Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ascension 2017

Acts 1:1-11

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying [or eating] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with [or by] the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
On the 40th day of Easter we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension; that's a Thursday, but since most people don't go to church on Thursdays, today for Easter 7 we're hearing about the Ascension. Next Sunday, the 50th day of Easter, is the Day of Pentecost, the third of our great Trinitarian Festivals.

So far during the church's year of grace, we've studied and learned from Jesus' ministry. During the season of Easter we've experienced Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit on Easter evening from John's gospel; twice in the gospel we received from John's community we've revisited the upper room of Maundy Thursday with Jesus' commandment to love along with his promise of the Holy Spirit (advocate, paraclete) of comfort and truth. We've had examples of the early church's ministry in the power of the Spirit. Specifically, three weeks ago on Easter 4, we heard about the apostles' preaching and teaching (no longer Jesus'!), their gathering for prayer in the kind of community that's a true "common unity" of koinonia, for "breaking of bread," that likely meant regular meals (potlucks, anyone?) as well as the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation of the Lord's Supper.

The Heidelberg Catechism tells us we move from Christmas / Incarnation, "with the mystery of spirit in flesh" to the Ascension, "with the mystery of flesh in Spirit."

We don't often use the words ascension, ascendancy, ascent, but in easy theological terms they simply mean sovereignty, authority, stewardship. Not "lording it over" as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to the needs of our human, animal, and all our neighbors – all of creation! Land, waterways, sky, etc.

During the upcoming long liturgical season of pentecost, the church really comes into its own. The gift of the indwelling Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Why is the son of God called Jesus, meaning Savior?" And then, "Why is the son of God called Christ, meaning anointed?" And then: "But why are you called a Christian?" Answer: "Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign over all creation for all eternity."

In our scripture passage from Acts, Jesus' disciples ask him, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong and replies, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

In the power, discernment, and reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we becomes Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation. The HS empowers us to walk the talk!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 6A

John 14:15-21

15"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Backtracking from last week, Easter 5A:

This is very shorthand and somewhat crude, but also broadly accurate.

As I've been saying... John is the Gospel of Abiding Presence. John's gospel almost didn't make the canonical cut! The community the beloved disciple John founded conveys a different worldview from the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In contrast to John, despite each of them conveying at least some unique content and a particular perspective, you could say the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us law and gospel – God's holy demands and God's mercy-filled, loving grace. We roughly can place the synoptics in the tradition of the first two parts of the Old Testament, Torah / Pentateuch and Prophets.

The third section of the canon of the Hebrew bible includes Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Job, Ruth, Lamentations, Daniel, Song of Solomon... similar to that Writings tradition of the third part of the Hebrew Bible that we sometimes refer to as wisdom literature, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action that make a difference in the world—"God's abiding presence" in creation, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics and in the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles.

Today's RCL text:

Easter is Fifty Days; the sixth Sunday of Easter is day 36 / 50. Last week we discussed some of Jesus' farewell discourse, including his telling the disciples they'd do greater works than he had done. Jesus never stopped talking, though our discussion ended. Today's gospel passage continues in the upper room of Maundy Thursday after Jesus had washed the disciples' feet. After Maundy Thursday, we've experience Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, We're already more than a calendar month after the day of resurrection; besides, in today's text Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we already read that narrative that happened on the evening of the first Easter Day as we celebrated Easter 2.

John, the gospel of Jesus' abiding presence and of our abiding presence in creation in the power of the Holy Spirit, essentially brings us the commandment to love. But at the start of our reading for today, Jesus tells us, "If you love me, you will keep the commandments." It concludes with, "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Parallel this to:

• the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 – what must I do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus's keep the commandments response with the demands of the Sinai covenant.

• and Mark 10:17-22 where Jesus tells the rich guy, "You know the commandments" and does a basic short list.

• with the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37 that happens after Jesus sends out the seventies, tells them share the peace; Kingdom has come near you, shake the dust off; after Satan falling from heaven... Jesus asks the expert on the law "What do you read in the law?" After love God, neighbor, and self, Jesus responds to "who is my neighbor" with the parable of Good Sam.

To be saved, made whole, have integrity, be alive as part of the commonwealth, we must obey the commandments because none of us is saved, redeemed, no one has shalom until all creation does. Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us Life first must be a gift before life is a task.

