Monday, December 23, 2019

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Three weeks ago the church greeted a new year of grace that's wide and high and inclusive. Today is the Fourth Sunday of the season of Advent—almost Christmas, the supreme festival of creation. From Latin words ad = to or toward or in the direction of AND venire = come, Advent looks toward the coming of God in our midst in Jesus of Nazareth, the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Our gospel readings this year mostly will be from Matthew, so we refer to this as Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year A, Matthew's year.

Although today I mostly want to go "off-lectionary" and discuss more of our individual Nativity practices, treats, food, preferences, music, and memories, to round out Isaiah in Advent, we'll read the First Lection.

The First Readings (OT) for all four Advent Sundays in Matthew's year are from the first part of the book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 often referred to as First Isaiah, though the material in them comes from at least two different writers. We've described the frightening and precarious overall political, social, religious, and economic situation Isaiah of Jerusalem addressed. Long ago, the church identified...

14"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."

...as a Messianic text that anticipated the arrival of Emmanuel, Jesus, God-With-Us on earth. The librettist for Handel's Messiah chose this as one of his texts, as well, but Isaiah definitely did not have Christmas in mind. Most likely it's about his own soon to be born offspring. When we read scripture, out first question needs to be the historical when, where, who, why, what. But we also know scripture is a living perennial word! Every single verse in the entire bible won't apply to our here and now, but still we can ask about contextualizing (making alive in our current situation) God's Word into our own current when, where, who, why, and what.

More of our individual Nativity practices, treats, food, preferences, music, and memories. We talked about blue, the color of hope, as the main liturgical color for Advent, though churches that don't have blue paraments or vestments are welcome to continue using the more penitential purple we use during the more formally penitential season of Lent.

It's not exclusively or uniquely my opinion, but with Christmas being the church's major Trinitarian Festival of Creation (Easter of Redemption, Pentecost of Sanctification), gifts of food are especially appropriate for Christmas. Last week Charles described a fruitcake recipe he loves (some of the rest of us like fruitcake, too, but please make mine mostly cake with very little candied fruit). Not uniquely my opinion about gifts of food and homemade delicacies, because why else would home-baked cookies or a commercial close approximation be so popular this time of year? Food as gift also gives the recipient permission to indulge in unneeded calories. We talked about the ethnic Swedish delicacy lutefisk and again I forgot to mention Glögg.

We got a long playlist of secular and religious Christmas songs that included Silent Night, White Christmas, and one Steve heard only recently and instantly loved. Not quite specifically Christmas, but Phillip Phillip's Home...

The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home

...always moves me. Most likely I associate it with Christmas because the first time I heard it was at a Blue Christmas service in Previous City.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
      the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
      and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
      the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
      the majesty of our God.

3Strengthen the weak hands,
      and make firm the feeble knees.
4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
      "Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
      He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
      He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
      and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then the lame shall leap like a deer,
      and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
      and streams in the desert;
7the burning sand shall become a pool,
      and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
      the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8A highway shall be there,
      and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
      but it shall be for God's people;
      no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9No lion shall be there,
      nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
      but the redeemed shall walk there.

10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
      and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
      they shall obtain joy and gladness,
      and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Gaudete! Rejoice! And don't stop rejoicing!

Gaudete, Latin for "rejoice," is a traditional name for the third Sunday of Advent. We've discussed the blue of hope being the new color for Advent. When churches have them, rose vestments and paraments are a tradition that replaces blue for the third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Both those Sundays feature scripture readings with a slightly more upbeat mood than the other Sundays of those seasons.

Two weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, the church began a New Year of grace. We've talked about signs, symbols, and colors that point to meanings beyond the apparent surface. Just as we can read a label or sign or poster that tells about a product or a location or an event (but that isn't the product, event, or place itself), we can interpret colors and symbols. Although we still need to heed John the Baptist's call to repent, to turn around in a direction different from where we've been going to get ready for God in our midst, more than anything, Advent is a time of hope-filled expectant waiting for Jesus' arrival in our midst. Is waiting for something not extremely counter-cultural in a world that wants everything yesterday? Surprise that I didn't say it on Sunday, but in Spanish esperar and its cognates have all three meanings of wait, expect, hope.

