Monday, February 10, 2020

Epiphany 5A

Matthew 5:13-20

13"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

On the first Sunday of Advent Matthew's lectionary year started again. Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus in a somewhat similar manner. Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness; Matthew particularly presents Jesus as the new liberator Moses, the new king David.

So far in Matthew: the first sentence announces a new genesis/new creation; genealogy that includes non-Jewish foreigners; Jesus' birth; visit of magi from the East; Holy Family's flight into Egypt where they become refugees from injustice and danger; Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist; 40 days of wilderness desert solitude and temptations; Jesus calls disciples Peter, Andres, James, and John.

Last Sunday was February 2nd, so we celebrated Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Churches that didn't observe Presentation/Candlemas heard the familiar blessed are beatitudes that open Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as the New Moses.

We're still in the Ordinary Time season of Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as light of the world, redeemer for all creation everywhere. Next Sunday will be the last Sunday after Epiphany, then it will be Transfiguration, followed by Lent's season opener Ash Wednesday. Today is about us as light of the world – people who radiate like a city on a hill! – and about us as salt of the earth.

Maybe you're heard Kari Jobe's song, We Are

Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Lives inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day

We are the light of the world
We are the city on the hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta let the light shine
Let the light shine
Let the light shine.

By the way, I no longer link to videos because YouTube content changes so rapidly. You easily can find some good performances of "We Are."

This week continues Jesus' sermon on the mount he began by proclaiming attributes or characteristics of people who follow him. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them makes demands for our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are how we are to be, how God calls and enables us to live. Unlike Luke, who has Jesus giving a similar talk on a plain or level place, as part of his "Jesus the new Moses" Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times so it reached different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people... flash mob, anyone? As we've discussed, we're welcome to speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and we sometimes need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own lives.

Over the past few weeks we've talked about light. The song "We Are" calls us Children of the Day. We can parallel that with the OT "Children of Israel/Jacob" and the NT "Children of Abraham": offspring, descendants, people who carry a particular DNA and therefore those traits. We are stardust, we are golden...

Having talked about light over the past few weeks, we focused on salt. The word salary we get paid derives from salt. In some places and times, salt has been a form of currency you can exchange for desired goods or services. Like gold, salt is a fungible currency that has intrinsic value rather than value arbitrarily declared by the government (as happens with paper bank notes or federal reserve notes).

Salt is an easy and interesting topic. Salt adds some of its own flavor, but even more, salt brings out other flavors in the dishes we add it to. Making ice cream. Salting sidewalks to melt ice or so ice won't form. Similar to ways we use sodium chloride, the particular salt Jesus references, we can sprinkle or pour happiness, prayers, concern, gifts, recognition, services, and other graces to people and communities we encounter in ways we use salt. A whole lot at once might be overwhelming, so it's often wise to begin with a few shakes.

verse 20: ...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees...

Though they often get a bad rap, in this context consider scribes and pharisees good leaders who wanted justice in the community, who tried to keep the commandments to the letter, did everything possible to make the world around them a better place.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


Luke 2:21-40

21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
      according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
      31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
      and for glory to your people Israel."

33And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

February 2nd famously is Groundhog Day in this country. Other February 2nd events include the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary in the Jerusalem Temple. Today is Candlemas—a word similar to Christmas, but rather than Christ's Mass it's Candle's Mass, a day to bless candles for the coming year. In addition, today is St Brigid's Day, and Imbolc falls on approximately February 01, 02, or 03. Imbolc is one of the cross-quarter festivals in Celtic spirituality, in the nature practices of some pagans. Cross-quarter refers to the mid-point between seasons, and conveys a sense of special things happening in creation during those mid-points.

The church's year of grace still is in the season of Epiphany when we celebrate Jesus as light, redeemer, savior for all people everywhere, all creation; Candlemas is a specially festive day of light. Although on Advent 1 we began RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) year A that features Matthew's gospel, today for Presentation-Purification-Candlemas we hear from Luke.

Because it's also appointed for the First Sunday of Christmas in Luke's lectionary year C, so you may have heard it a few times, today's gospel reading brings us a very Jewish Jesus with his parents fulfilling the requirements of the ceremonial (sacrificial, ritual) religious law that Luke refers to as "Law of Moses." Please take note that in this passage law doesn't refer to the Sinai Covenant of the Ten Words or Commandments. Although all the gospels and everything about Jesus is about Jesus as light, savior, redeemer, of all the world, unlike Mark, Matthew, and John, Luke doesn't get very specific about that kind of universalism until the book of Acts, his volume 2. People often cite Acts 10:10-15 when Peter is told no food is off limits, but Acts generally expands into universal salvation as the narrative unfolds. However, here at the outset of Luke, we hear Simeon announcing "...salvation ... in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke uniquely brings us three canticles or New Testament psalms; each of these has a particular place when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours / Divine Office / Canonical Hours.

