Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore 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. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For 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."

Let's talk about signs, symbols, and situations. A sign points or directs us to something other than itself. Street sign. Product packaging. Warning labels in many places. A symbol is somewhat related. The scriptures and the sacraments are the symbols of the Church: although they carry and convey profound realities in themselves, they also point beyond themselves to God's gracious redemptive actions in Jesus Christ. In churches of Reformation heritage, we sometimes include the Confessions (Creeds, Catechisms) as symbols. For all varieties of Lutheran that would be the Book of Concord; for the Presbyterian Church (USA), their Book of Confessions. Other Reformed church bodies affirm the Canons of Dordt as reliable expositions of scripture. God often communicates with us via life situations we're in. Examples?

This week for Advent 4 we have another text from the first part of the book of Isaiah, probably from Isaiah of Jerusalem. Similar to Martin Luther, Matthew's community that produced the featured gospel readings for RCL 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. This passage has become one of the most famous predictions of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, yet its origins are anything but. In these very very political verses, King Ahaz of the southern kingdom Judah is very very concerned about the military and political threats from Samaria [Ephraim] in the northern kingdom of Israel, from Damascus in Syria.

Discussion: in the world of Jesus' day, it was commonplace for you to be conversing with or find yourself in the marketplace beside someone who was the offspring of a god and of a mortal, thus half human and half divine. In Jesus the Christ we have a savior, a redeemer, a messiah who is fully human and fully divine. Writing to mostly Jews, Matthew drew upon this passage from 1st Isaiah in his gospel-long affirmation of Jesus as the New Moses, the Son of David, the New King David, the Messiah of Israel. Mary named her son Jesus / Joshua / Savior, yet his presence in first century Palestine and 21st century Christianity everywhere is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

I reminded the group the Hebrew scriptures distinguish between the prophet or nabi, one who speaks truth to power, lines out if-then alternatives regarding the future (as in this situation with Isaiah and King Ahaz), and the roeh or seer, someone who predicts future events and happenings.

We'll have a 2-week break from Sunday School, and that back to Matthew. I plan to discuss Bap-J and also at least mention the Magi and the Flight into Egypt, both unique to Matthew's gospel.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it 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.

3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then 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; 7the 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.

8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

10And 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.

• Third Sunday of Advent! Two Sundays ago linear time and scripture opened a new year of grace to the church; we are the church, so that's a brand-new year for all of us. Gospel readings in this 12-month stretch mostly will be from Matthew. The liturgical year in general, Advent in particular are seasons of mercy and grace; Advent also brings a hint of judgment and self-examination.

• Remember for the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection! A couple months ago we discussed how Christianity is not about immortality, about never ever dying. Scripture and our lives witness to death, destruction, desolation, loss, and then being resurrected to brand new life.

• Similar to last week, today's first reading, chapter 35 of 1st Isaiah, follows chapter 34 about horrendous environmental devastation.

• Throughout scripture – and all three sections of the Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah make it super-clear – the natural creation is not an incidental backdrop to the action, is not simply a stage, 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. However, but the emphasis we often make on humanity may be valid, since for the most part creation needs redemption because of human sin, greed, and guilt.

• This whole passage is Messianic and eschatological! Check out Isaiah 35:5-6 – blind will see, deaf will hear, lame will walk, the dumb won't only speak, they will sing! Luke 7:18-23 and Matthew bring us:

Matthew 11

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

• Two weeks ago on Advent 1, our Isaiah reading refers to God's people as "Jacob," a common scriptural convention. Do you remember Jacob's dream and God's promises to Jacob?
• Fertility of both land and descendants
• Homecoming on this earth
• God's constant, unmediated presence with Jacob wherever he traveled
• We discussed our call to be God's hands, feet, voice, and simply to be God's presence in the Spirit to everyone we meet, everywhere we go.

• Last week I asked about fave Advent and Christmas Songs. Julie mentioned White Christmas; Pastor Peg loves a certain musical setting of O Little Town of Bethlehem; Do you Hear What I Hear? is one of my special faves. All of those, along with songs people mentioned today – Good King Wenceslaus and We Three Kings, The First Noel, Angels we Have Hear on High – reveal Jesus' birth in history, in quantifiable time and space, in geographical longitude and latitude.

• In Isaiah 35 the desert itself rejoices with joy and singing! Psalms 96, 98, and 148 appointed for Christmas also are about trees and plants and oceans and rivers participating in the general all around joy and excitement of Jesus' Nativity!

• The water we import from out of state and from northern California makes it easy for us to forget we live in a coastal desert. Have you ever visited the desert (Anza-Borrego, maybe?) in spring bloom? Water makes the difference; water restores life! Water is life!

• Most likely all of us in the room and in the church make a point regularly to Save The Drop LA.

• Due to our lively discussion of Christmas music and Lessons & Carols that would be our main worship service this week, we didn't get to my notes about the desert throughout scripture (esp the exodus desert) or to further consideration of water as the womb of creation and re-creation.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The 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.

3His 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; 4but 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. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The 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. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9They 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. 10On 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.

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

Chapter 11 of Isaiah comes right after… chapter 10, that tells about a clearcut forest, so we start out today with a tree stump (branch, scepter, rod). Jesse was the father of King David. The carol anthem "Lo, How a Rose" sings about Jesus' descent "Of Jesse's lineage." For this year's lectionary year A, Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus as the new King David. A lot!

[11:2] Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

[11:3-4] This offspring of Jesses does not go by hear say or hear see, but assesses people and situations objectively. Later on in Isaiah 28:17 we read, "I will make justice the measuring line, righteousness the plumb line." [11:5] Clothed, dressed, arrayed in righteousness. In baptism the righteousness of Jesus Christ clothes us, helps us stand upright! [11:4] Also includes the creative, redemptive, Word that re-orders and reconciles.

For today's first reading, 1st Isaiah brings us an amazing vision sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom [11:6-7]. American artist Edward Hicks painted at least 50 different versions of wild and tame animal – lion, leopard, bear, wolf, sheep, cow, goat; many of his Peaceable Kingdom paintings include a toddler-age child. 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. [11:8] Part of the reign, that kingdom, is the end of human/serpent enmity we know from Genesis 3:15.

