Sunday, January 31, 2016

Epiphany 4C


We're a little over two months into the church's year of grace. Every year, Advent opens with a splash of apocalyptic – uncovering and revealing things previously hidden, concealed – signaling the end of the world as we've known it.

so far: the lectionary has taken us into Advent as OT prophets and John the baptist help us prepare for God in our midst. Then to the feast of the nativity, where Luke and shepherds show us God's favor for the marginalized, those who aren't exactly movers and shakers. Matthew brings us three magi from afar, demonstrating God's cultural, religious, and ethnic inclusiveness. We move from Jesus' baptism/mikvah (remember, not the same as our trinitarian baptism) to gospel writers John's and Luke's accounts of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

We find hints and foretastes of Jesus' fulfillment of the OT: a new creation without violence (no day of vengeance for God; Satan, the prosecuting attorney falling from heaven like lightning); a new exodus where we pass through the waters of baptism and feast on a new passover meal; a peaceable, non-violent, inclusive kingdom.

The lectionary compilers shuffle things around a bit, since on Lent 1 (no Sunday church that day because of the marathon) we'll have Jesus' temptation in the wilderness that actually happened before the start of his public ministry.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [strike, jolt, shock: not gentle] my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Jeremiah's call echoes Moses' call in Exodus 3. God's call to Jeremiah also goes along with Luke's version of the first event of Jesus' public ministry in his hometown Nazareth, and also has parallels later in the book of Jeremiah—the townspeople wanting to kill Jesus that we read about in today's gospel account.

"to pull up and pull down; to destroy and overthrow; to build and to plant"

Organic, natural images of uprooting, demolishing, destroying, overthrowing; planting and building, too. We can apply this in many different areas, large and small, local and global.

How about us? How about me? How about you?

Luke 4:21-30

21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph’s son?" 23He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum." 24And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Last week: Jesus proclaims God's call to him to ministry beyond the borders of the hometown; salvation available to all! The whole entire world, maybe especially the least of these, most vulnerable and marginalized. Today on Epiphany 4 and the account continues, Jesus refers to the prophet Elijah who helped a Sidonian woman, a non-Israelite foreigner of another religion; the prophet Elisha helping a Syrian man ― another outsider of another religion.

What? Jesus says God loves "those people – Sidonians and Syrians" – just as much as us, the historically and confidently chosen ones?! In last week's gospel reading Jesus announced good news of physical healing and economic justice to the working-class / underclass in his home town, to people Roman occupation had exploited in every imaginable way. Is this good news universal, for all people, rather than exclusive to members of our religion and ethnicity only?

Remember from the book of Acts how the gospel started in Jerusalem, then expanded to the "entire known world," a world that now has expanded beyond those boundaries.

Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, us: calling / vocation—same word from different origins. How does God call us?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Epiphany 3C

Sunday morning we spent most of the time discussing the gospel reading from Luke 4:14-21, but this text about recovering Torah is so astonishing, exciting, and amazing – and so central – I'm blogging most of it.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. ... 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."


Torah is (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew bible) as well as the entire remembered, spoken written history, narratives, poetry, lore, songs, liturgies, sagas, that God used to call and claim a people, to form and shape a common life, that God used to redeem and save God's people to the fullest extent possible before Jesus Christ. It includes the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant—Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Today's post-exilic Hebrew text from the book of Nehemiah reads Torah for every instance of the English translation "law."

Torah is a huge deal!

reminder: a few weeks ago we discussed that for the apostle Paul, "law" never means the commandments or the entire remembered, spoken, written Torah. For Paul, law means (for example) circumcision, keeping kosher, sacrificial law, ceremonial law, none of which is redemptive or salvific. On the other hand, keeping the commandments does help save us. Jesus: "to be saved, keep the commandments." Keep covenant with all creation!

Psalm 19 Listen carefully to Psalm 19 that celebrates God's law, decrees, ordinances, precepts, commandments.

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Last week: John's version of Jesus' public ministry debut, his IPO, was a party!