For this third Sunday of Advent we continue Old Testament/Hebrew Bible readings from the first part of the long book of Isaiah. We sometimes refer to the primary author of this first section that comprises chapters 1 through 39 as Isaiah of Jerusalem, though style and content indicate at least one additional author. As we observed last week, these inspired words came into the southern kingdom at a time of political, economic, and cultural violence and uncertainty. Against God's constant counsel "do not fear," everyone had plenty of reasons to be frightened. Like last week's Isaiah 11:1-9, this week we receive pure promise, sheer proclamation of grace, mercy, healing, and a shalom-filled future. This announcement is gospel. It is good news!

Like last week's scripture, today's word of life reveals the previousness of God—the truth that God always goes before us before leading us there, the fact God always waits for us (just as we imagine waiting for God to show up during Advent).

Water Is Life!

As the global north moves closer and closer to winter solstice with its longest night and shortest day, Isaiah's visions of water in the wilderness, abundant blooms in the desert, tell us in spite of surface evidence, God heals, redeems, and restores all creation—not solely human creatures. Not long ago Southern California experienced a relatively rare spring super bloom that happened because drought of historical proportions and rain of historical proportions converged.

Living in a fire zone, we know some seeds need to be seared by fire in order to bloom. We've seen in person – or at least in pictures – verdant (I still think verdant means green?) new life sprouting across the expanse of a burn scar. Some flower bulbs cannot bloom until they've first experienced winter. Especially in colder environments where people may have a chilly outbuilding or basement, it's possible to force bloom flower bulbs including daffodils, amaryllis, jonquils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, iris, narcissus. Those bulbs contain everything necessary for new life within them! That is, they contain almost all the essentials for new life. Everything except winter. Humans create winter for them, so then they can burst into life and flower.

These creation-centered texts are about the natural creation itself, and also form a metaphor for the course of our human lives with its spiritual, physical, social, and intellectual growth. In addition, we can look at them as "signs" that point beyond their apparent surface for parallels in the built environment: houses, office buildings, shopping malls, all constructed to current earthquake and fire codes; well-maintained streets, roads, airports that lead from one place to another, that carry vehicles and permit exchange between parties; waterways that need care in order to serve the greater good. In other words, we can read these texts and most of scripture on comprehensive spiritual, social, and structural levels.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-9

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
      and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
      the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
      the spirit of counsel and might,
      the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
      or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
      and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
      and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
      and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb,
      the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
      and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
      their young shall lie down together;
      and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
      and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9They will not hurt or destroy
      on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
      as the waters cover the sea.

The second Sunday of Advent! Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we began a New Year of Grace. People who enjoy that type of detail will appreciate knowing Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day that always falls on November 30. Advent comes from the Latin ad-(toward, in the direction of) and venire (coming, arrival). We anticipate, we hope for and trust God for Jesus' arrival in our midst.

Except during the great fifty days of Easter, gospel readings during this new year of grace are from Matthew; last week I did a short overview of Matthew's style and content—we'll be hearing lots more! During Matthew's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year A, all of the first readings during the Sundays of Advent are from Isaiah.

Last week we discussed signs, symbols, and colors. Back in the olden days of two or three decades ago, the liturgical color for Advent was purple, the color of royalty and of penitence. Although there's definitely a strong advent emphasis on turning around into the direction of God's gracious leading—after all, the gospel reading on this second advent Sunday traditionally is Jesus' cousin John the Baptist telling everyone the time for God's arrival is now, and therefore now is the time to repent. However, hope has become an even greater advent accent, with blue paraments, vestments, and sanctuary appointments. Churches that don't have blue continue using purple or violet. Rose or dusty pink is usual on the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy or Gaudete / rejoice in Latin.