The end of today's passage tells us [11:10a] "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples…" A sign, standard, signal, icon, ensign: the cross of Jesus Christ.

The reality of new life coming our of the death, the end of the old. For the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection. God redeems and recreates our failures, our disappointments, losses, illnesses, etc. Particularly here in southern California, the reality of new verdant growth from the ashes of a wildfire amazes me every time—but probably shouldn't, since death is God's best and most fave way of brining resurrection.

I mentioned the new creation is not pristine, but builds on the ruins of the old. Los Angeles River, Clark Fork in Idaho. Both inspired human projects to restore riparian habitat that had been devastated unto death.

We've all experienced death by drowning in baptism. We all live daily in our second birth.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

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

2In 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. 3Many 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. 4He 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. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

All three advent lectionary year begin with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it. Revealing, uncovering, signs and wonders in creation, in the natural world. Today's apocalypse is a strangely interesting parable from Matthew 24.

We concluded the year of grace that ended last week with Reign of Christ / Christ the King with part of Melchior's song from Gian-Carlo Menotti's 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.

The first Sunday of advent opens wide a new year of grace. This new year does not begin with scriptural creation accounts! We hear Genesis 1 at the Easter Vigil during all three lectionary years and also onTrinity Sunday Year A, Baptism of Jesus Year B; the Day of Pentecost A, B, and C feature the creation account from Psalm 104.

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.

During this Advent 2016 we anticipate the infant Jesus' arrival into occupied territory: consumerism? military? wall street? social media? religion of excessive sports?

Blue, the color of hope, is the liturgical color for advent. Advent is a season of hope, and a time of repentance in the face of God's mercy-filled judgment.

During Matthew's RCL year A, the first readings for all four Sundays of Advent are from 1st Isaiah, Isaiah of Jerusalem, "the pre-exilic Isaiah," though the entirety of chapters 1 through 39 are not from the same author.

8th century contemporaries Isaiah of Jerusalem (2:2-4) and Micah 4:1-3 both include this passage.

Isaiah 1: violence, travesty, bribery, injustice, empty religious festivals, sacrifices, extravagances. Via Isaiah 1:17 God charges the people "Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend, the orphan, plead for the widow."

All three Isaiah prophets bring us a wide world view with universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Paradox is Zion was not the highest mountain, "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.

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!

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

Matthew: RCL A Intro

On the first Sunday of Advent the church begins a new year of grace; gospel scriptures for the year are mostly passages from Matthew.


circa 80 - 90


No indication of "Matthew" until the second century, but for discussion purposes we can assume followers of the apostle and tax collector Matthew similar to the way we consider the gospel according to John authored by the community that surrounded John the beloved disciple.


Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke both contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Scholars still speculate there might have been a no longer extant written collection of Jesus' sayings, sometimes referred to as "Q", from the first word of the German Quelle—river or source. Matthew's community may have had a third written "M" source.


Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke. Not really certain.


Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch in Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That Antioch's now part of present-day Turkey.

World View, Content

Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God

Concerned about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions

Jesus as new Moses, new David, "son of David"

Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation

Visit of the Magi at Epiphany – God for the world. Scripture doe not say how many kings there were, but tradition has it at three.

Flight into Egypt – New Exodus

The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia," and brings us some ecclesiology related to church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting.

Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Great Commission – Gospel for the world

Five discourses, possibly to reflect structure of the Pentateuch, possibly presenting Jesus as a new Moses, the gospel as a new Torah.

(1) chapters 5–7
(2) chapter 10
(3) chapter 13
(4) chapter 18
(5) chapters 24–25

Parables unique to Matthew

• weeds among the tares of wheat
• the treasure
• the pearl
• the net
• the unforgiving servant
• the laborers in the vineyard
• the two sons
• the ten virgins

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Reign of Christ • Christ the King C

Culture of Christ, Lordship of Christ...

We began with a quick review of Luke's lectionary year C that we're concluding today.

Next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent we begin a new year of grace that mostly will feature gospel readings from Matthew, (Revised Common) lectionary Year A. For today as we contemplate the King who reigns from a cross, for Nativity as we consider the fullness of the divine presence in the Bethlehem manger, a few lines from Gian-Carlo Menotti's one act opera Amahl 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.
Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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.

17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The epistle or letter to Colossians – the church at Colossae – contains vocabulary, syntax, general style, and theological perspective that almost definitely is not from the pen of Saul of Tarsus / the apostle Paul. This first chapter brings us the pre-existent cosmic Christ who created everything, who was firstborn from the dead, who reigns over all creation. The Gospel according to John, the fourth canonical gospel, also has the pre-existent Christ: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God."

The fullness of redemption, salvation, includes redeeming, restoring, and resurrecting all creation, not only human creatures.

John's gospel brings us Jesus' resurrection in a garden on the eighth day that's the first day of the new creation. The new garden of Eden evolves into a city!

Discussion of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God as the image of God. In John 14:19 Jesus tells us,"If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." The bible, the Book of Life, Good Book, shows us Jesus. What's an image? A mirror? According to the PCUSA'a Great Ends of the Church, the church is "the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world." That's us! That's an image everyone can see!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Luke Summary

Instant reprise for next Sunday's last RCL Luke Year C SS class for 2016.

• We've journeyed together through another year of grace; this time we've enjoyed twelve months of gospel readings from the gentile physician Luke, with a few from John interspersed.

• Most likely Luke substantially compiled the two New Testament books of Luke and Acts (of the Apostles), though he drew upon sources other than memories of his own experiences and his own imagination. Luke includes about 50% of the exact content of Mark's gospel. Both Luke and Matthew probably had another document for the identical materials their gospels present. If that source ever existed it no longer is extant, but scholars sometimes refer to it as Q, from the first word of the German Quelle or river. There also may have been a document speculatively referred to as L for Luke.

• Luke opens his gospel with a political, geographical, social, historical introduction, and with [biblical number] seven witnesses—this really happened!