Today we have Luke's version of Jesus public ministerial debut. Just as for John, it's also in his Galileean hometown, a place that was very working class, full of reprobates, thieves, robbers, liars, and gentiles! This text is full of Luke's themes of HS, the marginalized, the underprivileged. This is Jesus' hometown, his home synagogue. The neighbors all know him as Joseph's son. We need to remember he was 30 years old and had been attending synagogue there for a very long time.

Jesus combines Isaiah 61:1-2a: "The 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; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor." And Isaiah 58:6: "[Is not this the fast that I choose:] to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" Jesus leaves out the words about vengeance.

Although Jesus' way is comprehensive (body, mind, spirit, social, psychological) Luke's perspective is very physical, economic, and material. Jesus and Luke address the fallout and offer words and actions to redeem the new class of impoverished, debtors, prisoners (mostly folks who couldn't pay up) Roman occupation had created.

In contract, Matthew often is more spiritual. Barbara: interesting that Matthew the tax collector is less concerned about finances than Luke!

Striking in this text that Jesus tells his listeners right now, today, this Isaiah text has been fulfilled. Jesus even mentions the year of the Lord's favor, the Jubilee 50th year – 7 years times 7 – from Leviticus 25: cancellation of debts, release of captives, prisoners. (Jubilee never actually happened). We know the rest of the story, about Jesus' ministry in word and action. But we know all of this blind seeing, deaf hearing, etc. have not been totally fulfilled.

How about us? How does God call and claim us in this text?

In both Luke and Matthew, John the Baptist send his followers to ask Jesus if Jesus was the promised one, "or do we need to look for another?" Today's gospel reading from Luke includes Jesus: "Go and tell John what you see and hear! The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; poor have good news preached to them; the dead are raised!" (note passive voice here)

How about us? How does this gospel text call and claim us?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Epiphany 2C

the Gospel According to John

The latest of the 4 canonical gospels, compiled between 90 and 110.

John gives us a different worldview from the synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

This John most likely is John the son of Zebedee, brother of Peter and James, the "beloved disciple," the youngest guy in Leonardo's Last Supper painting. More accurately, this gospel comes out of John's community, the people who surrounded John.

In the beginning was the Word, the logos, a Greek concept that connotes both origins (where this came from) and immanence (what this might become).

John brings us the most explicit new creation

• John 1:1 "In the beginning" echoes Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God"

• John 19:30 "it is finished" echoes Genesis 2:2 – "And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done"

• John 19:41-42 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

• John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

• The first day of the week is the eighth day of creation, the first day of the New Creation.

• The garden of resurrection becomes the new garden of Eden.

John brings us seven signs and seven "I am" statements. Seven is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology.

seven signs

1. Changing water into wine – 2:1-11

2. Healing the official's son in Capernaum – 4:46-54

3. Healing the paralytic at the Bethesda pool – 5:1-18

4. Feeding 5,000 – 6:5-14

5. Jesus' walking on water – 6:16-24

6. Healing the man born blind – 9:1-7

7. Raising of Lazarus – 11:1-45

In Matthew and Luke we hear about John the Baptist in jail telling his followers to go back and ask Jesus "are you the one who is to come, or do we need to look for someone else?" Jesus responds, "Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them." Luke 7:22; Matthew 11:5

John's seven signs show us these events.

seven I am declarations

1. The Bread Of Life – 6:35

2. The Light Of The World – 8:12

3. The Gate – 10:9

4. The Good Shepherd – 10:11

5. The Resurrection And The Life – 11:25-26

6. The Way, The Truth, And The Life – 14:6

7. The Vine – 15:5

sign and symbol

A sign, symbol directs or points to a place, event, person, or idea, but is not that location or event itself. Street signs. As a designer, what I de-sign interprets and points the viewer to something else—a product, an event, an idea. I sometimes design a logo.

The word for "sign" in John 2:11 is where we get "semiotic" = signs, symbols, meaning-making

John 2:1-11

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

In the words of Tony Campolo: "The Kingdom of God is a party!"

For John, this wedding party opens Jesus' public ministry.

Cana is in Galilee, gentile territory, and a disreputable location known for thieves, rebels, and reprobates. Galilee became Jesus' home town. This wedding with Jesus' first sign (synoptic gospels would call it a miracle, but John wants everything to point to Jesus) happens among regular people, working class, possibly vintners who grew and harvested some of the grapes for this wine. This Jesus images a God who is not distant, but right at hand, who parties along with us, celebrates with us, shares in the fun. This is God's glory on earth!