In our conversation about colors and symbols, we heard about some class favorites (Barbara always has red advent wreath candles), and realized though here at church we're using one of the common name series for each advent wreath candles – Hope / Peace / Joy / Love – there are other possibilities. Angels, John the Baptist, Mary, Shepherds also are a popular group.

During this Advent 2019, all of the first readings are from Isaiah. With today being Lessons & Carols, we're hearing a lot of scripture. Here in Sunday School, we'll look at Isaiah 11:1-9 the lectionary formally assigns for Advent 2. Speaking of and hearing about (touching, smelling, tasting, too) signs and symbols, notice creation is central with earth sprouting new growth, animals behaving in uncharacteristic ways. The entire witness of scripture consistently interlinks natural, political, economic, and social endeavors in the fractured world of the first creation, in the transformed world of the new creation.

Although eventually we need to contextualize it for our current place and time, when we read scripture we first ask about the original setting. Isaiah of Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as First Isaiah, or the person who wrote down most of the words of Isaiah chapters 1 through 39) lived in uncertain, scary times, with mighty Assyria looming nearby, but notice how this entire reading proclaims, announces, promises grace, newness, healing, gospel. Yes, we must repent, we must obey, but what a gift first to hear and trust it won't always be like this, we will know the fullness of shalom, and it mostly will come about by God's action, intervention, and presence.

Since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth the church has claimed some of the book of Isaiah and words of other Hebrew Bible prophets as Messianic, meaning they point to and easily can be interpreted in a Christological manner. "Jesse" in Isaiah 11:1 refers to King David's father Jesse; in the genealogy that opens his gospel, Matthew lists Jesse and David as ancestors of Jesus.

We've all loved the amazement of a green sprig or sprout growing out of what looks like a truly dead tree stump. There's actual life there? Most people who've been city dwellers have noticed verdant (I think that means green?) life pushing its way through streets and sidewalks, sometimes into an existing crack, sometimes even making a way for itself by itself and actually rupturing baked earth or cured concrete.

Related to this as a messianic text, Isaiah 11:4b "...he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked" (easily!) can be interpreted as the Word of God that creates, redeems, and sanctifies, the word that is incarnate, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. The title of one of Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann's books is The Word that Redescribes the World—draws it over, gives it a makeover, re-creates creation, and redeems it.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:2-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2In days to come
      the mountain of the Lord's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
      and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
      3Many peoples shall come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
      to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
      and that we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
      and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
      and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
      neither shall they learn war any more.
5O house of Jacob, come,
      let us walk in the light of the Lord!

The first Sunday of advent opens wide a new year of grace.

The first advent, ad-venire, coming, or arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome. During this Advent 2019 we anticipate the infant Jesus' arrival into occupied territory—occupied by... consumerism? military? Wall Street/the DOW and the NASDAQ? social media? religion of excessive sports?

This new year does not begin with scriptural creation accounts! All three lectionary new years open with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it. Apocalyptic is a revealing, uncovering, with signs and wonders in the natural world, creation. Not all that different from an epiphany! Today's apocalypse is a strangely interesting parable from Matthew 24. All of this lectionary year A features the Gospel according to Matthew for most of the gospel readings.

Blue, the color of hope, is the contemporary liturgical color for advent. Advent is a season of hope, and a time of repentance in the face of God's loving, mercy-filled judgment. Churches that don't have blue paraments still can use purple that's now mostly for the more intentionally penitential season of Lent that leads to the great fifty days of Easter. As Pastor Peg pointed out, in many ways Advent through Epiphany (ending with Transfiguration) is one long season of light.

During Matthew's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year A, the first readings for all four Sundays of Advent are from 1st Isaiah, Isaiah of Jerusalem, "the pre-exilic Isaiah," though all of chapters 1 through 39 are not from the same author.

