live healthy lives. As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism, asking for actual daily bread or food (water, shelter, good government, etc.) is only part of what we need. Shalom is integrity and honesty with each other inside our work, home, church, and other communities. Shalom is the Good News of the gospel fully lived out every day, everywhere we go. Shalom is the kingdom of heaven, the reign of life on earth.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Epiphany 3A

Zebulun and Naphtali from Jerusalem Windows by Marc Chagall
Zebulun and Naphtali from Jerusalem Windows by Marc Chagall

Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;
he shall be a haven for ships,
and his border shall adjoin Sidon.
Genesis 49:13

Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears beautiful fawns.
Genesis 49:21

About Marc Chagall's Jerusalem Windows

Isaiah 9:1-2

1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Matthew 4:12-22

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned."

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus in the World

Overview of Matthew's Gospel

Epiphany celebrates Jesus as light, as revelation to everyone everywhere, and reminds us YHWH always has been God of all, God for all, not exclusively Israel's.

We've experienced 2023's retelling of Jesus' baptism (found in all four gospels). Slightly out of order for our logic, every year (in the three synoptic gospels) on the first Sunday in Lent we hear about Jesus' Spirit-filled, post-baptismal temptations in the remote wilderness. All four canonical gospels have a different event for Jesus' first act of public ministry; most likely they all happened around the same time and clearly only one could have been the actual first, but each choice says something about the gospel writer's overall focus.

• Mark 1:16-26: Jesus calls the brothers Zebedee and immediately exorcises a demon in the synagogue
• Luke 4:16-21: Jesus announces the Jubilee year in synagogue
• John 2:1-11: Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding at Cana—a party!

• Today we have Jesus' Initial Public Offering according to Matthew: Jesus, the ultimate rabbi/teacher calls disciples. Teachable followers!


You can't separate geography, climate, and culture. Jesus making a home in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali in Capernaum-By-The-Sea, along the Way-Of-The-Sea that connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, is a bittersweet reminder that God owns the world and everything it. When Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us [Matthew 1:23] goes there, light dawns on the people's deadly darkness.

As 1st Isaiah describes it and Matthew quotes, Galilee of the nations-gentiles meant not-Israelites, and Isaiah almost definitely referred to occupation by imperial Assyria. In Jesus' – and later Matthew's – context, non-Israelite, gentile imperial Rome controlled land, sea, and everything related to them: employment, production, processing, distribution, taxation, etc.—the totality of everyone's lives and livelihoods.

Matthew emphasizes Jesus' connections with the whole people of God. Tribal descendants of Jacob's sons, Zebulun (Joshua 19:10-16) and Naphtali (Joshua 19:32-39) were part of territorial allotments first promised to Abraham and Sarah. Land is God's gift of covenanted place and space, yet the land of promise God called the people to steward into agricultural bounty and interdependent community is now under Roman control. Land is not alienable, not a "property" we can sell:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; you are but aliens and sojourners with me. Leviticus 25:23

Jesus' Geography / Locations

1. birth in Bethlehem
2. to Egypt for refuge from Herod's decrees
3. moving to childhood home in Nazareth
4. now he's in Capernaum

Jesus Calls Disciples

For Isaiah, Assyrian occupation equaled darkness and hopelessness, as did Rome's for first century Judea. Since Advent we've been in an extended season of light. Unlike John, Matthew doesn't name Jesus as "light of the world," yet after Matthew narrates the people have seen a great light, Jesus repeats John the Baptist's "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," although Jesus actually embodies the reign of heaven. It is here, it is now, and it is the polar opposite of Rome's life-extinguishing darkness.
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother … he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. … James son of Zebedee and his brother John … left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew tells us light has dawned and Jesus calls us to repent so the light will blaze brightly. Follow Jesus? As Matthew's gospel progresses, Jesus provides formal instruction in the Sermon on the Mount and offers parables about the reign of heaven. We see Jesus healing human diseases and confronting economic, religious, and governmental powers that be.

Church in the World / Light of the World

And Jesus said, "Follow me…" Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Today let's stay with the season of Epiphany and the gospel according to St. Matthew. Light dawns in Jesus. What does Jesus' presence do in the darkness and death of Roman imperial rule?

