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?