Monday, February 27, 2017

Transfiguration 2017 year A

Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Protestant Western Churches celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season; most Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican churches celebrate Transfiguration on August 06. Some celebrate it twice! This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday; next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent. Transfiguration concludes what we can consider the first major portion of the church's year of grace that begins on Advent 1, continues with Christmas/Nativity, then to Name/Circumcision of Jesus; the Feast of the Epiphany; Baptism of Jesus… all these days concentrate on light, revelation, and on God as God of everyone, God for everyone.

For T-Fig we experience another Trinitarian theophany! Remember Baptism of Jesus? Remember words that include "phan"? Epiphany, Tiffany, Fantasy. Last week we talked about the many many "Holy Ordinary" events, places, and circumstances in scripture and in our own lives. With its location and the unusual happenings that swirl around it, this mountaintop Transfiguration is what we'd think of as a more typical, characteristic, not surprising (almost expected) manifestation of the divine. A class regular mentioned she didn't see HS/HG in the Matthew reading; I explained the cloud of the shekinah (a feminine noun in Hebrew) is a common OT sign of God's Spirit.

We did the classic explanation of mountains as places of revelation: Moses represents the Sinai Covenant / Law he received on Mount Sinai [Exodus 20:1-17]; Elijah received divine revelation on Mount Carmel [1 Kings 19:12] and represents the Prophets. We receive God's fullest, most overwhelming self-revelation at Jesus' crucifixion on Mount Calvary. In his Great Commission from a mountain at the end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus promises to be with us forever and charges us to teach and baptize all nations.

Six days later may reference the Exodus 24:16 from today's first reading/hearing; Luke 9:28 tells us "now about eight days after these sayings…" that can be approximately one week, or the 8th day / 1st day of the New Creation.

Transfiguration leans strongly into Lent. Interesting that Jesus tells his disciples to tell no one until after the resurrection [17:9]—that's a feature of Mark's gospel we call the "messianic secret." In his Transfiguration account, in Luke, Jesus – Moses and Elijah! – discuss Jesus' exodus or departure that he would accomplish in Jerusalem [19:31].

Friday, February 24, 2017

Epiphany 7A

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. 11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Last week's first reading came from the Pentateuch book of Deuteronomy; again this week God speaks through Moses, this time with words recorded in the book of Leviticus that's also in the Pentateuch – or Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. These texts were part of the oral tradition before they got written down; the written words were a long time coming and happened probably during the Babylonian exile, or possibly while resettling Jerusalem after the exile. We need to remember the oral tradition is not the same as written-down words spoken aloud, but has a dynamic life of its own. This is the only reading from Leviticus in all three lectionary year! Probably no surprise, since most of the book rings true to its stereotype of mostly containing instructions for the sacrificial system and purity codes. Levites were the priests of the Jerusalem Temple.

This passage opens with God's command and God's promise: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." God gave these instructions for covenantal life together to Israel while they still were transversing the desert wilderness, before they crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

Discussion: What does "holy" mean to you?

Over the past few weeks in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel we've heard Jesus' telling his followers they are blessed, how to be blessed. Jesus has been saying, and now these words from Leviticus back up Jesus as they describe how to be holy in the same way God is holy. Instructions in the passage are clear and self-evident, but almost everyone mentioned that many grocery stores and other retailers are leaving "gleanings" of food for food pantries and other distribution centers so food doesn't go to waste and more people have enough to eat. This pericope is about our behaviors and actions in covenantal community, in our lives together.

I mentioned perfect in Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," is from telos the same Greek word that gives us teleological, goal-oriented, be the whole, integral, complete person God created you to be, and is far from post-enlightenment Western ideas of perfection.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Epiphany 6A

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.

Taking a diversion and excursion away from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew to listen to God speaking through Moses in the book of Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch, one of the Five Books of Moses. We've discussed Matthew's community's emphasis on Jesus' Jewishness, on Jesus as the New Moses, New King David. Last fall we had several readings from Deuteronomy that's in the covenantal tradition of the prophet Jeremiah who also was part of autumn's readings.

We haven't talked nearly enough about covenant; briefly, derived from co-venire (come together), covenant is about two or more parties coming together in agreement, with obligations on both sides—mutual dependence and mutual vulnerability. Scripture brings us a long list of covenants between God and humanity, from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David. Jeremiah tells us about the New Covenant of grace God will bring in Jesus Christ. God covenants with us in baptism!