8th century contemporaries Isaiah of Jerusalem (2:2-4, today's reading) and Micah 4:1-3 both include this passage.

All three Isaiah prophets bring us a wide world view with universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Paradox in this passage is Zion was not the highest mountain, "the nations" were not caravanning to Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Also, God's people were not unique in considering their capital city the center of the world.

Isaiah 2:1"The word Isaiah ... saw." A visible word! Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action. Visible words? How about us? Sacraments, visions, dreams, paintings... advertising art!

Isaiah 2:3 "God of Jacob" – Genesis 28:13-15, Jacob's dream, Jacob's ladder: land, offspring, God's constant, abiding presence, homecoming.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

RCL Year A • Matthew

Matthew: Revised Common Lectionary Year A

Happy New Year!


Every year on the first Sunday of Advent the church begins a new year of grace; gospel scriptures for this year are mostly from Matthew.

Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus with a similar perspective, despite each one having a markedly different personality.

• syn=together, as in synthesis, synod, synagogue, synopsis, synergy, synonym, syntax

• optic=related to eyes or vision, as in optician, optical, optometrist, optimistic, optimum

I often refer to the gospel according to John that almost didn't make the canonical cut as the "outlier, rogue" gospel. Because Mark is so short, during his lectionary Year B we get a lot John interspersed. During the great 50 days of Easter, all three lectionary years feature John's gospel.

Date

circa 80 - 90

Author

No indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but for discussion purposes we can assume followers of the apostle and tax collector Matthew similar to the way we consider the gospel according to John authored by the community that surrounded John the beloved disciple.

Sources

Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke both contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Scholars still speculate there might have been a no longer extant written collection of Jesus' sayings, sometimes referred to as "Q", from the first word of the German Quelle—river or source. Matthew's community may have had a third written "M" source.

Language

Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke. Not really certain.

Opening

Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos – Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Setting

Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch in Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch's now part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.

World View – Content

• Salvation (integrity, wholeness, shalom) for all the world, for everyone everywhere

• Matthew never ever lets up on justice and righteousness.

• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God

• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions

• New Abraham, New David

Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, in whom all nations would be blessed. Matthew's Jesus is Son of Abraham, whose deep mercy and love bless all people everywhere. Matthew's Jesus is Son of David, not a temporary, short-term monarch like the old David, but this new David reigns forever, for all eternity, his love including and embracing all creation.

• Angel's visit to Jesus' stepfather Joseph; Joseph's dream to flee to Egypt. (Luke tells us more about Mary.)

• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany – ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world. Scripture does not say how many kings there were, but tradition has it at three because the text lists three gifts.

• New Moses

Flight into Egypt – Jesus as refugee
New Exodus with Jesus as freedom-giver, liberator
Five discourses that parallel the Torah/Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses. The gospel as a new Torah. Sermon on the Mount explicates existing ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses at Mount Sinai

• As with Luke, some parables are unique to Matthew:
• weeds among the tares of wheat
• the treasure
• the pearl
• the net
• the unforgiving servant
• the laborers in the vineyard
• the two sons
• the ten virgins
The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia," and brings us some ecclesiology related to church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiastical is the word about the church.

Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Great Commission – Gospel/Good News for the world

Friday, November 29, 2019

Reign of Christ • Christ the King 2019

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Although Colossians is one of the epistles attributed to Paul of Tarsus, vocabulary, sentence structure, syntax, and overall style indicate he almost definitely didn't write it. Using someone else's name was common, legitimate practice back then, and wouldn't get you in trouble with the law or with the person whose name you used. It was a compliment to the person, and (as Pastor Peg has mentioned more than once) you were more likely to get your writing read if people thought someone well-known wrote it.

Every year the church's year of grace concludes by acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord of all. This first chapter of the letter to the Church at Colossae brings us the pre-existent cosmic Christ who created everything, who was firstborn from the dead, who reigns over all creation. The Gospel according to John, the fourth canonical gospel, also has the pre-existent Christ: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God."

