Monday, April 30, 2018

Easter 5B

John 15:1-8

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Abiding and obeying!

Today is the 29th day of Easter! Easter is 50 days!

This is very shorthand, but also broadly accurate.

The gospel account we have from the community gathered around the beloved disciple John 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.

With its emphasis on God's ongoing presence and on the commandments, especially encapsulated with the charge to love, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics and in the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles. It emphasizes abiding and obeying; more than once John has been called the gospel of abiding presence.

The Revised Common Lectionary that provides our weekly scripture readings emphasizes in turn the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Every year it intersperses sections of John, but with Mark being shorter than Matthew or Luke, we get more John during Mark's [current] year B than during Matthew's year A, or Luke year C.

Today is the 29the day of Easter, so we still can wish people "Happy Easter," yet as the church's year of grace eases into the Season of Pentecost, "Time of the Church," this scripture passage is from Jesus' farewell discourse on Maundy Thursday, after he washed the disciples' feet, before his death and resurrection.

Today we hear one of Jesus' I am declarations in which he places himself in the tradition of the Old Testament declarations from YHWH as I Am, as pure being. unmediated presence. Jesus lived and served in an agricultural, somewhat agrarian setting, so he used many images and parallels to farming practices in his talks and conversations. Today? Grapevines! Most Californians get the vineyard / grape / harvest concept. In addition, grape vines are one of the seven forms of produce God promises the people will find in the promised land. We find that people of God as branches of the vine in the Old Testament scriptures, too.

In this trinitarian passage, Jesus brings us God the Father as vine planter and grower, Jesus the Son as the vine itself, the people of God in the power of the Holy Spirit as branches of the vine, Jesus charges us to abide in him in order to bear fruit. How do we abide? By obeying, by keeping the commandments, especially the commandment to love God, neighbor, and self.

Do we always abide in Jesus, or do we sometimes abide in church traditions, practices, customs, habits? That can be a tough discernment, because as people of history and people with histories, we need to stay connected and in continuity with our own individual pasts, with the histories and practices of the communities and groups we belong to.

But what do we make most important? For a major example, Jesus commanded us to take, bless, break, and give bread, bless and share the cup of the fruit of the vine(!), and baptize. But do we insist on a particular type of bread, brand of wine or grape juice? Does the baptismal venue need to be the same every time?

For other instances, can the format for typing out minutes from a meeting vary? What about flower varieties at Easter? Some churches no longer use lilies because of human allergies and because of toxicity to pets that can be a major problem if people take their lilies home with them after services. Does Strawberry Festival always need to be on the Second Sunday in June? Etc.

We briefly discussed how the lectionary pairs this vine and branches reflection with Acts 8:26-40 account of Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch, water, and baptism. I mentioned the importance of the question, "what is to prevent," and also remarked that two millennia later, we'd have concerns about suddenly popping up with what appears to be an unauthorized sacrament. Pastor Peg observed that for us as branches of Jesus the Vine, as we abide in our baptisms, the Holy Spirit gives us water and other necessary nutrients. She observed how different trees (other plants, too), take in water in different ways.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Earth Day 2018

Romans 8:19-21

Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God … in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For Sunday School / Adult Forum on Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday – we went off-lectionary because it was Earth Day 48! Our focus scripture was from Romans 8 that many times I've interpreted as when we claim the fullness of our divine nature and image, we'll steward creation more carefully and help restore, revitalize, and resurrect aspects of creation that are less than fully alive.

I'd asked everyone to bring an earth-related idea, dream, incident, or experience. For my contribution, I arranged a separate edition smaller (than my bigger) notebook portfolio with only Earth Day and Season of Creation-related design and briefly explained each piece in a show and tell presentation. You can see versions of most of them on my main theology blog: Earth Day Art and Design.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Easter 3B

Luke 24:36b-48

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [and of a honeycomb] 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 times 7. The third Sunday of Easter is the fifteenth day of the fifty days of Easter! The day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter.