We often refer to the ten commandments God gave the people through Moses as the "Sinai Covenant." Deuteronomy is one long covenantal book! Deuteronomy mostly comes from the next to latest written Pentateuch source either from time of Babylonian exile or from post-exilic resettlement of Jerusalem—around when Huldah and Josiah rediscovered Torah? Or from both eras. In any case, the content long had been part of the oral tradition that we've discussed as not being the same as written-down words spoken out loud, but a way of transmitting words and ideas that has a dynamic life of its own.

We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke) an interpretation, spelling-out, exposition of the Ten Commandments, just as Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension demonstrates the meaning of the Commandments. During Lent we'll study Luther's Small Catechism that starts out with the Commandments. We really only need the First Commandment:
I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (so therefore!), you shall have no other gods before me.
The other nine commandments (as well as Jesus' birth, life, etc.) and the great commandment to love God, self, and neighbor clarify the first. The commandments are working papers that lay out boundaries and limits of attitudes, words, and actions of our life together in community, of our lives vis-à-vis the world out there when we physically leave the covenantal community of the church.

Last fall in Luke's lectionary year, immediately after Jesus pronounces the Great Commandment to love God, self, and neighbor, his disciples ask, "And who is my neighbor?" Then follows Good Sam about the guy who gets beaten up and left by the roadside to die on his way "down to Jericho." Amongst Luke, Jeremiah, and Deuteronomy, we talked some about neighborology, "the word about the neighbor."

When Jesus starts his Sermon on the Mount, he lines out blessings of grace we receive and in turn use to bless others. Being blessed, happy, prosperous, shalom-filled isn't quite the same as the deep-welling joy we experiences as Christians, nor is it abundant money, success, and (real estate!) property as the world and as "prosperity gospel" people consider prospering. In today's Deuteronomy passage, Moses also speaks about being blessed.

LCM does well welcoming everyone, including immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ& persons; in some ways they don't need these words, yet as our guest preacher observed during our SS discussion, seemingly innocuous desirable goods and everyday behaviors carried to extremes can become gods, so we all need to be careful and observe our own behaviors and compulsions.

I commented on the Persian Patio that's a ring of yard chairs under an umbrella our office administrator arranges in the yard on Sundays so our Persian People (who have Farsi-language bibles we gave them) can have a gathering place to speak their own language and talk about their own concerns. Last week in SS I mentioned the late environmental theologian Sittler, who also was part of the devotions offered at Friday's Green Faith Team Meeting Interim Pastor and I serve on. I mentioned the dad of one of my former housemates/landlords was first president ever of LSTC, and Dr. Sittler frequently visited their home. Pulling this together, they chose Stewart Herman as seminary president because of his experiences and work with refugees in the World Council of Churches and for Lutheran World Relief. In other words, he'd help students and others learn about being a welcoming, diverse church without borders or boundaries.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Epiphany 5A

Matthew 5:13-20

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

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

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

So far in Matthew's gospel: genealogy – birth – magi – Egypt – baptism by cousin John the Baptist – wilderness desert solitude and temptations – calls four disciples – beatitudes, "blessed" Sermon on the Mount as the New Moses

This week continues Jesus' sermon, homily, talk, discourse that describes righteous attributes or characteristics of his disciples. These qualities are gifts of grace, yet having them makes demands for our response: what we do because of who we are — God's Work / Our Hands

Everyone knows today's gospel reading well! It's about our being salt of the earth and light of the world; this is what and how people in the kingdom of heaven, reign of God, lifestyle of God, culture of heaven are and how they live.

Kari Jobe, We Are

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

So wake up sleeper
Lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows, conquer death
Make the most of time we've left.

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

As Wendell Berry reminds us, "practice resurrection!"

Discussion about how a little salt goes a long way; how the flame of light from a small candle can fill a dark room. Mix it all up and add seasoning to life everywhere we go! The world needs us to help it be tasty and lit up!

Matthew 5:20 "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees..."

Typically we give Pharisees a bad rap as self-righteous, legalistic, sanctimonious hypocrites overly concerned with irrelevant details that mattered not. In this context consider the pharisees as good citizen leaders who strove for justice in the community, who kept the commandments to the letter, did everything possible to make the world around them a better place.