• These events really happened on planet earth, where creation not only is the physical setting: creation also acts and participates in history. Despite recent interest in the redemption, resurrection, and integrity of all creation – not solely human creatures – most teaching and preaching in the church still centers on humanity, which may not be all that off since for the most part creation needs restoration and resurrection because of human violence and neglect.

• We've discussed how Luke emphasizes women, people who are marginalized / underclass / outcast, history, prayer, the Holy Spirit, table fellowship, great reversals, aka "the upside-down kingdom."

• Among passages unique to Luke we have canticles or songs from Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon based on Old Testament hymns.

• Only Matthew and Luke bring us birth narratives; Luke's is the Sunday School kids' and cherub choir's "Going to Bethlehem" nativity account. Matthew and Luke both have genealogies; Luke's concludes with "Adam, son of God."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pentecost 26C

So Far in Luke

• Since Luke 9:16 Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.

• 18:31 "We are going up to Jerusalem" where everything predicted about the Human One / Son of Man will happen on the third day he will rise from the dead. "We are going to Jerusalem" is all of us, too.

• Luke 19 in Jericho, just outside Jerusalem, by Mount of Olives. "Triumphant entry" with palms strewn all around and at Jesus' feet.

• 19:38 "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" is from the Day of Atonement templet liturgy

• 19:39 pharisees tell Jesus to ask his disciples to stop praise and adulation

• 19:40 Jesus: "if these were silent, the stones would shout out!" unique to Luke

• 19:41 "as Jesus came near and saw the city Jerusalem, he wept over it" – evokes Jeremiah grieving over Jerusalem

• 19:45 then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things. 46 "my house shall be a house of prayer; you have made it a den of robbers."

• 20:2 By what authority?

• 20:9-16 Parable of the Vineyard

• 20:17 stone builders rejoiced has become the cornerstone
Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 8And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and, "The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

We've almost completed another Year of Grace, all this year most of the gospel reading have been from St Luke. Next Sunday will be Christ the King / Reign of Christ as we hear about the king who reigns from a cross, arms wide open, forgiving and welcoming everyone into God's presence. On the following Sunday, Advent begins another new year of grace.

They're in Jerusalem; it's almost Holy Week. This account immediately follows the famous Widow's Mite story about the temple, a religious structure and system that has taken everything one of the most vulnerable members of society needs to live, literally stealing her life. This passage includes apocalyptic; we've mentioned apocalyptic means uncovering, revealing, unveiling, and is quite common in biblical and other literature. Apocalyptic often include images of nature out of control, strange beasts and supernatural beings. Basically it announces something's changing, this is the end of the world as we've known it. We need to remember Luke wrote this account after the destruction of the second Jerusalem Temple. Jesus had a strong sense of what would happen in the future, just as in terms of his own death he knew what usually happened to people who acted like God.

The temple was the sign and symbol of the presence of God. Constructed like temples of other religions, with a replica of the earth and heavens, a throne for the god to sit on, etc. Although the Jerusalem temple was massively huge, opulent, ornate, and filled several city blocks, it still was too small to contain the God of Heaven and Earth. This text and others remind us although structure and organization are humanly necessary, we need to focus on "what's really important" and on why those structure and organizations got put into place in the first place.

The alternate first reading for Pentecost 26C is from 3rd Isaiah. He wrote after the Babylonian exile and tells about Jerusalem a joy, God's people a delight. People planting and harvesting their own gardens in their own land. A vision of The Peaceable Kingdom—think of Edward Hicks' painting, Randall Thompson's music.
Isaiah 65:17-25

17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pentecost 23C

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Brief recap: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, the "pastoral" letters attributed to Paul were not written by Saul/Paul of Tarsus, though some parts of the Timothy epistles reflect Paul's theology and bring us credible retrospective reflections on a life in ministry.

Vocabulary, grammar, syntax are not particularly Pauline. These letters bring us ecclesiology – the word about the church – with emerging church structure, instructions for officers, laying on of hands (ordination, consecration, commissioning). Famously we find instructions for women to dress modestly and be silent, assurance women will be saved by childbearing, demands that slaves obey their maters.

In Acts of the Apostles 17-20 we read a lot about the Paul – Timothy – Silas trio. Timothy, Paul's younger companion and sidekick, later became bishop of Ephesus.

Very not Paul are the references to immortality, which was a Greek-Hellenistic concept. Death and resurrection is the biblical one! In fact, for the apostle Paul, the gospel was death and resurrection. Good news!

4:6, poured out as a drink offering: The original readers would have known something about the wine/libation offered along with burnt offerings and peace offerings in the temple. This can reference Jesus' life and the lives of Jesus' followers poured out for the life of the world. Cup, chalice, also can mean one's calling, vocation, career, profession.

What is Pauline is how the Timothy letters incorporate Paul's convention of giving us mini-résumés / curriculum vitae. Also very Pauline is the emphasis on a life of faithful ministry that happened by grace, and not because of human effort. We also get cruciform imagery that brings us (thanks to Barbara's reminder last week) the vertical bar of the cross touching heaven to earth, earth to heaven, the horizontal bar of the cross connection all humanity and all creation with one another.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pentecost 22C

Intro / Backtracking

We're reaching the end of the church's year of grace. So far we've experienced Advent, the arrival of God incarnate in our midst as a tiny baby. Then onto Epiphany, the revelation of God's good news for all people everywhere. Jesus' baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, the start of Jesus' public ministry (different in all four gospels), on to Holy Week, Jerusalem, Jesus' death on Good Friday, through Holy Saturday – the day nothing happens but everything happens – then the surprise of Resurrection Sunday morning.

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! The day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter and initiates the particular reign of the Holy Spirit who brings sanctification, theosis (as the Eastern Churches describe it), divinization. We also call the season of Pentecost the time of the church.

During the green season of Pentecost we have incidents, parables, and stories from Jesus' life and ministry. Luke uniquely brings us the Waiting Father/ Prodigal Son / Older Brother that shows us God's reconciling embrace. The Good Samaritan also is unique to Luke and brings us the healing hands of God. During this part of the year of grace, we make another journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross.