Although we already discussed Jesus' sending the HS on the evening of the first Easter, we could call today's reading, "You will get your quilt!" Jesus promises to send the paraclete, that in Greek means called (clesis) beside /alongside (para). But translations can include comforter, advocate, counselor, solicitor, attorney... all wrapped up in the assurance of God's presence in the same way a cozy quilt or comforter wraps us up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Easter 5A

John 14:1-14

1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

8Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

As I've been saying... John is the Gospel of Abiding Presence.

In contrast to John, despite each of them conveying at least some unique content and a particular perspective, you could say the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us law and gospel. We can consider the three sections of the canon of the Hebrew scriptures: Torah / Pentateuch; Prophets; Writings (that include Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Job, Ruth, Daniel, Song of Solomon...) and roughly place the synoptics within the traditions of Pentateuch and Prophets, the gospel according to John's community alongside the Writings.

The worldview of John's gospel opens with "in the beginning" and tells us about the pre-existent divine logos that's about order, wisdom, prudence, strength, discernment, knowledge, discretion, honor, well-being, shalom... God's essence that fills and permeates all creation. Similar to the Hebrew tradition of wisdom literature, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action that make a difference in the world—"God's abiding presence" in creation, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics and in the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles. Although Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, always is enfleshed, incarnate, embodied, John's community especially makes a major point of that reality.

Easter is Fifty Days; the fifth Sunday of Easter is day 29 / 50. To some extent, for the course of the church's year of grace, the people who assembled the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that we generally use for our texts, follow the trajectory of Jesus's life. However, today is day 29 of Easter, meaning we've already journeyed through Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the astonishment of Eastered resurrection, but the scene we have today from John's gospel is the Upper Room of Maundy Thursday and Jesus's farewell discourse (speech, counsel, advice, "talk") to his disciples.

Discussion: how reassuring it is that Jesus tells us of his ongoing presence, and that he will prepare places for each of us. Note: He already has done so!

How wild to be revisiting Maundy Thursday, the place and time where Jesus just had washed his disciples' feet?! More than a calendar month after the day of resurrection?! We considered what the greater works Jesus referred to might be. I piggy-backed on the former Linda Vista PCUSA pastor's asking, "Where were you born? St. Mary's Hospital? Presbyterian Central? Lutheran General? Where did you go to school? Whitworth? Notre Dame? Concordia? Holy Rosary Elementary?" Those works of health and education are significant ones. A participant mentioned the mighty work of forgiveness, that permits all parties involved to continue living without getting irrevocably stuck in the past.

For John's community, resurrection isn't quite the end of the story; in a sense, ascension trumps even resurrection. As persons who live "in Christ," we also share in his ascendancy. I briefly described ascendancy as authority, sovereignty, stewardship over creation, over life, but didn't go on to quote the Heidelberg Catechism's response to "But why are you called a Christian?": Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.

As we learn from the gospel according to John, in Christ Jesus and in the power of the HS, we are part of God's abiding presence throughout creation.

For Easter 6 we'll continue Jesus' farewell discourse with John 14:15-21.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Easter 4A

Acts 2:[41], 42-47

41they gladly received the word Peter preached and three thousand were baptized on that day!

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

So far in the church's year of grace we've experienced Advent, as we wait for God's arrival in our midst as a baby in the Bethlehem manger. Then Christmas, the feast of God's Incarnation on earth arrives and we meet the infant Jesus of Nazareth. The season of Epiphany demonstrates God's revelation to everyone, that God is God of all and not only for particular people. During Lent we revisited Jesus' earthly ministry. During Holy Week we journey to the cross with Jesus; after Lent ends on Wednesday in Holy Week, the Three Days of the Triduum – "tri duum" – starts with Maundy Thursday, on to Good Friday, finally Easter, Jesus' resurrection from death. We celebrate Easter Vigil, Easter Sunrise, Easter Day, or all three. The lectionary also appoints readings for Easter Evening, a wonderful way to close out the day and begin the Great Fifty Days of Easter that finally lead to the Day of Pentecost that's the fiftieth day.

Throughout the easter season, our first reading comes from Luke's Acts of the Apostles. This is especially interesting because the lectionary hasn't yet given us the Day of Pentecost reading from Acts 2 that describes the Holy Spirit coming to earth in wind and fire, but the activities we read about during these fifty days demonstrate how God acted through the nascent church. Officially today's first reading begins with a description of the Christian community, but it follows 2:41 that tells about the baptism of 3,000 people! You can describe what follows as a blueprint for ways to live out our baptism—how, then, shall we live baptized?