This is the last Sunday of Luke's lectionary year. We've seen how Luke's story of Jesus particularly emphasizes women and other marginalized people, table fellowship, history, prayer, activity of the Holy Spirit. Like Jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also come up frequently in Luke's lectionary year, Luke's Jesus is about the other than us, the neighbor, neighborology. Of course, to everyone outside of us, we are the other, we are their neighbor.

As we hear about and affirm the glorious rule of the Cosmic Christ, we also need to remember how Martin Luther reminds us that in order to see the fullness of God's power, sovereignty, and lordship, look to the Bethlehem manger. Look to the Calvary cross. God's ways are so very different from human imaginings of power, glory, fame.

Last week I quoted from Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, Ahmal and the Night Visitors:
The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom...
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pentecost 22C

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

34Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

38Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem: to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have a passage similar to this, which means sit up, take notice, and ask why!

We know God as light, love, and life. God has nothing to do with death, nothing about God concerns death. In many ways we can't even contrast God with death, because death and God don't belong in the same sentence or the same thought.

Sadducees were the religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection. Rather than affirming all the [Hebrew] scriptures, their bible was only the Pentateuch or Torah, the "Five Books of Moses" that don't explicitly reference resurrection. The Sadducees assumed that with Moses and God being such good friends, God would have informed Moses if resurrection from death existed. Quite a few of our readings have included Pharisees, another group of religious leaders who were ultra-legalistic and added extra commandments and requirements, though for the good reason they wanted to lead perfect lives and please God. Pharisees did believe in resurrection! The easy way to remember which group was which is to realize the Sadducees didn't affirm resurrection, so they were "sad-you-see."

Today's text: like most humans, the Sadducees who interacted with Jesus had a lot of anxieties about death and about continuing a presence and influence in the world after they died. Sadducees believed death of the human body meant total annihilation of everything that individual had been. In their minds, the only way to keep on "living" was to have kids (posterity, offspring, descendants) who'd keep the family name going and keep doing good in the community. With their preoccupation about death, they teased Jesus' theological sensibilities with a question about seven serial spouses.

Jesus explains God has nothing to do with death; everything about God is deathless, everything about God relates to life. Jesus tells his interlocutors that to God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who in human terms died a long time before Moses) still are alive, never had been dead—though as Pastor Peg pointed out, in human terms, physical, biological death still affects us, death is a human reality. Although we humans consider anyone who has died as not alive (true in basic human terms), to God there is no death. God has zero to do with death, so we can trust in life. Resurrection isn't a free-floating, spiritual, disembodied presence; as we confess in the creeds, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." Jesus' friends recognized him in his post-resurrection appearances! His hands carried the scars of crucifixion, but he was totally healed and whole, still the same person, which will be our experience, as well.

The Sadducees' seven serial spouses? For them, marrying and having kids related to their anxieties about overcoming death. In the reign of God, people get married or otherwise form a lifelong public commitment; they often have offspring because it's a way to celebrate life that comes from God and continues forever in God.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Reformation 2019

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major – "wear red" – festival of the Holy Spirit. Two years ago we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming—a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church in the sense of speaking the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity (that's so very other than business as usual, other than status quo) with vocabulary and symbols everyday regular people understand.

Instead of different scriptures for each lectionary year, every year Reformation repeats the same four readings. Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation.

God's covenants or agreements with humanity and with all creation are a prominent feature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and continue into the New Testament / New Covenant scriptures with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from co-venire, coming together, and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East. Old Testament covenants include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David... creation itself was an act of covenant. Last spring on Lent 4 we specifically talked about covenants.