Next Sunday will be another "after Pentecost," followed by Reformation Sunday, that's no longer quite solely a protestant commemoration and celebration. The following Sunday, All Saints, we especially remember the saints who have gone before us into the Church Triumphant. One more numbered Sunday after the day of Pentecost, and then it's Christ the King, Reign of Christ, when we acknowledge the sovereignty of the Crucified Jesus of Nazareth. This king reigns from a cross; with arms open and outstretched, he invites reprobate law-breakers into the divine presence. "Jesus, remember me." "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

Luke 18:1-8

1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, "Grant me justice against my opponent.' 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Today Luke features a persistent widow and an unjust judge. How is the unjust judge like God? Not really, though we often try to uncover and discover parallels, metaphors (not to get too Bultmannian), and similarities in the biblical parables. Luke emphasizes vulnerable, marginalized people in his gospel: widows; orphans; foreigners; immigrants; women in general… no one was in a more precarious situation than a widow, esp if her late husbands didn't leave behind a brother for her to marry.

The widow prays to the judge. Did you know pray is a legal term? Answering George: this was not a religious court; it was a secular one, like going to the county courthouse. The judge ultimately wanted to protect his reputation; God does not care about protecting God's own reputation!

Upshot? Pray always, do not lose heart. Remember the heart primarily is the seat of the will in Hebrew biology. Was it a poster of a song that reminded us Love Takes Time?! God's – and humanity's – left-handed paradoxical power of love, mercy, compassion, and true justice is much slower than so-called right-handed of violent, forceful, death-dealing power.

I referenced the long and still ongoing struggle for Civil Rights in this country and the demise of the Soviet Union. l asked if Monsanto (still a real thing when I blogged this), Bayer, GE, and related powers that be will win or will prayer, letter-writing, peaceful demonstration, ultimately win the day?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pentecost 21C

2 Timothy 2:8-15

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 14Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Started with a shorter version of my intro to the pastoral epistles and the Timothy letters from last week, Pentecost 20. Serious emphasis on the emerging church structure and organization we find in the pastoral letters; reminder that pseudonymity, anonymity, what we'd call "false attribution" was no big deal back then; in fact it could be a compliment to one's colleague, classmate, or teacher; it simply could indicate the author's attempt to continue writing in the style of the person cited as author.


2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the Dead—re-member, re-assemble the scattered pieces into a coherent whole We do this every time we celebrate Holy Communion, our "common union" in Christ. 2:9b "But the word of God is not chained." Not in handcuffs and shackles, not in fetters or imprisoned. The written word and the incarnate word are not captive to any particular place or time; they are wired for every time and every place. Part of what we do is conceptualize them for where we live and maybe esp for where our neighbors, where the newcomers to church are. The Word is free range!

There's a long series of Christian captivity letters, missive written from incarceration: Philippians; Ephesians; Martin Luther from Wartburg Castle; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Martin Luther King, Jr; Nelson Mandela.

2:11-13 probably is a hymn already known to the recipients of the letter, very similar to the hymn inserted into Philippians that tells us Christ Jesus did not count equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant....

"Wrangling over words!" The written word can be a bit ambiguous? So God gave us the incarnate word, and continues giving the world an incarnate, enfleshed, living word through us, those baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection.

More discussion about ways we can be welcoming, be sensitive to the culture and spoken language of others, yet faithful to the gospel. Contextualizing; enculturating; translating into the vernacular.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Pentecost 20C

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality [incorruption] to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy Background

The two Timothy letters and the epistle to Titus sometimes are called the Pastoral Epistles. [side note: "pastoral" means rural.] The apostle Paul definitely did not write them. We need to remember authorship and literary conventions were very different in the first and second centuries, without our well-developed and very legally-tinged concepts of copyright, intellectual property, and reuse rights. The person who pulled together these letters – probably around the start of the second century – wrote them as Paul's final summary discourse with reflections, advice, and ideas. "Concluding Unscientific Postscript."

1 and 2 Timothy contain vocabulary and syntax Paul never used; some of the words are in no other NT document. Many of the words are in other second century Christian writings. The Timothy letters bring us ideas of ecclesiology or church structure—as soon as you have many people with similar goals and purposes gathered together, you need organization. We find requirements for bishops/overseers, deacons, widows—"Church Ladies". These letters famously bring instruction for women to dress modestly, to submit to their husbands, not to teach or preach or have any authority over men. To shut up! Keep quiet! Women "saved by childbearing!" Slaves are supposed to obey their masters. We also read about laying on of hands, which would be ordination, commissioning, consecration of people called to public, vocational ministry. The Timothy letters refer to immortality, a Greek or Hellenistic concept that implies lack of death. Resurrection from the dead is the Christian reality; you need to die in order to be resurrected!

He later on became Bishop of Ephesus, but before that Timothy became well-known as Paul's younger sidekick. From Acts of the Apostles 17-20, we find the Paul, Silas, and Timothy trio chilling and proselytizing in Thessalonica, Berea... everyone, everywhere, all over the place.

Where We Live

Timothy's grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice hugely influence Timothy's faith journey; they clearly had been active, committed Christians. These letters talk about the power of scripture. They help us ask about the place of biological family in our own Christian beginnings, role of the faith community or communities that surround us, the purpose and place of each of us in welcoming and nurturing newcomers to Christianity, in supporting and helping those of use who are more mature and have more experience in following Jesus.

At LCM we especially live those questions as each of us walks, prays, and talks through responses to them in this very ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood. People from all types of backgrounds come to church, join us, often choose to be baptized.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pentecost 19C

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

1Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
1bthe notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! 2Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory, 3O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence?
4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

In the Christian bible we find Amos the prophet's words in one of the twelve separate books of what we call the Minor Prophets. The Hebrew bible collects them into a single "Book of the Twelve." Amos lived in Judah, the southern kingdom, but God called him mostly with words of judgment and hope for Israel, the northern kingdom. That's "mostly," because he has harsh and redemptive words for all God's people, collectively referred to as "Joseph."

Amos brings us the earliest articulation of monotheism. Throughout all nine chapters he acknowledges only one true and possible sovereign Being, who is God of all the people of Israel and Judah, but also the divinity of neighboring nations, whether or not they acknowledge him. Amos also brings us a type of universalism that's not so much our conviction that in the end God's irresistible grace and inclusive reach saves and redeems all creation, but closer to God has effected liberation and redemption for nations and peoples other than the Israelites.