Lots of discussion of Jesus and his mother; mother-son relationships in general. Jesus shows us how human and humanizing God is.

Tony Campolo: "The Kingdom of God is a party!"

After choir people left we mentioned the symbol of Zion in the first reading from Isaiah 62:1-5. At this time, the Jerusalem temple and the Davidic King were the primary symbols/signs of Zion. Later on Zion became the anywhere location of God's people; the American Puritans thought they'd establish Zion in New England; Latter-day Saints imagined Zion in the Utah wilderness. Other varied Zion (not necessary Zionist) movements, too. Pastor Richard's explanation about this text in his sermon. Also, what Pr. Richards told us about the Third Day – Tuesday – being especially for weddings.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Baptism of Jesus C Luke

About Luke's Gospel

Luke is the only Gentile, non-Jewish writer in the entire New Testament. Luke was highly educated, a physician, but think "bronze age" in terms of sophistication. Luke wrote a two-volume account, a gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. We often refer to Luke-Acts as one word.

Luke's particular perspective includes an emphasis on:

• world history and Jewish history

• the Spirit – The HS has been prominent throughout the Bible's witness, but Luke-Acts brings a fulfillment of God's reign in the Spirit

• prayer

• women

• marginalized people of every class and type

• table fellowship.

Luke also uniquely includes three psalm-like songs or canticles based on Old Testament sources:

• Mary's Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly..." – Luke 1:46-55

• Zechariah's Benedictus, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." – Luke 1:67-79

• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared..." – Luke 2:29-32

In Luke we find:

• Sermon on the Plain – Luke 6:17-49, which emphasizes the physical re-distributive justice and material well-being. Matthew's parallel Sermon on the Mount is more about spiritual well-being.

• Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

• Stones cry out Luke – 19:37-40

• Emmaus Road in Luke's post-resurrection account takes us back to the Maundy Thursday Upper Room and to Luke's many accounts of Jesus' table fellowship with all comers. – Luke 24:13-35


in Luke's version of Jesus' baptism, before we reach the baptism account, in a passage we read during Advent John tells the people to prepare for God's arrival in their midst, by redistributing the material possessions you have too much of. In any case, God's presence in our midst would be quite an alleluia moment, but we can help make it that way. In the model of God the ultimate giver of gifts, John asks us to give gifts! John asks for economic redistribution. We find what you could call "social gospel" throughout Luke, starting out with John the Baptist down by the riverside.

Invariably and inevitably we read a lot backwards when we interpret scripture. We've been living a lot of the rest of the story, so that's only natural. We interpret scripture in ways similar to looking back and interpreting a lot of past events we experience, as the pieces finally start to fit together. Jesus's baptism by John was not the same as our trinitarian baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and HS. Jesus' baptism continued the Jewish practice of the bath, washing, mikvah that began at Mount Sinai during the Exodus from Egypt, before Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments . – Exodus 19:10-14

God's affirming Jesus as beloved son is mostly about Jesus' call and purpose rather than about Jesus' nature. Jesus did not begin his public ministry until his baptism, God's call and claim on him. God's claim on each of us as beloved daughters and son is about God's call and purpose for us.

Immediately after Jesus' baptism and God's identifying Jesus as the beloved son, Luke brings us Jesus' genealogy that ends with son of adam, son of God. Luke's human Jesus and divine Christ both minister to each one's body and spirit.

For Epiphany we discussed the phan root that means appearance, manifestation. We find it in the words Epiphany, Tiffany, Fantasy, and today in Theophany, an appearance of manifestation of God. In this scripture portion we a theophany of Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Luke describes the Spirit's bodily presence in Jesus, just as the Spirit fills us, we embody God's HS at our baptism, and as the assembled body of Christ, the Church. For Luke-Acts, Jesus is the model for the apostles who are the models for the church. The apostles and the church do everything Jesus does because they have the same Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

2121Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Monday, January 04, 2016

Epiphany 2016

Isaiah 60:1-6 | Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 | Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, household, etc, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. January 6th was "Christ's Birthday" until the 4th century, when Constantine moved it to just after the solstice to correlate with the Feast of the Unvanquished Sun. At that time January 6th became the day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus, as it still is in Eastern expressions of Christianity. Next Sunday we'll celebrate Baptism of Jesus.