You know some of it: worked for justice; defy empire; be God's shalom; practice resurrection. Praise and thank God, because anything we do is the work of the HS and not our own!

When we studied Luke's gospel in depth last year during Luke's lectionary year C, we discovered Luke emphasizes the Holy Spirit, carefully places everything in a historical context, focuses on women and other marginalized populations, loves prayer, makes table fellowship prominent. In his second volume of writing, the Acts of the Apostles, he continue in the same direction. However, God always acts within history; you always can identify longitude and latitude and linear clock time.

I'd planned to have a fairly extensive discussion of this text, but interim pastor kind of derailed where I planned to go by mentioning too soon this apparently was more of an ideal than a real community. I'd read the same thing in several commentaries, but wanted to ask why not aim for it, anyway, just as we always need to keep the commandments, but never will quite achieve keeping any of them.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Easter 3A

Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is another scripture passage the lectionary specifies for several times during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. We hear it on Easter Evening for all 3 lectionary years A B C and on the Third Sunday of easter year A (Matthew's year, this year) and year B (Mark's year).

Backtracking to Holy Week: Jews celebrating the Passover Seder as a feast along the way—out of slavery in Egypt, not yet settled in the Land of Promise. The passover meal includes foods symbolically associated with their history as people of God; sometimes Jews refer to "eating history" as they consume those foods. Matzoh that's unleavened bread baked in haste and eaten in a hurry; lamb shank for the sacrifice offered on the eve of leaving Egypt and to remember God redeeming Israel with an "outstretched arm"; egg for a pre-passover offering; bitter herbs or veggies for the bitterness of bondage; charoset mixed from apples, pears, nuts and wine to recall Egyptian bricks and mortar; salt water for tears of slavery and saltiness of passing through the Red Sea, celebratory wine. Seder participants retell the story of their liberation with tastes, textures, appearances, smells (audible splashes and crunches, too) of these symbolic foods—revisiting and re-experiencing where they've been, "eating history." These also are foods that no longer depend upon empire = are locally sourced. During the seder Israel sings or chants (ideally) or recites the celebratory Hallel Psalms, 113-118.

Hallel Psalms belong to the church's Holy Week observances. Psalm 116 is our responsive psalm for today when the Emmaus Road account recalls Jesus' founding meal of Bread and Cup on Maundy Thursday, when we also sing and hear Psalm 116.

Like passover, Emmaus Road from Luke's gospel is an account "along the way," going from one place to another, A Word on the Street. Word on the street can mean buzztalk, rumors, news bulletins, update from financial markets such as Wall Street, a.k.a. "The Street". In any case, not at your destination but not where you started out.

We had a long discussion of how wonderful that Jesus visits everyone, not only the high and mighty and famous; we talked about our inward-looking and grieving selves that often don't notice or read the signs and clues of God's presence in our midst. I emphasized again that though we refer to Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, always has flesh and bones, always is enfleshed, embodied, incarnate. In addition, though we think we know the rest of the story because of our prior experiences of rebirth and resurrection and from our acquaintance with the witness of Old and New Testaments, new life always surprises us, because each time is different an we're never ever ready. I mentioned restored riparian habitats and how the forest revives after a wildfire, both very local concerns. Again, how the new creation never is pristine, but always bears evidence and scars of its prior state, frequently of its death.

When we celebrate Holy Communion / Lord's Supper every week, just as in the passover, part of our eucharistic prayer ("Thanksgiving at the Table" in our printed worship folder) includes a remembering or anamnesis that tells the story of salvation, ideally starting with creation and concluding with the eschaton, the future ultimate time of the reconciliation of all creation. This remembering place us vertically and horizontally within the history of God's people in every place and every time. As in the passover, we participate in "eating history" when we replicate Jesus' taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread and fruit of the vine. Note: anamnesis for Easter 3 was four short lines! As Paul/ Saul of Tarsus tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, when we celebrate eucharist we proclaim, we announce, Jesus' death and resurrection. We eat history and we also anticipate the eschaton, the full realization of Jesus' reign.

Just as every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, next week we'll enjoy Good Shepherd Sunday; stay tuned!