More than once Amos tells us he is not a professional prophet, does not belong to the prophets' guild. That would be similar (for example) to our contemporary American Guild of Organists organization that we often refer to as the "Guild." What does Amos do for work? He is an arborist who tends sycamore trees; as a vinedresser he takes care of grapes; he works as a sheep herder or shepherd.

Interesting note: the Sycamore Fig was the national tree of Israel. In the gospel of John Jesus tells Nathanael, "I saw you under the Sycamore Tree." The upshot of this becomes, "therefore, I knew you were worthy to become my disciple." Sons of Israel, sons of the covenant, sons of Torah traditionally would sit under a sycamore tree to study the scriptures. John mentioned The Getty museum campus has a lot of sycamore trees. (Another interesting note: that means I have a lot of pictures of sycamore trees from the Getty and need to post them and label them.)

Lectionary peeps have paired this Amos pericope/selection with Luke's famous account (Pastor Peg called it a "folk tale") of the outcast Lazarus. The broad point of both passages is an indictment of people who live opulent, luxurious, self-indulgent lives but don't even notice needy, hurting people near them or in their midst. They don't even glance beyond the houses of their eyes.

Our passage from Amos 6 follows God telling us via Amos in chapter 5:
21"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offering of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Despite Amos' outlining how the bad behaviors and neglect of the needy will be a factor in sending people into exile, Amos concludes by God promising to restore Israel's fortunes, rebuild and re-inhabit cities, plant more vineyards that will yield more wine, establish more gardens, more fruit trees. God promises to plant the people on their land!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pentecost 18C

Luke 16:1-13

1Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, "What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' 3Then the manager said to himself, "What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' 5So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, "How much do you owe my master?' 6He answered, "A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, "Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' 7Then he asked another, "And how much do you owe?' He replied, "A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, "Take your bill and make it eighty.' 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

We're still in Luke's gospel. Recall how deep, wide, high and inclusive Luke's world and his gospel are. He firmly roots his narrative in the history of Israel and in the current historical setting of Roman occupied Palestine. We've also talked about Luke featuring marginalized people and women (who in that day were not society's central actors), table fellowship, reversals of social and economic status. Redistribution of goods and wealth, "distributive justice." The entire witness of scripture concerns itself about finances, economics, money, dollars, shekels, euros, legal tender... mediums of exchange that help us navigate the world and help give us stuff we need to live.

Luke, Matthew, and Mark all bring us parables. Parable? A multi-layered anecdote or situation open to more than one interpretation. Every commentator I consulted about this text had several suggestions and ideas, none of them felt there was a single conclusive meaning to the parable's characters, situation, or outcome. For one possibility, we definitely can claim the unjust steward is Jesus Christ who brings us the outrage of grace, mercy, inclusion, and forgiveness. The total loss of respectability. But unjust steward also can be parsed otherwise.

Debt and sin essentially are synonymous, the same thing, in the world of the bible. Torah forbids charging interest on a loan! Roman occupied Israel was full of indentured servants and tenant farmers, who in time would owe their soul to the company store. Pastor Peg told us about a former plantation she visited on her recent trip through the south, and how slaves who worked on the plantation actually had more personal and economic freedom as slaves than they did working the same land as freed individuals. Sara mentioned her Irish ancestors in such indebtedness over micro-parcels of land that had been subdivided a multitude of times that their descendants never would get out of debt, either. Also remember that in the setting Luke wrote about, the landowner, the steward, the manager, and Rome all take their cut.

A couple of important Lukan passages that relate to this parable:

• In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary's Magnificat. Luke based all his canticles /psalms on songs from the Old Testament—Mary's song and Hannah's song found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 share many similarities. Mary sings about God acting through the baby she's pregnant with: God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Filled the hungry with good things; sent the rich away empty." Done deeds!

• What is Jesus' IPO, his first act of public ministry in Luke's gospel? Luke 4:16-21 records Jesus reading in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2 promising liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the year of the Lord. Jesus tell us, "I am the Jubilee year! I am Mary's child"—the son, the baby in Mary's womb who would bring great societal and economic reversals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pentecost 17C; 911 + 15

Exodus 32:7-14

7The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! 9The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

13"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
The worldview of Luke's gospel is wide, high, and inclusive. Remember Luke's emphasis? People who in general are marginalized, broken, outcast. Women, who were not society's elite in those days. The HS; table fellowship.

Jesus' first act of public ministry in Luke: reading from Isaiah 61. "I am the Jubilee Year; I am the Eschatological Feast." Liberation. Shalom. Inclusion.

Two weeks ago when we heard from Luke 14:1, 7-14 on Pentecost 15C, Jesus dined on the sabbath with the religious elite, with pharisees, at their elite homes. Today in Luke 15:1-32 we meet Jesus dining with tax collectors and sinners. Next section begins, "A man had two sons...." one of the stories unique to Luke.

Sunday was the 15 year anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers.

Exodus 32:7-14, "Moses, your people" ... and Moses reminds God, 'God, your people.'" It's always both/and.

We can define slavery, prisons, bondage, Egypts of all kinds. Not freedom. Not liberation. Martin Luther's famous Bondage of the will. Having a huge debt of any kind. Being literally stuck at a job you hate and that doesn't suit your skills because you need the income.

Yesterday some of us wore "God's Work / Our Hands" shirts for the denomination's God's Work / Our Hands weekend. We helped out at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore warehouse. A few of us wore our shirts to church.

"Moses, your people" ... and Moses reminds God, 'God, your people.'" It's always both/and. Could God accomplish God's plans and desires without human agency? of course! We mostly discussed ways our hands (feet, minds, creativity) can do God's work. Pastor Peg pointed out God always works through physical, earthly, tangible "means," so sacraments, preaching [the church's official Means of Grace], listening carefully, balancing books, designing and building houses, etc., child care, feeding people, are means or vehicles that carry and convey God's grace.

We spent the rest of our time remembering our original 9/11/2001 experiences and updating our emotions and intentions.