We receive a lighted candle at baptism. What does our presence as Jesus' followers feel like, look like, act like in today's uncertain world?

Matthew's Jesus is the ultimate teacher who wants his followers to be the best learners ever.

• "You are the salt of the earth." Matthew 5:13

• "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine!" Matthew 5:14

• "The reign of heaven is like yeast." Matthew 13:33

We can do this! We can be salt, light, and yeast! Amen? Amen!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Epiphany 2A

label scar on vacated Macy's store
label scar on vacated Macy's store

Isaiah 49:1, 5-7

1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.

5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

The Epiphany Season Continues…

…with its theme of God as redeemer for all the world, Jesus as light of the world.

• Last week: Baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17

• This week: Baptism of Jesus in John 1:29-42

• All 4 gospels include John baptizing Jesus!

Jesus' baptism or mikvah was not the same as our trinitarian baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, but more of a signal of newness for the nation. At Jesus' baptism we experience a trinitarian theophany with Father, Son, Holy Spirit all in attendance at the event. We hear God the Father naming, claiming, calling, and inspiring Jesus. At our baptism, God names, claims, calls, and literally inspires us with the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah is an excellent choice during Epiphany because all of the long book of Isaiah brings us broad, inclusive universalism. Israel's God YHWH is God of all, God for all nations, people, creation. God seeks and desires wholeness, integrity, shalom, interconnectedness, a free future not bound by the past—for all.

Servant Songs

Today our first reading is one of Second Isaiah's four Servant Songs found at:
• Isaiah 42:1-9

• Isaiah 49:1-6

• Isaiah 50:4-9

• Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

All of 2nd Isaiah brings us a servant attitude. The church hears these texts during the Holy Week of Jesus' passion that leads to his death. The church long has identified the Servant as Jesus Christ, but the Servant could be God's whole people Israel, Israel of the Babylonian – or any other – diaspora. The servant could be the person who recorded the words of Second Isaiah. How about us as the Suffering Servant?

Today's reading helps us reflect on:

• God's baptismal claim on us as individuals and as a community
• the presence of the HS
• God's baptismal call to be Jesus' presence everywhere

In last week's blog for Baptism of Jesus I wrote:
Jesus conception and birth are the start of the new creation? Yes! But Jesus' baptism opens an ongoing visible, public, manifestation or showing-forth of God's new action in recreating the world. … Did this echo the first creation as it emerged from surging disarray into boundaries, purpose, and intent? Did it replicate Israel showing up wet on the other side after crossing the Jordan into the promised land of covenanted community, agricultural bounty, and grace?

How about us? Our baptism initiates our public ministry. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation. Jesus invites us to follow him into the waters, into the world…

After a retail or other tenant vacates a commercial building, they tear off that company's sign or banner and you almost always can see a scar where the sign had been. In baptism God marks us with the sign of the cross forever—it's an indelible "label scar." Can people see it or feel it? Does our baptism demonstrate and reveal God's merciful love and eternal purpose for the world? Think about it!

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Baptism of Jesus A

Matthew 3:17 Baptism of Jesus Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

A New Creation

With a Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos, Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation with Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. When Matthew's gospel concludes, Jesus charges us to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize and teach them.

• For Matthew's lectionary year I blogged a short overview.

The Season of Epiphany

In the wake of the Day of Epiphany, this season of varying lengths ends with Transfiguration (in Western protestant churches). "Different lengths" because Lent comes after Epiphany, and the date of Ash Wednesday depends on the date of Easter.

During Epiphany that reveals, manifests, and makes apparent the presence of the Divine, we learn about Jesus' early ministry. In all four gospels we find Jesus' cousin John baptizing Jesus. Although it was not our trinitarian baptism but more of a fresh start for the entire people, baptism initiated Jesus' public ministry, just as it does ours. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation; Jesus invites us to follow him to be God's presence in the world.

Jesus' Baptism

We find John baptizing Jesus in all four gospels, so listen up! Next week in John's gospel [1:29] we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Jesus' baptism often is identified as a trinitarian theophany, a revelation of all three persons of the Trinity.