A new anything implies an old one, but this is more a new location than it is a new agreement. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions we consider it in the contemporary, post-enlightenment global west. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart goes beyond will or intention to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment, etc. (and also emotion). Jeremiah announces a covenantal word about the neighbor. This new proclamation of God's eternal covenanting relates to creating and sustaining community by following the guidelines God gave the people with the commandments; it will become natural and almost instinctive because it will embodied as part of everyone's being.

The people received the commandments as words of grace in the wilderness on their way to settling in the promised land—not when they reached their destination. The commandments shape the people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering each other's needs, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is the ultimate ruler, yet the commandments allow us to live as self-governing people. Maybe particularly with this being Luke's lectionary year that includes a fair amount from Jeremiah, we can view this new covenantal location as an opportunity for neighborology. After all, this newness supremely is about the neighbor, about creating and sustaining community by observing the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai covenant.

This new covenant location is an incarnate, enfleshed one. We discussed the role of our hearts in our bodies. Everyone realized when your heart stops beating you're dead. Among other aspects of hearts, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other and to our neighbors!

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the Sinai covenant of the ten commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the reverse of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets our wrongdoings.

Luke 22:20 Jesus – "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." This probably was the third cup, the cup of blessing or redemption after the Seder meal. It evoked or re-membered the rescue from Egypt and also referred to Isaiah 53:12 with the servant whose life is poured out.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pentecost 19C

Genesis 32:22-31

22The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives Leah and Rachel, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking."

But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 27So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 29Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?"

And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

For today's first reading we're in Genesis, the first book of the bible that means origins or beginnings. As the commentaries warned – and as I cautioned – this story contains a lot of ambiguity and it definitely lacks clarity; despite its wide openness to interpretation, don't try to wrap it up too tightly. This Jacob account is about identity, theophany, and incarnation.

Identity

When we study the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, we often consider the main identity-formation events for God's people as:

• the liberation account of the 40 years God's people spent in the exodus desert on their way to the promised land as they radically trusted God's provision and

• the freedom in obedience God's gift of the Ten Commandments or Words from Mount Sinai.

Theophany

Theo refers to God, phan is showing, manifesting, revealing, so a theophany is a revelation of God. Earlier this year we had theophanies at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration. Those specifically revealed God as triune, a three-in-one trinity = tri-unity.

This passage includes Hebrew words ending with "el" that indicate a god or divinity.

Incarnation

Christianity is about God's incarnation (embodiment, enfleshment) in Jesus of Nazareth. In this Genesis scripture, the Hebrew word for the person Jacob wrestles with is "man" — a human.



Context: in high anxiety, literal fear and trembling, Jacob is on the way to meet up with Esau, maybe even reconcile with him. Jacob is not traveling light! His entourage includes his spouses and kids; he is bringing dozens of animals as gifts for Esau. This happens after his famous "Jacob's ladder dream" that leads to his naming a place or location—Bethel, or house (beth) of God (el).

Jacob has crept away from his retinue off to a quiet place by himself, beside the Jabbok (note how j-b-k echo the letters in Jacob's name), a stream or tributary of the Jordan River. Night falls (the sky gets dark), and somehow Jacob and a stranger encounter each other in an actual physical and verbal battle.

In the cultures of the bible, names described people and places to a far greater extent than they do for us today. Barbara reminded us how (among other devious events) Jacob stole his older fraternal twin Esau's birthright. The ongoing Genesis narrative reveals(!) a lot about Jacob, whose name can mean trickster, conniver, supplanter.

32:27 the stranger asks Jacob's name ... 32:28 and then renames him. First part of "Isra" has several possible meanings that include strive, contend, fight; the "el" ending is about God. Not only the NT with Jesus but also places in the OT bring us God incarnate, enfleshed, embodied. Jacob recognized the stranger as God, and named that place with the "el" suffix.

Here we have a type of death and resurrection with Jacob shedding his old name, assuming a new one.

Until the homecoming from Babylonian exile when they became Jews, God's people claimed the name Israel as those who trusted God so, who lived so intimately intertwined with the God of heaven and earth, they fully lived into the name as they dared battle, contend with, challenge, fight with God.