I didn't use most of my extensive notes, so won't blog them, as much because of only partial internet service as anything else, since I often include notes we didn't get to. However, I've filed my hand-written notes for reference three years from now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Pentecost 16C

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds [throngs] were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

We listened to words from Deuteronomy and from Luke. For several weeks we've been talking about neighborology: who is my neighbor? how can I be a good neighbor?

The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of worship, of Torah. Luke the gentile's word and gospel are wide and expansive and inclusive.

Deuteronomy reminds us to choose life by keeping the commandments, by considering the needs of the other person as at least as important as our own needs. Jesus talks about following him by carrying the cross. That's not necessarily anything as dramatic as being killed for being Christian by enemies of Jesus; not as influential as Mother Teresa's ministry or as spending a season alongside Mother Teresa's peeps. It can be as simple as giving some of your lunch to your hungry coworker, donating a dollar or two to the animal shelter, lending the sweater in your backpack to the shivering person beside you in church—always making sure your basic needs have been met, because you've can't give away what you don't have. Again we cited the example of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. The late Jewish theologian Martin Buber tells us, "love is the responsibility of an I for a thou."

The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of worship, of Torah.

Related to the reading from Deut 30, in 2 Kings 22 we have the narrative during the reign of Josiah of Huldah's discovering the scrolls of Torah, the people in tears when they listened and heard. Remember the English word "law" can be a caricature of Torah. This passage from Deut probably comes from much later than when God's people were getting ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after the wilderness trek, but this scripture retells, recounts, and remembers their experiences of God's faithfulness. We do the same thing when we celebrate Holy Communion! Part of the Eucharistic Prayer includes events from God's history with the people; by reciting those events, we claim them and place ourselves in the history of all God's people. Someone mentioned "Remember!" is the Gospel in a single word.

Since Luke 9:51, Jesus has been on this way to Jerusalem, on his journey to the cross. In the reading from Luke, "hate" implies a lesser love, second choice, less intense affection, less esteem, and not the visceral disgust, rejection, and loathing our English word hate implies.

The Reformers insisted Word and Sacrament were enough – satis es / it is sufficient [Augsburg Confession Article 7] – for the existence of the Church; where you find Word and Sacrament, you find the church. No Word and Sacrament? No Church. Martin Luther also outlined (biblical number) 7 marks of the true church:

• proclamation
• baptism
• holy communion
• confession and forgiveness, also called the office of the keys
• valid orders
• worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular, the language of the people
• suffering and persecution, or "the cross"

What does it mean to be a church under the sign of the cross, under the sign of death? For most of us it doesn't mean spectacular feats of martyrdom or even months and years of Mother Teresa-style service. It means giving up – the death of – our comforts, our preferences, putting the needs of the other person first. Being a good neighbor. Choosing first the way of the commandments, the way of God. Jesus said give up "all your possessions"—exaggeration, hyperbole. But we also can read into that to treat others as persons, meeting them where they are and as they are, helping meet their needs, rather than viewing people as objects or possessions to fulfill our needs.

Neighborology: the word about the neighbor; words about being good neighbors. The commandments. Jesus of Nazareth.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pentecost 15C

Luke 14:1, 7-14

1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

not included by lectionary compilers:
[2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?" 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" 6And they could not reply to this.]
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,', and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10/But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." 12He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Backtrack 1:

in his gospel, Luke particularly emphasizes history, women, prayer, Holy Spirit, table fellowship, people who are marginalized from society, Jerusalem.

For both Luke and Mark, the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross is incessant. Today's text is unique to Luke and happens at about the halfway point, after Luke announces Jesus' setting his face toward Jerusalem.

This event happens on the Sabbath, at the home of an "arch" pharisee, who'd be a major religious muckety-muck. For example, we know the title archbishop; we sometimes refer to a person as an arch-enemy. In class I mentioned this pharisee's home wouldn't be our equivalent nice urban condo or beach house, but most likely some distance out into the more elite suburbs with a pool and a view. Lectionary peeps left out an account of Jesus healing a guy with dropsy/edema (on theSabbath!) in 14:2-6.

Backtrack 2:

in Luke's gospel, what was Jesus' I(nitial)P(public)O(ffering), his first act of public ministry? Reading Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath:
Isaiah 61

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

Luke 3

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."

After he finishes reading, Jesus essentially announces, "I am the Jubilee Year! I am the eschatological feast!"

Jesus' time and place had a strong social class stratification system. How about us? Wealth, education, neighborhood, what we wear, how expensive our clothes and cars look, where we got our education, where we work, etc.

Luke 14:7 "place of honor"

This passage begins with talk about a wedding. At a wedding reception, the most important tables near the wedding couple often have place cards with names on them; the other tables, for less important guests, have free seating. Most of us would not presume to seat ourselves at a place reserved for someone else. This story is about a similar situation. But we humans need recognition, we need other people to notice us and approve of us! How can that play our legitimately?

Why did the pharisees invite Jesus?

4:1 "to eat bread" (NRSV says to eat a meal) implies establishing solidarity with your companions, in this case some pharisees.

in Luke's gospel, what was Jesus' I(nitial)P(ublic)O(ffering), his first act of public ministry? Reading Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath. After he finishes reading, Jesus essentially announces, "I am the Jubilee Year! I am the eschatological feast!"

• 14:12 dinner, lunch • 14:13 banquet! it gets fancier and more ornate.

4:13 giving a banquet, sharing a meal with outcasts, with the least of these, implies establishing solidarity with your companions, in this case some of society's least desirables.

The apostle Paul draws a lot on the patron/client // grace/faith system—as well as upon the Hebrew scriptures. Although the patron dispensed grace, mercy, and favor, the client reciprocated with trust, faith, and service.

To quote Robert Farrar Capon's alliteration, God saves only the last, the least, the little, and the lost. God saves only people who cannot reciprocate. Jesus tells us to invite people who won't invite us back. Wow! How counter cultural! Just as in Jesus' day, all around us people pander up and cozy up to people who can give them something in return.

in Luke's gospel, what was Jesus' I(nitial)P(ublic)O(ffering), his first act of public ministry? Reading Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath. After he finishes reading, Jesus essentially announces, "I am the Jubilee Year! I am the eschatological feast!"