Somewhat related to John the Baptist wondering why Jesus would need baptism brings at least one aspect of our Christian baptismal theology into this text. First, John's baptism was a new beginning for the nation of Israel more than it was for the individual being dunked, although an individual always belongs to a greater whole. Also, when Matthew's community assembled their account, questions of Jesus' full divinity weren't yet a thing; those concerns unfolded two or three centuries later. In terms of formal doctrine, the Definition of Chalcedon that describes Jesus Christ as fully human, completely divine, dates from 451. Yet again, all four gospels refer to Jesus as divine, son of God, God with us, pre-existent Word/speech/action of God, one with the Father.

Jesus himself answered John's objections by explaining he needed to be baptized in order "to fulfill all righteousness." In scriptural terms, to be righteous means to be aligned with God, in literal right relationship, to act with justice. "Thy kingdom come" is a righteous prayer; a righteous desire sidesteps human whims for the deeper, broader connectional fulfillment that helps lead to heaven on earth.

Our Baptism

This Jesus-Savior, Emmanuel-God-with-us would save the people from their sins. Jesus' cousin John identifies him as Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. In that culture debt and sin were close to synonymous, thus all the biblical calls for and actions toward distributive justice, yet sin also was about shortcomings the Westminster Catechism describes as "lack of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." Because in some ways John's baptism of Jesus was closer to the repeatable ritual bath or mikvah than to our Trinitarian baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection, comparisons can get tricky, but let's go for it, anyway.

Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove … And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved."

Jesus sends his followers into the world to baptize and teach; somehow most people reading this blog have been baptized, taught, and agreed to follow Jesus.

A New Creation

Comparing Jesus' baptism to ours can put us into a precarious position; interpreting Jesus as Isaiah's suffering servant may not be historically warranted—although Holy Week scriptures do exactly that. But notice the insight of the lectionary committee in appointing this Second Isaiah [chapters 40-55] passage with God's announcement of Jesus' divine sonship alongside the waters of new birth:

Isaiah 42:1,9

1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

9 See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Jesus conception and birth are the start of the new creation? Yes! But Jesus' baptism opens an ongoing visible, public, manifestation or showing-forth of God's new action in recreating the world. As Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit. Did this echo the first creation as it emerged from surging disarray into boundaries, purpose, and intent? Did it replicate Israel showing up wet on the other side after crossing the Jordan into the promised land of covenanted community, agricultural bounty, and grace?

How about us? Our baptism initiates our public ministry. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation. Jesus invites us to follow him into the waters, into the world…

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Christmas 1 / Name of Jesus

Nativity Tree 2022
Isaiah 63:7,9

7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praises of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us
and the great favor toward the house of Israel
that God has shown them according to his mercies,
according to the abundance of his loving kindnesses.

9 in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but God's presence that saved them;
in love and mercy it was God who redeemed them;
lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Word of the Father, Now in Flesh Appearing

…in all their distress … God's presence saved them!

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah 7:14]. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means 'God with us.'"

Mary will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save the people from their sins. Matthew 1:21-23

"And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age." Matthew 28:20

Friday, December 23, 2022

Nativity 2022

Titus 2 Grace has appeared
Titus 2:11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

The Epistle to Titus

For all three years, the lectionary schedules readings from Titus for Christmas Eve (Titus 2:11-14) and day (Titus 3:4-7).

Titus is another letter the apostle Paul almost definitely didn't write; it bears his name because of the common practice of regular people attributing their writing to a famous person. Titus was one of Paul's ministry companions, and probably a pastor-mission overseer for house churches in Crete.

The letter to Titus was one of reformer Martin Luther's favorites. He described it as, "…a short epistle, but a model of Christian doctrine, in which is comprehended in a masterful way all that is necessary for a Christian to know and to live." I'm sure he loved the reference to Jesus as "grace" with appeared and manifestation that describe an epiphany, a bright revelation of the Divine.

The strong sense of paranaesis or exhortation to good works in this short passage happens because its strong declaration of God's gracious presence and action inspire– compel – us to loving mercy, service, justice, and compassion. God's people, with zeal for good deeds? Yes! Remember, this was one of Luther's favorites!

From Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, Ahmal and the Night Visitors:

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom…
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Advent 4A

summer garden with welcome sign
Summer Garden with welcome sign in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California

Isaiah 7:10-16

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Almost Christmas, the supreme festival of creation, the birth of God in our midst in Jesus of Nazareth, the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Although by this Sunday we're usually already into or seriously planning Nativity treats, food, decorations, music, and evoking memories, to round out Isaiah in Advent, a few comments on the first lection. This Isaiah passage is from the Old Testament, First Testament, or Hebrew Bible; it wasn't originally Christian scripture.