• Luke 1:46-55 Magnificat – Mary's song in response to the angel's announcement she will become the mother of Jesus. This canticle belongs in Evening Prayer or Vespers, typically sung at nightfall. On Saturday, March 7th we'll sing Holden Evening Prayer because the LA Marathon will run past the church building on Sunday morning. Come to church at 5 for Vespers, followed by supper, bible study, and dessert bake-off!

• Luke 1:67-79 Benedictus – John the Baptist's father Zechariah's song in response to the news of his son's upcoming birth. We sing or chant this canticle at Morning Prayer, a variable format that generally combines elements of Lauds and Matins.

• Luke 2:29-32 Nunc Dimittis – Simeon's song in response to recognizing the presence of the savior of the world before him. Nunc Dimittis is the canticle for Compline or night prayer, and we sometimes sing or pray this canticle as we conclude the Eucharist. Martin Luther and John Calvin both include the Nunc Dimittis in at least one of their Eucharistic liturgies.

From the actual bible text we know the ages of some characters in scripture, but as Pastor Peg pointed out there's no mention of Simeon's age, but most artists illustrate him as an old man, probably because Anna really is quite old?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epiphany 3A

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so 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— 16the 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."

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

18As 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 fishermen. 19And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
The Season of Epiphany... a short segment of Ordinary Time within the church's year of grace. This section or installment of ordinary (ordered, structured, arranged) time emphasizes Jesus as light, as revelation to all the world. Even a tiny bit of light reaches far beyond where it starts.

So far in Matthew:

Matthew begins his gospel as another Book of Beginnings, a new Genesis in Jesus Christ. Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the new Moses, as the new King David.

Geography / Locations:


• Jesus' birth in (1)Bethlehem;
• escape into (2)Egypt from Herod's decrees;
• moving to his childhood home in (3)Nazareth;
• now he's in (4)Capernaum.

Jesus' IPO:

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us Jesus' temptations in the wilderness after his baptism. We hear and claim those scriptures every year on the First Sunday in Lent.

All four gospels have a different event for Jesus' first act of public ministry. Most likely all four happened around the same time and clearly only one could have been the really real first, but each gospel writer's choice says something about their emphasis.

• Mark 1:16-26: calling the brothers Zebedee followed by exorcising a demon in the synagogue
• Luke 4:16-21: announcing the Jubilee year in synagogue
• John 2:1-11: wedding at Cana, turning water into wine – a party!

• Today we have Jesus' first act of public ministry according to Matthew.

As 1st Isaiah describes it in the passage Matthew quotes, Galilee of the gentiles, meant non-Jewish, ethnic diversity. Capernaum was a backwater, working-class town, not a large standard metropolitan statistical area. Imperial Rome occupied Capernaum. Rome controlled land and sea; Rome controlled every aspect of the local economy, all of everyone's lives and livelihoods. Food was scarce; people didn't always have safe, clean water. In a workforce dominated by physical labor like fishing and construction, illness would prevent people from working, making them poorer still.

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus doesn't talk about people being in or people being out; he uses near-far language that's more here-and-now temporal then it is spacial.

Was this Jesus' very first encounter ever with the two pairs of brothers? Maybe? Probably? Jesus' presence was compelling and charismatic... and offered a different way of being, an alternate manner of living. Barbara basically was with those who say this probably was the first time the brothers Zebedee had seen Jesus; Charles suggested news of Jesus had started to circulate, so the Zebedee fam was curious and had some prior knowledge. Though Matthew records this as Jesus' first act of public ministry, because he's doing theology just as much as he's writing history, it's very possible Jesus had been itinerating for a week or so, and Matthew pulled out this particular story to demonstrate Jesus' power and appeal.

After calling the fishing brothers as his first act of public ministry, 23"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people." Jesus announced the reign of heaven; he told them and he showed them.

We discussed aspects of careers, paid work, other meaningful activities and endeavors God calls us to. We acknowledged God's call never is only cognitive, but always contains a spiritual and intuitive dimension or dimensions.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Epiphany 2A

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today's second reading is the salutation to the apostle Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth. Just as someone might begin an email or letter sent via USPS (especially to someone you don't contact often), he begins with memories and gratitude, although later on in the epistle we hear about sin and dysfunction within the Corinthian assembly. Corinth was a trading crossroads, with two seaports, north and south. Like the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach?

We're still in the season of Epiphany (revealing, uncovering, revelation, enlightening) when we emphasize the gospel for all creation and here scripture readings especially about the light of Christ shining everywhere. As he continues this epistle or letter beyond the introduction, Paul makes clear he wants people to use their gifts to illuminate God's presence wherever they go, so it contains the epiphany theme.

Throughout his epistles, Saul/Paul talks about function, roles, and behaviors of members of the body of Christ, of those baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul expects a solitary, isolated, individual will become part of the gathered body of Christ and assume one of many differentiated roles and positions appropriate to their gifts and experience; it never was about a solitary, isolated, individual becoming part of an undifferentiated blob. He wants each person to contribute to church and nearby community in ways related to their abilities and sense of call. God calls us out of the world, calls us into the body of Christ out of which God in the HS creates the church; then God continues our call by sending us out to bless and enlighten the surrounding world.