"epi," upon / epistructure, epilogue, episode, epicure

"phany" appearance, visibility / Fantasy, Tiffany,

With the Baptism of Jesus, next week we'll talk about a theophany, an appearance or manifestation of God.

This is Luke's lectionary year C. In each lectionary year, we get some passages from John's gospel interspersed; today, for Epiphany (which actually is January 6th) the gospel reading is from Matthew. Matthew wrote to what audience?

Matthew is the only gospel writer who brings us the visiting Magi and the flight into Egypt. Because Matthew wrote to a mostly Jewish audience, he demonstrated Jesus' fulfilling predictions and typology we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Matthew 2:13-23 and the flight into Egypt = a type of Moses, also delivered from a cruel tyrant. Moses and Jesus, the New Moses, both called out of Egypt, who both liberated people from slavery into freedom. Jesus as the New Israel who remains faithful in the wilderness despite temptations. Jesus as the new King David and the new Human David.

In Luke's Christmas accounts we read about Jesus revealed to the shepherds, and now in Matthew, Jesus revealed to the "nations," to non-Jews.

• Revealed? But how? Signs/stars in the heavens!

• Revealed? But how? Scripture, MIcah 5:2 and its reference to Bethlehem!

• Revealed? But how? Dreams!

People who recorded and passed along the words and concepts in the scriptures were doing theology just as much as they wrote history, created poetry or composed prose.

We'll be singing "We Three Kings," but there are only two kings in this narrative, King Herod. King Jesus.

Herod's big public works project? The Jerusalem Temple! Jesus is the new Temple (John's gospel reports, "destroy this temple and in three days...") and now we live as the Temple not build of stones.

The Magi probably were Zoroastrians who studied the stars and placed high currency on sky signs. Most likely from Persia!

The Western Church says there were three; the Eastern Church says twelve. Scripture doesn't tell us, but tradition names them Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. Matthew list three gifts, so that's where we got three bringers of gifts. Barbara explained the meaning behind each gift: Myrrh = embalming a body after death; gold = kingship, royalty; frankincense = temple rituals, Jesus' priesthood. But it's also about all the gifts God gives us!

First reading from Isaiah 60: "arise, shine, for your light has come!" Our light has come! It take so little light to blaze through a dark space. How about us?

Stars all over the place in the Matthew passage. East, east, star, star (and please notice, magi in the room, not in the stable). East, anatolia, the rising, as in the rising of the sun. Light imagery: salvation. "East" is huge here. "from the east" is anatolia, the rising of the sun. Not Bruce Springsteen's The Rising! Oriens, orient, latin word with same meaning as the Greek anatolia. Birth and death of great people featured a star in the heavens. Stars as a messianic sign in Numbers 24:17.

"Paid him homage, worship." Worship only God, but this is the infant, the human person, in whom God fully dwells, God is fully present, therefore Jesus is worth worshiping! Charlene reminded us worship is "worth-ship" worthiness!

Among other emphases, Epiphany is basic evangelism, but beyond the ways we've "always done it." Especially during this interim time, God revealing Jesus in different ways with a star, a scripture passage, and a dream, forms a model for our imaginations and our outreach.

God does whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. A star for people who knew the skies and the stars and trusted sky signs; a scripture passage for people who were biblically literate and trusted those texts; dreams for those who relied on less conscious, rational, cerebral information. Skies and scriptures and dreams all point to the very same Bethlehem Baby!

Epiphany is a time to consider how we can do whatever it takes in our outreach as the church, to embrace all people. How can we be a truly welcoming, inclusive congregation. Truly welching people wherever we are, wherever we go (not only inside and on the environs of the church campus). How about us? inviting people to church (of course), to food events, but how else do we relate to the experiences of others? Barbara mentioned being as sensitive as possible to everyone's needs, desires, and experiences.