Over the past three Sundays I've described the frightening and precarious overall political, social, religious, and economic situation Isaiah of Jerusalem addressed. Long ago, the church identified...

14"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." a Messianic text that anticipated the arrival of Emmanuel, Jesus, God-With-Us. The librettist for Handel's Messiah also chose this, but Isaiah did not have Christmas in mind. In these very political verses, King Ahaz of the southern kingdom Judah is very concerned about military and political threats from Samaria [Ephraim] in the northern kingdom of Israel, from Damascus in Syria. The baby in these verses may be Isaiah's own soon to be born offspring.

Similar to Martin Luther, Matthew's community that produced the featured gospel readings for this year A had a habit of discovering and uncovering Jesus Christ in every passage of the Old Testament. No, I have that backwards: similar to Matthew's community, the Reformer Martin Luther loved to discern and explain the presence of Jesus in almost every phrase of the OT.

When we read scripture, our first question needs to be the historical when, where, who, why, what. But we know scripture is a living perennial word! Every verse won't apply to our here and now, but still we can ask about contextualizing (making alive) God's Word into our current when, where, who, why, and what.

Gifts of Creation

With Christmas being the church's major Trinitarian Festival of Creation (Easter – Redemption, Pentecost – Sanctification), gifts of food are especially appropriate. It's not uniquely my opinion about giving food and homemade delicacies, because why else would home-baked cookies or a commercial close approximation be so popular this time of year? Food as gift also gives the recipient permission to indulge in unneeded calories.

What are your favorite and/or must-have Christmas foods?

Gifts of Music

Advent and Christmas may be the most musical seasons of the year. Many churches and other groups offer Lessons and Carols to the community, typically early in Advent before the busy-ness gets too overwhelming. When Advent begins in the northern hemisphere, days are short, nights long. I believe it originally was for Epiphany, but I love everything about the hymn Rise, Shine, You People (by Ron Klug to Dale Wood's tune, Wojtkiewiecz) and the line, "Come, celebrate, your banners high unfurling, your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling" is exactly one of the reasons music feels so good and is so necessary during winter.

What are your essential Advent-Christmas songs, hymns, chorales and other music? It's also not specifically Christmas, but one of mine is Phillip Phillip's Home...

The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home

...always moves me. Most likely I associate it with Christmas because the first time I heard it was at a Blue Christmas service in Previous City.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35 desert in bloom purple crocus
Isaiah 35:1-2, 5-7, 10

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The Third Sunday of Advent

We continue the counter-cultural practice of waiting for Jesus' arrival into a world that wants and expects everything delivered yesterday. Mid-Lent breaks from repentance with the brighter mood of Laetare Sunday to encourage us "rejoice"; similarly, the third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete or rejoice Sunday, named after the opening of the traditional collect or gathering prayer for the day. The blue of hope is the new color for Advent; when churches have them, rose paraments replace blue for the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent.

This third Sunday celebrates Mary, Jesus' mother. Mary's Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God My Savior" from Luke 1:46-55 is the appointed psalm for all three lectionary years. Mary singing "God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty," foresees a world where humanity has become a common-wealth that flourishes the way the desert blooms.

Like last week's, today's first reading, Isaiah 35, follows chapter 34 about horrendous environmental devastation. All three sections of Isaiah are super-clear that the natural creation is not an incidental backdrop to God's activity, but lives and breathes as an integral part of God's story on earth. Scripture as a whole witnesses to the redemption, ransom, integrity, wholeness, restoration, and resurrection of the natural world—not only human creatures. "God writes the gospel not in the bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars," is attributed to Martin Luther. However, our frequent emphasis on humanity may be valid, because for the most part creation needs redemption because of human sin and greed.

Today's First Reading

As last week's blog noted, Isaiah's inspired words came into the southern kingdom at a time of political, economic, and cultural violence and uncertainty. Against God's constant scriptural counsel "do not fear," everyone had plenty of reasons to be frightened. Like last week's Isaiah 11:1-9, this week we receive pure promise, sheer proclamation of grace, mercy, healing, and a shalom-filled future. This announcement is gospel: it is very good news!