As Pastor Peg pointed out, Jacob didn't suddenly become the ultimate good guy! From the start, his entire story was vital in God's dealings with the nation of Israel, and shows how God *even* uses us with our imperfections and our frequent three steps forward, two steps backward attitudes and behaviors.

Read ahead to Genesis 33 and find out what happens what Jacob/Israel and Esau meet each other again! It's a really good one!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Pentecost 18C

2 Timothy 2:8-15

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 14Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

We started with a very short version...

...of my intro to the pastoral epistles and the Timothy letters from three years ago, 2016.

The two Timothy letters and the epistle to Titus sometimes are called the Pastoral Epistles. [side note: "pastoral" means rural.] The apostle Paul definitely did not write them. 1 and 2 Timothy contain vocabulary and syntax Paul never used; some of the words are in no other NT document.

Authorship and literary conventions were very different in the first and second centuries, without our well-developed and very legally-tinged concepts of copyright, intellectual property, and reuse rights. What we'd call "false attribution" was no big deal back then; it could be a compliment to a colleague, classmate, or teacher; it simply could indicate the author's attempt to continue writing in the style of the person cited as author; it could lead to wider readership if people thought someone famous was the author. The person who pulled together these letters – probably around the start of the second century – wrote them as Paul's final summary discourse with reflections and advice: "Concluding Unscientific Postscript."

The pastoral letters emphasize emerging church structure and organization, "ecclesiology," =the word about the church. As soon as you have many people with similar goals and purposes you need organization. We find requirements for bishops/overseers, deacons, widows—"Church Ladies". We read about laying on of hands, which would be ordination, commissioning, consecration of people called to public, vocational ministry. The Timothy letters refer to immortality—a Greek or Hellenistic concept that implies lack of death. Resurrection from the dead is the biblical reality; you need to die in order to be resurrected!

Content

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the Dead—for the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection. Though Paul didn't compose this letter, it bears some marks of his theology and this is a strong one.

2:9b But the word of God is not chained. This may have been a prison or captivity letter as we find in Paul's Philippians letter, later on from Martin Luther at Wartburg Castle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and many less-renowned individuals, thus the "chain" reference. God's word is not in handcuffs and shackles, not in a county jail cell or in a federal prison. The written word and Jesus Christ the incarnate Word are not captive to geography or culture or nation (thus no national flag in the worship area), not limited by any time or any place; they are wired for every time and every place. God's word is free-range, has no boundaries or borders.

However, we get to interpret/conceptualize and contextualize the word for this place, this time, and especially for where our neighbors and newcomers to church find themselves. The NRSV Bible we generally use is a revision of the RSV where this verse says, "The word of God is not fettered." So poetic!

2:11-13 probably is a hymn already known to the recipients of the letter, similar to the hymn inserted into Philippians that tells us Christ Jesus did not count equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant....

Where We Live

"Wrangling over words!" The written word can be a bit ambiguous? The spoken word, as well? So God gave us the incarnate word, and continues giving the world an incarnate, enfleshed, living word through us, those baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Each of us walks, prays, and talks through responses to our neighbors in this very ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood. People from all types of backgrounds come to church, join us, often choose to be baptized. We need to be adept at contextualizing, enculturating, translating into their vernacular.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Blessing of the Animals 2019

Job 38:1-11; 16-18

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

2"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

8"Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?

16"Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this."

Blessing of the Animals / Integrity of All Creation

Every year many churches and a few other organizations celebrate a Blessing of the Animals on St Francis of Assisi day on 06 October, or on a Saturday or Sunday near the 6th.

Just as for previous years, instead of beginning with background for the day and appointed scripture text, I suggested everyone say a little about connections with non-human aspects of creation that especially interested them. Not surprisingly, most of it was about Pets Everyone Has Loved.