Over the past few months we've experienced and discussed the examples, actions, instructions, and counsel Jesus gave his followers during his earthly ministry. But during the forty days (more or less) after his resurrection he needed to show them more; they still needed to learn how to be, to act, to serve, to be Jesus' crucified and risen presence. So for those approximately forty days he again walked the earth in a fully human body that showed scars from his crucifixion, in a similar way to how we serve and act as Jesus' presence on earth. Remember, we've been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection; in baptism we've already received our first death and second birth.

Today's reading from (almost) the end of Luke's gospel again demonstrates Jesus' full humanity with the restoration of his physical body, though clearly it now has another dimension—we have accounts of Jesus' suddenly simply appearing in ways that weren't possible before his death and resurrection. Among other things, today's reading includes Jesus' second Last Supper. Most English bibles translate verse 43 to say Jesus took the fish and ate it in their presence, but more recent scholarship says they all ate the fish together. This sums up well Luke's emphasis on table fellowship throughout his gospel; people have observed Jesus always seems to be going to a meal, feasting at a meal, or coming from a meal in Luke!

This year's lectionary doesn't include the Emmaus Road account from immediately before this in Luke, but there and in today's lection Jesus again interprets scripture. As Christians, we read all scripture (both Hebrew Bible /Old Testament and New Covenant /New Testament) through the lens of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Although it's not an ultra-major concern, Luke's ongoing emphasis and this reading's confirmation of Jesus' full humanity helps negate heresies of gnosticism (over-emphasizing the spiritual) and docetism (Jesus only appeared human).

As this year of grace continues through seasons of Easter and Pentecost, we'll hear many stories of resurrection, healing, and restoration. We can remember the risen Christ carried scars and evidence of the death he'd experienced. God gives us the Spirit of Resurrection as we continue our ministry as the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Not only do we ourselves as individuals (and as a community, too) already have quite a few scars; God particularly will call and enable us to help heal the earth. We've already discovered rivers, canyons, prairies, cities, and other aspects of natural and built environments can be revived and revitalized, but like Jesus and like us, they still will bear scars and other evidence of their pasts.

Next Sunday we'll be going off-lectionary to celebrate Earth Day 2018—the 48th, so two years from now will make fifty years of Earth Days! Let's all bring a story, a picture, a hope, or a dream related to Earth, its waterways, or critters, the sky, any aspect of creation. Every year I design for Earth Day, so I'm planning a presentation of my art and design for the past dozen earth days.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Easter 2B

Acts 4:32-35

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The second Sunday of Easter concludes Bright Week. For a long time the church has celebrated especially important festivals in octaves of eight days—same as an 8-note octave in music.

Easter is 50 Days – 7 x 7, a week of weeks. The Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter.

Every year on Easter 2, we hear the account of Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on Easter evening from John 20:19-31.

Although Jesus taught, demonstrated God's presence, and provided other evidence of the Reign of Heaven (Kingdom of God, sovereignty of God, etc.) during his earthly ministry, he still needed to show and teach and tell his followers more, because during that first part of his earthly ministry he hadn't yet been killed by imperial forces and raised from the dead. The approximately forty days between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension are especially important for us because Jesus calls and in the power of the HS enables us to be his crucified and risen presence in the world after his ascension. Jesus doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't already done!

We need to keep in mind that we have written scriptures that include the four canonical gospels. However, those books within the big book of the bible didn't get written down until decades after Jesus, so his disciples' scriptures still were what we refer to as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. People were in process of writing down stories and accounts of Jesus' ministry. The communities and individuals that brought us the four gospels drew upon scrolls or sources in compiling their accounts. Those writings partly came from the dynamic, fluid, oral tradition with its narratives that typically changed and morphed some in order to fit a particular context. Rather than being the kind of rote recitation we aim for when we memorize poetry (or a passage of scripture!) everyone told, retold, interpreted, literally incarnated and embodied Jesus in and for particular communities, times, and places.

Acts 1

6When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

The Revised Common Lectionary that gives us our scripture readings assigns portions of the Acts of the Apostles during these Sundays of Easter, showing the style and substance of the post-resurrection, post-pentecost church. The approximately forty days between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension are especially important for us because Jesus calls and in the power of the HS enables us to be his crucified and risen presence in the world after his ascension. Jesus doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't already done!