With springs of water, rivers of grass, flowers in blossom and bloom, the desert itself rejoices and sings. In this scripture, water is womb of re-creation. Have you ever visited the desert (Anza-Borrego, maybe?) in spring bloom? Water makes the difference; water restores life. Water is life!

Today's Gospel

In Isaiah 35:5-6, the blind will see, deaf will hear, lame will walk, speechless people won't only speak, they will sing! Today's gospel reading from Matthew echoes Isaiah:
Matthew 11

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Advent 2A

greenery sprouting through hard rock
Isaiah 11:1-10

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Advent II

Last Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, linear time and the scriptures opened to the world a new Year of Grace.

Jesus of Nazareth first arrived in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome. Advent imagery and reality subverts our current status quo of enemies, violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, and fear. As days grow shorter, nights longer in the northern hemisphere, advent music is one of the highlights of the season.

There's a strong advent emphasis on turning around into the direction of God's gracious leading—the gospel reading on this second advent Sunday traditionally is Jesus' cousin John the Baptist telling everyone the time for God's arrival is now, and therefore now is the time to repent. However, as important as repentance is year-round, hope has become an even greater advent accent, with blue paraments, vestments, and sanctuary appointments. We must repent, we must obey, but what a gift first to hear it won't always be like this, we will know the fullness of shalom, and it will come about by God's action, intervention, and presence. But hope can't bear fruit if humans don't repent and change their ways, right?

Today's First Reading

During this lectionary year A, all of the first readings during Advent are from Isaiah of Jerusalem; today we'll look at Isaiah 11:1-9. Notice how in this passage creation is central with earth sprouting new growth, animals behaving in uncharacteristic ways. The entire witness of scripture consistently interlinks natural, political, economic, and social endeavors in the fractured world of the first creation, in the transformed world of the new creation.

Chapter 11 of Isaiah comes right after… chapter 10, that tells about a clearcut forest, so we start out today with a shoot (branch, scepter, rod) growing from a tree stump. Commentaries aren't sure what historical event lies behind the "stump" image, but it works well when we look at Israel's and Judah's history, other world history, and when we consider our own lives.

Although eventually we need to contextualize it for our place and time, when we read scripture we first ask about the original setting. Isaiah of Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as First Isaiah, who wrote most of chapters 1 through 39) experienced what has been called the first holocaust of the Jews: five times during the 40 years between 740 and 700 BCE the Assyrian army invaded Israelite territory. But notice how this entire reading proclaims, announces, promises grace, newness, healing, gospel, the reign of heaven so extensive God's presence fills everywhere!

Art, Music, Books

Today's first reading brings us a vision sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom [11:6-7]. American artist Edward Hicks created at least 50 Peaceable Kingdom paintings. Three Sundays ago, our scripture for Pentecost 23 was from Isaiah 65 that's substantially from the post-exilic restoration in Jerusalem and promises the same reality. I illustrated that week's blog with one of Hicks' Peaceable Kingdoms.

Jesse was the father of King David. Since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the church has claimed some of the book of Isaiah and words of other Hebrew Bible prophets as Messianic, meaning they can be interpreted in a Christological manner. "Jesse" in Isaiah 11:1 refers to King David's father Jesse; in the genealogy that opens his gospel, Matthew lists Jesse and David as ancestors of Jesus. For this year's lectionary year A, Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus as the new King David. The carol anthem "Lo, How a Rose" sings about Jesus' descent "Of Jesse's lineage" in Isaiah 11:1.

If you've sung in choirs or listened to much choral music, you may know the Peaceable Kingdom American composer Randall Thompson wrote for double mixed choir with texts from all three parts of the book of Isaiah.

Do you know "God is Working his Purpose Out," Geoffrey Ainger's hymn that's often set to Martin Shaw's tune Purpose? It hasn't been widely included in hymnals, yet it's strongly missional and could be an excellent Advent choice; each stanza ends with God's promise via Isaiah, the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. A place and a time of shalom integrity, where justice, grace and love have the final word.