1 Corinthians 1:7 "So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift..."

Although the New Revised Standard Version/NRSV we generally read from translates charisma as "spiritual gift," neither the word for spiritual nor the word for gift is in the original Greek. A charism or charisma is a "grace-thing."

In the church we often desire and want more "spiritual" attributes. In Galatians 5 lists some gifts from the Holy Spirit:

22 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

We sometimes separate less tangible gifts and functions and say things like, "Church Lady A has such a gift for prayer, Church Guy B has so much mercy and compassion" from what appear to be more material ones like "Church Lady C has such a gift for baking, Church Guy D is the best carpenter," but every contribution, every gift, each action well-used has a spiritual component or it doesn't fly very far. The team that prepares and serves our Sunday brunch has the hospitable attitude we recognize as godly or spiritual, and the actual food and nicely arranged dining room table are spiritual gifts, as well.

Evidence of God's life-bestowing Holy Spirit weaves throughout scripture, but for now, a pair of proof-texts:

Adam, the first human, is basically an inert lump of dirt until God breathes life into him:

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

In Ezekiel God breathes life into the dry dead bones:

Ezekiel 37:5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Baptism of Jesus A

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
baptism of Jesus gospels chart

On the first Sunday of Advent, the church began a new year of grace; we've moved into the season of epiphany. Last week we discussed the "epi" (upon) and "phan" {revealing, revelation) roots of the word. The feast and the season of epiphany specifically brings us the revelation of Jesus as savior and lord for all the world. On the Day of Epiphany (or the nearest Sunday, as we observed last week on January 5th), we hear about the wise guys, star gazers, astrologers, Zoroastrians, ethnic and religious foreigners to Israel visiting Jesus, bringing gifts from the east. That event has become an icon of God's gracious universalism that in Jesus Christ redeems all people and all creation.

Today for Jesus' baptism by his cousin John the Baptist, we experience a trinitarian theophany, or revelation of the trinity with the voice of God the Father, the presence of Jesus God the Son, the familiar dove symbol or icon of God the Holy Spirit / Holy Ghost. For the meeting of heaven and earth at Jesus' baptism, Mark uses a word for a rip or tear that can't be mended. As Pastor Peg commented last year, the same word applies to the transfiguration and to the tearing of the temple veil at Jesus' crucifixion. With Jesus, all the earth, all creation, has access to God. Divisions between earth and heaven have been obliterated.

As you may have heard, the word and concept of Trinity is not in the bible, but scripture implies a Triune God—maybe especially in scenes like today's Baptism of Jesus and in the Transfiguration we'll celebrate to conclude the Epiphany season before Lent begins. Although Mark's gospel opens with "Jesus, Son of God," and toward the end the Roman centurion proclaims at Jesus' death "truly this was a Son of God," when the apostle Paul and when the gospels were written, people weren't pondering why the fully divine Jesus Christ would need to be baptized. Again, Jesus' baptism is theologically different from ours; today we'll only consider Jesus' baptism.

The Council of Nicaea that convened in the year 325 and gave us the Nicene Creed, the council of Chalcedon in 451 wrote the Definition of Chalcedon; both statements affirm Jesus' full humanity and complete divinity.

This visual chart relates to the class handout that includes baptism of Jesus texts from all four gospels. Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus being baptized (immersed or dunked); John's gospel strongly implies it. All four gospels tell us Jesus' cousin John was hanging out around the Jordan River. Especially from the Exodus out of slavery into the Promised Land, we know the Jordan as border and boundary between slavery in Egypt, exodus desert wanderings, and a new promise landed life of obedience, repentance, and grace in covenanted community. For Jesus, the Jordan was border and boundary between his more private life and his public life of obedience, grace, and keeping righteous covenant.

To me It's especially striking that people who probably had access to the Jerusalem Temple would venture down to the riverside to listen to John the crazy guy on the margins of polite society.

John the Baptist's baptism of repentance probably related to the entire nation of Israel as a new political, religious, and economic beginning. Contemporary twenty-first century Jews still have a practice of mikvah that's a cleansing bath or immersion. Jesus was not baptized a Christian! However, in these accounts of his baptism, God claimed and named Jesus as Son and as Beloved, just as God names and claims us in baptism as daughter, son, beloved; God also fills us with the Holy Spirit, just as the HS filled Jesus.

Hebrew scripture tells us Elijah will need to return before the Messiah arrives; next Sunday we'll look more closely at John the Baptist as the New Elijah, the link or hinge between the OT and NT; in several places, Jesus essentially announces "For me, John is Elijah." For his cousin Jesus, John the Baptist is very much Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah, end of the time of promise, start of the time of fulfillment. Next week in John's gospel we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."