Luke 14:11b "those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Maybe especially because this is Luke, maybe especially because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, this anticipates the ultimate humility of the cross followed by ascension and exhalation.

We talked a little about humility and humbleness being earthy, from the ground, and not worm theology, even though many worms live in the dirt in the ground.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pentecost 14C

Isaiah 58:9b-14

9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;…
Earlier in Isaiah: Isaiah 58:1-9

notes and discussion

Since earth's population moved from Abram/Sarai // Abraham /Sarah to 123946678412398++ people, we've had to learn to live together, to create wellness and shalom for everyone. To help in that regard, God models covenant for us! Today we have:

• More on how to walk the talk
• More neighborology, "the word about the neighbor"
• Plans and commands for supplying very material needs

The book of Isaiah is 66 chapters long; Barbara reminded us the entire bible is 66 books long!

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon, 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other exquisitely memorably poetic passages.
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile, back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures, meaning.

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; of those who did leave, some stayed permanently and helped continue to create good living conditions in Babylon. The first reading today is from 3rd isaiah, who wrote to the returnees during the time of reconstructing Jerusalem with hope-filled, shalom-full urban renewal. Rebuilding the temple especially concerned Haggai and Zechariah; Nehemiah focused on rebuilding city walls; Ezra's passion was restoring worship.

Last week on Pentecost 13C again we talked about Jeremiah and his emphasis on (especially distributive) justice, kindness, making sure everyone has adequate food, housing. Both Jeremiah and 3rd Isaiah remind us how the "daily bread" Jesus tells us to ask for includes food, shelter (roofs and walls), clean air, clean water, reasonable laws, good government, overall safety. A huge part of the covenantal ideal for distributive justice is no super-rich, no ultra poor. If you have more than you need, share it. Martin Luther says daily bread includes good servants and obedient kids, too. Revised versions of the Small Catechism include "friends" as necessary for daily sustenance.

In this first reading 3rd Isaiah ties together being good neighbors with keeping sabbath and worship. Isaiah 58 lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effectiveness of the behaviors' outcomes.

Note: The actual Sabbath never changed from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, the final day of the original old creation [Exodus 20:1-17; Genesis 2:2-3]. The early Church started a tradition of worship on Sunday the day of resurrection, first day of the week, start of the new creation. Let's assume "sabbath" as a necessary time out, a literal ceasing from producing, counting, working, but not a time of laziness and shiftlessness.

Discussion: In terms of "trampling on the sabbath," people not observing any day or time of rest, stores staying open all day long… it has seriously escalated during our lifetimes. Human doings more than human beings.

We could have endless conversations about what agency or individual or branch of government best provides which goods and services, how much can an individual do, what can a local church or larger expression of the church attempt and accomplish? Taxes we pay to government help pay for some services and goods. Isaiah 58:12 "Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in," reminds me of a county commissioner in former city that everyone referred to as "streets and roads," because of his plans, passions, and agendas to mend potholes, repair road surfaces, and simplify getting from one place to another.

3rd Isaiah addresses people who have been displaced just as during later centuries people have been exiled, driven out, or for some reason found it necessary to leave their home country for political or physical (sometimes not enough food for everyone?) reasons. However, I would not underestimate the reality and potential dysfunction of psychological and emotional displacement or exile. Southern California? Twenty-first century? Southern California in the 21st century? I mentioned the late Henri Nouwen writing during the last century and his remarks about life in California frequently feeling and actually being anonymous and rootless.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pentecost 13C

earlier in this chapter:

Jeremiah 23:1-22

First reading for Pentecost 13C:
Jeremiah 23:23-29

23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
Intro: Prophets; Jeremiah; Community

We're ⅔ of the way through the church's year of grace. We've been hearing stories of faithfulness and receiving wise counsel related to ways to walk the talk.

Today we'll look at another passage from Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of four Major Prophets in the Old Testament—"major" in terms of length, number of verses and pages. Jeremiah lived and spoke God's word before, during, and after the Babylonian exile. Of the other major prophets, Ezekiel, who was a priest in the holiness temple tradition, prophesied before and during the exile. We divide the book of Isaiah into three parts: chapters 1-39, before the exile; 40-55, during †he exile; 56-66 after the exile. The words in Isaiah come from at least three different authors. The last major prophet, Daniel, is a book about a prophet rather than a book by a prophet. The Hebrew bible did not originally include Daniel, but later placed the book of Daniel in the writings (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, etc.) rather than in its collection of prophecies. Daniel is very very post-exilic, about 200 years before Jesus of Nazareth's birth. The prophet Jeremiah probably did not write the book of Lamentations; opinions on authorship still vary some.

Jeremiah was a priest from the tribe of Benjamin, very much in the covenantal neighborly traditions of Deuteronomy. Other Benjaminites include King Saul [1 Samuel 9:15-27], the first of the three rulers in the united monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon; and Saul/Paul of Tarsus [Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:4-5]. Deuteronomy is highly concerned with justice and righteousness, especially in how we treat the least of these, back then particularly widows, orphan children, disabled, less-abled, and anyone with few resources. Deuteronomy focuses a lot on the land, on its stewardship and care, on treating the land we rely on for life with justice and righteousness.

Last week we talked about Abram/Abraham, as Abram and Sarai moved from being a solitary couple into a community larger than the grains of sand on the beach, greater than the stars in the sky. When you live around other people you need guidelines for living safely and well. Same with us. We start out as relatively solitary individuals, then in baptism become part of a world wide and historical community that's greater than all the stars, more numerous than all that sand. We need a "how to live faithfully." For us as well as for God's people Israel, the commandments are part of the working papers for living in covenant with God. Together with each other. Wherever we venture out there into the world.


The word about our neighbor. A few weeks ago on Pentecost 8 we discussed Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Good Sam. Remember Jesus' followers asked him, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus told them: "a guy went down to Jericho..." Last week: God moves Abram/Abraham and us from more or less solitary into a community of trillions plus. This week: reflecting the neighborly land traditions of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah shows us how – and how not – to live together.