As a messianic text, Isaiah 11:4b "…he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked" can be interpreted as the Word of God that creates, redeems, and sanctifies, the word that is incarnate, embodied as living word in Jesus of Nazareth. The title of one of Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann's books is The Word that Redescribes the World —draws it over, gives it a makeover, re-creates creation, reconciles and redeems it. The promised new David will reorder creation by speaking—speech that's also action.

Resurrection Hope

Everyone loves the amazement of a green sprig or sprout growing out of what looks like a truly dead tree stump. There's life there? Most city dwellers have noticed verdant life pushing through streets and sidewalks, into an existing crack, even making a way for itself by itself and rupturing baked earth or cured concrete. Pushing back the tombstone?!

The reality of new life coming out of the death, the end of the old. God redeems and recreates our failures, our disappointments, losses, illnesses. Particularly here in southern California, new green growth from the ashes of a wildfire amazes me every time. In spite of what we've seen and otherwise experienced, we humans have a habit of deciding new life could not come from here, from over there, this situation literally is hopeless, death must be final. The new creation is not pristine, but builds on the ruins of the old.

The end of today's reading promises "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples…" A literal vision of security and peace, of God's presence in spite of. A sign, standard, signal, icon, ensign: the cross of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!


Last Sunday we concluded the church's year by celebrating Jesus Christ,

…the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16

As the northern hemisphere approaches the time of year with least daylight and inches toward the winter solstice, the first Sunday of Advent opens wide a new year of grace. We light candles at home and at church; glowing warmth from a fireplace or wood burning stove brings a lot of comfort in some homes. We ended the old year with a splash of apocalyptic (uncovering, revealing, signs and wonders in creation and in the everyday world along with coded speech or art that needs to be interpreted); we start the new year with apocalyptic, too. The unfamiliar, upside down, inside out, strangeness of apocalyptic literature or art signals "look! listen! the end of the world as we've known it!"

This new lectionary Year A features the Gospel according to Matthew for most of the gospel readings; today's apocalypse is a parable from Matthew 24:36-44. However, for these Advent Sundays I expect to blog about the first readings that all come from the first section of Isaiah (chapters 1 through 39) that's mostly from Isaiah of Jerusalem who ministered before the Babylonian exile.

Advent imagery and scripture subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, disease, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival in our midst as a human baby. God in the manger? How counter-intuitive is that?

As we await and expect God on earth, close to us as one of us, advent is a season of hope. Blue, the color of hope, is the contemporary liturgical color for advent. With its emphasis on light that continues through epiphany along with its theme of hope, Advent is the favorite season for many people.

Advent 2022

Immediately before today's reading, Isaiah chapter 1 rants about the vision he saw concerning violence, bribery, injustice, empty religious festivals, sacrifices, and extravaganzas. In Isaiah 1:17 God charges us, "Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

The first advent, ad-venire, coming, or arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome. Advent imagery and reality subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival as a human baby. Reformer Martin Luther insisted to see the fullness of God's power and the style of God's reign—"look to the Bethlehem manger! Look to the Calvary cross!"

During Advent 2022 we wait for Jesus' arrival into territory already occupied by: Covid? Armed conflict, maybe particularly the Russian Federation's (mostly President Putin's) war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine that has grieved Western hearts, though worldwide at least a couple dozen wars continue to rage? Competitive consumerism, especially during the gift-giving December holidays? Wall Street, the DOW and the NASDAQ? Crypto currency? Social media? Ethnic conflict? It seems as if stabbing has become the new shooting? What other death-dealing, life-negating entities and activities overwhelm our living spaces?

Today's Reading

Isaiah 2:1 "The word Isaiah…saw." A visible word! Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action. Visible words? How about us? Sacraments, visions, dreams, paintings… advertising art! Do you know Tom Wolfe's book, The Painted Word?

Isaiah 2:4, "…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah's 8th century contemporary Micah 4:1-3 also included this life-giving promise.

Paradox in this passage is Zion was not the highest mountain, and "the nations" were not caravanning to Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Also, God's people were not unique in considering their capital city the center of the world. Imagine!

Isaiah 2:3 "God of Jacob" – Genesis 28:13-15, Jacob's dream, Jacob's ladder: land; offspring; God's constant, abiding presence; homecoming.

All of Isaiah conveys an expansive worldview with a universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Psalm 122:1-2 for today: I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.