Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lent 4C: Joshua

According to the Revised Common Lectionary, here's the First Reading for Sunday, Lent 4.

Joshua 5

9 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace [NIV: reproach] of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. 10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year. NRSV

A few comments:

Along with Shechem, Shiloh and Bethel, Gilgal was one of the shrines of the tribal confederacy. This text hauntingly recounts the first Passover in the promised land of Canaan! Like our New Covenant sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion, Passover was sacramental remembrance, real-time re-enactment and anticipation of God's faithfulness in liberating, providing for and shaping the people into a community that reflects and enables God's own faithfulness and liberation. It's another reminder of God's very physical and earthbound provision! Any times our lives lose the sense of uncertainty we've experienced in the desert's wildness and precariousness and we begin feeling comfortable and assured of life necessities beyond our very "daily bread," we almost inevitably begin trusting ourselves and our own power rather than God and God's power. Despite that fact, "today!" in this text is so present...rolled away the disgrace, the reproach of Egypt, rolled away the shabbiness and dis-grace of bondage and slavery, rolled in a life of freedom: resurrected life, Eastered life! "Today" is extremely close at hand, emphasizing we need to live "as if" we were still in the wilderness, as if we still were trusting God every moment for every bite and every breath, because in real life, we are in that liminal position we assumed when God acted in our baptism: being immersed in a situation of real bodily vulnerability and dependence, on the boundary between life on our own and life in community.

So you've (we've, I've) been to Gilgal, the place of rolling away doubts, pasts, fears, transgressions, regrets and anything else that's been getting in the way.

"Abandonment to God!" Out of my own control, into God's control and in a very real sense abandoned into the often not all that predictable embrace and support of the community!

From the Green Season of Pentecost 2010, here's some of what I need to consider right now: [Gilgal] Bethel [Jericho, Jordan].

Gilgal is a kind of onomatopoeia for the Hebrew word meaning "roll," as in roll away.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Transfiguration C

Thursday Bible Study • 7 February • Transfiguration • Sunday • 10 February 2013

Introduction to this study

For this last Sunday of the Epiphany season, we receive a spectacular mountaintop vision, Jesus’ inclusion with Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – and affirmation of Jesus’ divine Sonship before we begin another 40-day journey through Lent toward Easter.

Luke 9:28-36

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now 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.

33 Just 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. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When 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.

Matthew 17:9

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead." Tell no one until Easter!

• Transfigure – "to change shape" • Transfiguration – "change of shape" •

Up to this point in Luke 9

Jesus called the twelve (together), and gave them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases. Jesus sent them out to proclaim the reign of God and to heal.... told them to receive the hospitality of strangers and to shake the dust off their feet if they weren’t welcomed. Jesus charged the twelve to feed the crowd – to "give them something to eat." Five loaves, two fish, taken, blessed, broken and given: "All ate and were filled." Who do those crowds say Jesus is, but who do you say I am? Peter’s confession of Jesus’ Messiahship; Jesus' prediction of his own passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus' charge and call to every one of us to take up a cross, lose our lives, save our lives. And now, Jesus transfigured on the mountain top!

Backtracking: read Exodus 34:29-35

The change in the appearance of Jesus' face is reminiscent of Moses' radiant face as he experienced the presence of God in Exodus 34:29-35. But Luke tells us Jesus' clothes become glowing, starry white, using similar words to his description of angelic figures in Luke 24:4 and Acts 1:10. Jesus' appearance becomes transformed not merely because he experiences God's glory like Moses did, but because he is the very source of divine glory.

1. What do you make of physical changes in Jesus' appearance?
2. Can you think of other similarities between Jesus and Moses?

Moses [revelation on Mount Sinai in Exodus 20:1-17] and Elijah [revelation on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 19:12] – the Law and the Prophets – in verse 30 adds to affirm Jesus' identity. In Luke 24:25-27, 44-46, the risen Jesus himself will assert that Moses, the prophets, and the psalms point toward him; here in Luke 9:31 we hear how Moses and Elijah "were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem," anticipating Jesus' own teaching that he himself is the ultimate fulfillment of scripture.

3. During this Epiphany season we've talked a lot about prophets. In what sense did Jesus live a prophetic life?
4. How does God call us as prophets? In what sense can our lives be prophetic?

With Jesus on the mountain of the event called Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James, and John eye-witnessed a meeting of earth and heaven, the holiness of everything created. Within Judaism, clouds, mountains and other expressions of nature were traditional signs of God's presence. Heaven and earth also meet countless times in this world in which we live.

5. What physical or natural expressions of God's presence do we find in our lives?
6. God's presence in the sacraments?

Where We Live: according to scripture

In Philippians 3:20, the apostle Paul says we are citizens of heavens! That means the reign of God, the kingdom of heaven already is here, we're already there, we're already it.

7. How can we not continue living as light to the world, through Lent and beyond?

In Luke 17:21 Jesus says the kingdom of God, the reign of heaven already is among us, in the midst of us, within us! Just as to his earlier followers in Luke 9, Jesus gives us power and authority over demons and to cure diseases. Jesus sends us proclaim the reign of God and to heal. Jesus tells us to "give them something to eat." Who do we say Jesus is?