Theology Terms

God asks through Jeremiah, 23"Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the Lord.

Near by, close by, at hand, etc. would be immanent, immanence. Far off, far away, out there, etc. refers to transcendent, transcendence. Fill heaven and earth is ubiquity, ubiquitous. Martin Luther refers to the ubiquity, the every-where-ness of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and also the ubiquity of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ.


In the previous chapter 22 and in the first part of our current chapter 23, Jeremiah speaks against false gods, fake prophecies, a lot of it "feel good" words people would enjoy hearing but that are not from God. In this twenty-first century we get a lot of that. Examples include prosperity preaching; the religion of excessive sports. Richard mentioned the commercialism that has become pervasive, 7-days long every week. The Sabbath still is Saturday – that never changed – yet every one of us needs a time for worship, time to cease from producing and counting, whether that's Saturday, Sunday, or a weekday if your employment has you working on a weekend day.

Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann cites three non-negotiables: the commandments (of course); the tithe (everything always belongs to God, but symbolically we return and offer back at least that formal 10%); the Sabbath.

23:29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord... I mentioned how especially in Southern California we know about life rising from the apparent near-total devastation of a wildfire. Some seeds need to be seared and singed by fire in order to break open, start reproducing, and become fruitful. Like us?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Pentecost 12C

Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Pentecost 12C omits these verses

4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and "he was not found, because God had taken him." For it was attested before he was taken away that "he had pleased God." 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." 13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews Basics

Sermon series probably addressed to Hebrew Christians about 60 C.E., Brings us Jesus Christ as Son of God and Son of Man—fully human and fully divine. Many details relate to the book of Leviticus; discusses Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods; lifts up the unique priesthood of Jesus Christ. Hebrews contrast the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Both were covenants of grace, though the old interspersed quite a few works.

Interesting factoid: Hebrews is one of seven books in Martin Luther's antilegomena – literally spoken against – "leftovers" in the biblical canon. Luther's list also includes books of James (famously), Revelation, Jude, 2 John, 3 John, and 2 Peter.

Today's passage omits Hebrews 11:4-7 that tells about the faithfulness of Abel, Enoch, and Noah. The author's cloud of witnesses continues later in the book of Hebrews.

The first reading for Pentecost 12C also features Abraham—when his name still was Abram:

Genesis 15:1-6

1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."

2But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." 4But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Throughout the witness of scripture we heard about the promise and the gift of land. Turf. Sod. Dirt. Ground. The stuff that comprises our bodies. The places on which we tread.

God tells Abram to go to a place, a land, "I will show you." The future always is unknown to everyone. Many of us die without ever fully realizing or seeing the full outcome of God's promises.

Abram's act of trusting God led from a solitary twosome of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah to a great cloud of witnesses, of faithful followers, more than stars in the sky, more than grains of sand.

Our individual act of trusting God by grace in the power of the HS leads to an uncountable number of witnesses.

Discussion: I started with Mother Teresa's answer to God's call and claim on her life; several participants told us about examples of faithfulness they'd seen and experienced.

This time I had a whole lot more notes than we got to on Sunday; I may type and post those later as a separate blog, but wanted to get this blogged and needed to get onto considering Pentecost 13C.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Pentecost 11C

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Chapter 1

1The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Chapter 2

218I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Bible: a book of [66] books...

with many different types of literary genres, forms, styles. Quick overview includes psalms that themselves are prayers and songs; NT canticles in Luke are similar to psalms and modeled on OT sources. Bible includes history—some bureaucratic, some simple narrative, some historical accounts that are saga or myth and bring us the people's phenomenological experiences along with their emotional and psychological ones. We get prophecy with four Major Prophets, and the shorter Book of the Twelve, aka "Minor Prophets"—prophecy/speaking truth to power includes exhortation, diatribe, polemic, apocalyptic. Some biography/autobiography: parts of Job are biographical; so are a lot of NT epistles. Epistles are letters that mean "sent" writings! The NT includes four gospels. Gospel originally was the returning Roman general's victory proclamation about annihilating and vanquishing his enemies, an announcement of death. Starting with Mark, Christianity subverted gospel into a proclamation of the victory of life over death, an announcement of resurrection from the dead.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Today's text from Ecclesiastes is in the group of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible writings that are neither Torah nor Prophecy. It's part of the Wisdom literature that also includes Proverbs, Song of Songs/Song of Solomon, and Job. The name of the book evokes "ecclesiastical," ecclesia, etc., descriptors we use for the church, the called-out assembly (City Council, New England Town Meeting, Church Council, Session, Consistory, Sacramento Assembly...). The Hebrew title of the book, Koheleth, Kehilleth, Qoheleth, means teacher/preacher, especially someone who address the gathered assembly, similar to a Minister of the Word in our traditions.

All three lectionary years feature Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, "To everything there is a season," as the first reading for New Year's Day, but otherwise this is the only instance of Ecclesiastes for all 36 lectionary months.

The book of Ecclesiastes opens with "The words of the teacher, the son of David, King of Jerusalem," but its vocabulary, syntax, sentence structure, general worldview and philosophy place it much later, way far post-exilic, probably two or three centuries before Jesus of Nazareth's birth. In some ways it's close to a parody of what the write imagined King Solomon might have said.

The recurring word "vanity" isn't what we think of as vain—for example, Carly Simon telling Warren Beatty (according to some sources), "you're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." It's not your household kitteh strutting around wanting admiration, or the allover style of one of the presidential candidates that also had gotten press for lots of other negative attributes. This vanity is something fleeting, ephemeral, can't be captured. 1:14 reads, "chasing after wind." We feel the wind, we know it's there, but it's beyond elusive.

Lectionary compilers placed this not very positive text alongside Colossians 3:1-11 about our identity in Christ and Luke 12:13-21 about the guy stockpiling lots of stuff he couldn't take with him. This passage comes across on the negative side, but the New Year's Day reading from Ecclesiastes tells us, "the gift of God is that all should [exhortation!] eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." Ecclesiastes 3:13

Discussion. If you were writing your newsletter article or something similar, what would you reflect on this text?