8. Power over demons, ability to cure diseases? How?
9. How do we in the Spirit live as the presence of God here on earth?
10. Why does Luke make table fellowship an important focus of his gospel?
11. How are aspects of our lives and the lives of others we touch transfigured by following Jesus?

Where We Live: Nelson Mandela on letting our light shine

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Final thoughts: What insights have you gained in this study?


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Epiphany 4C

Thursday Bible Study • 31 January 2013 • Epiphany 4C • Sunday • 3 February 2013

Introduction to this study

After announcing the words of Isaiah fulfilled in himself, Jesus reflects on the historical rejection of many who prophetically speak the truth of God’s mercy, judgment, justice, freedom and love—and human response in the Spirit. Jesus clearly recognizes himself in their tradition.

Luke 4:21-30

21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:21-30 completes the story from Luke 4:14-21 we heard on Epiphany 3. Jesus has returned to Nazareth and is at the synagogue, participating on the Sabbath day; he reads from the prophet Isaiah, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) The key verse in understanding this entire passage comes next, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Jesus is not speaking to strangers but in his own hometown, surrounded by those who had watched him grow up in the synagogue. They know Joseph. They know Jesus’ family.

1. How could Jesus make such a claim?
2. What is at the heart of the reaction of the crowd?

Jesus does not seem to be surprised or dismayed by their reaction. He almost expects it. As we know from the Old Testament, for centuries God sent prophets to speak God’s word to the people of Israel, only to have the prophets rejected. Sometimes that word of God comforted and consoled, but at other times it was a hard word to hear as the prophet called people to repentance and obedience, to return to God.

3. Why might a prophet be rejected in his or her hometown?
4. Why might a prophet be rejected in other places?
5. If the prophet brings good news and a restored relationship with God, why not listen?

Jesus reminds those in the synagogue of familiar Old Testament prophets who extended God’s goodness to non-Jews. For example, God sent Elijah to assist a poor widow in Sidon during a time of famine (1 Kings 17:8-16) and Elisha to heal Naaman, a Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-17). This does not seem to reassure anyone, but instead the people become enraged!

6. Why do the people in the synagogue react so strongly?
7. What is at the heart of their rage?

The people drive Jesus out of town and attempt to hurl him over the cliff, but Jesus is able to pass through the enraged crowd and continue on with his mission.

8. How might Jesus have felt to be rejected by his hometown synagogue?
9. What would you say to Jesus at this point (the very beginning) of his public ministry?

Jesus’ references to the widow at Zarephath and the leper Naaman the Syrian, reveals Jesus has come especially to the widows, the lepers, the outsiders. Luke tends to focus on Jesus’ ministry to the “least of these.” But we know Jesus is for everyone, and for all creation! In the stories of both Elijah and Elisha, God goes into places where most people believed God was not and in God’s holiness and otherness, God did not belong. Jesus’ words of inclusion, Jesus’ own interpretation of his ministry, evoke an almost instantaneous transition from awe to rage for the hearers of Jesus’ words. Why?

The evangelist Luke frequently presents Jesus as prophet. Later on in the gospel, Jesus as a righteous and innocent prophet will be made clear by Luke’s account of the centurion’s words at the death of Jesus—“surely, this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). Remembering the role of the Old Testament prophets is important for this passage.

Prophets and Prophecy

In this passage, Luke uses the Greek word that’s the same as “prophet” in English. It essentially means delivering the word of God, though prophet and prophecy carry a strong connotation of “speaking truth to power” of all kinds: ecclesiastical, governmental, institutional... The Hebrew Bible brings us a trio of prophet-type words: the most frequently used nabi means to pour down – think of flowing water!

– and

describes someone pouring out the words of God. Roeh or “seer,” denotes envisioning; Hozeh also means “to see,” “to perceive.”

Where We Live

read Jeremiah 1:4-10

Baptized into Christ, we all participate in his royal, prophetic priesthood. God’s word is a word of life, of hope—of resurrection!

10. How does God call us to be prophets?
11. How do we speak God’s word of life?
12. How can we be God’s life-giving word?
13. How can we live as God’s word of life?
14. Are we open to God’s life- and world-transforming actions in our own lives?

Sunday after next we’ll conclude this season of Epiphany with the Feast of the Transfiguration, and then it’s time to settle into Lent, the 40-day long season that prepares us for Easter, as it brings its own gifts and perspectives into our lives and community. We always are in the midst of and participating in helping the blind see again, setting the oppressed and captive free, of proclaiming the “today” of the Lord’s favor in word, in action, and in just plain “being.” As we conclude this liturgical season, we carry the illuminating light of Epiphany into the sometimes dark months of Lent that yet signal Easter on the way. We think we know the rest of the story...

15. Do we trust the rest of the story?

Final thoughts: What insights have you gained in this study? Concluding remarks?