Job resides in the Writings section of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible; in terms of origins, it's probably the oldest book of the bible and most likely circulated widely for a very long time in the dynamic oral tradition before getting written down—and even later on, finally edited into its current form. Final compilation may have even as late as during the Babylonian exile or even later after a remnant returned to Jerusalem and started to rebuild community, religion, and life in general. Job is one of the main books cited for answers to why bad things happen to good people. In the end, God's response to Job turns out to be God is God and we're not.

Today's second reading from Job is one of at least four biblical creation accounts that include Genesis 1 (that we also read), Genesis 2, and Psalm 104. Steve W. received a Lutheran Study Bible when he formally joined the church, and we often have him read its commentary on our current reading, but in Steve's absence Pastor Peg read the LSB's notes that pointed out how this creation account is more playful and casual than any of the others. How fitting for a day when critters come to church!

Friday, October 04, 2019

Michaelmas 2019

Luke 10:17-20

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

The context for this very short passage:

Jesus has given instructions for proclaiming the reign of heaven, Kingdom of God on earth. He wisely advises everyone to travel in pairs (just as everyone now has been insisting kids always do on their way to and from school, or going anywhere); Jesus tells them to announce the presence of the Realm of Shalom to all they encounter. They need to accept the hospitality and act as guests of households they visit. Eat whatever people give you! "You are what you eat" – "we are what we eat" – we are our hosts. They and we are one.

Eating "whatever" would have been a major problem for people with religious dietary laws; in Luke Volume 2, his Acts of the Apostles, we read a fame account of God declaring all food that's a gift of creation good:

Acts 10

9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
14"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Luke 10:17 – the number 70 combines 7 – the number of perfection and 10 – the number of completion in Hebrew numerology

Luke 10:18 "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning." Jesus declares Satan, the powers of evil, the devil, oppressive imperial structures, ecological degradation, (insert long list here),everything that hinders life no longer has power, authority, staying power, or sovereignty. Jesus holds all power and authority with no checks or balances.

Although we need to live – and work – without fear as God's hands, feet, voices, minds, imaginations, we can trust God already has been at work in the world before God leads us to a particular situation—God has been to our future! That's sometimes called the previousness of God.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pentecost 15C

Amos 8:4-6, 11

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."

11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Today we're considering a reading from the prophet Amos. We find Amos in the Book of the Twelve [prophets] sometimes called the Minor Prophets, but they're minor only in length, definitely not in impact and import. Along the lectionary way we've heard readings from former prophets that include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Amos probably is the earliest of the writing prophets. He lived and prophesied during the eighth century, not long before 1st Isaiah [1-39], Hosea, and Micah, all of whom generally come under the "eighth century prophet" category. I tend to say words like probably, maybe, possibly, most likely a lot, because we're constantly discovering more about the historical and cultural background of the scriptures.

Especially when we recently discussed the major prophet Jeremiah, we talked about the classic prophetic stance of speaking truth to power, words against the establishment, unsettling the status quo. A prophet announces God's expectations of justice, righteousness, mercy, and love, particularly toward marginalized people such as widows, orphans, immigrants, and chronically ill who are far from self-sufficient. The late Robert Farrar Capon used a memorable list of the "last, least, little, lost." Pro-pheteia literally means against the king or ruler. Like Jeremiah, Amos fits that expectation extremely well.

Although Amos lived in Judah, the southern Kingdom, God sent him to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel (Jacob, Samaria), where people worshiped at shrines of the tribal confederacies (Amos mentions Gilgal and Bethel) rather than the Jerusalem Temple that was central to the south.

By trade or profession, Amos was an urban forester, a vine-dresser, who tended sycamore (and likely other varieties of) trees. The sycamore was the national tree of Israel! Amos tells us he is not a professional prophet, which may seem a strange to us, but in sections of the OT you'll find guilds or groups of prophets for God's people and for neighboring religions, just as there also are professional priests. Notably, Amos brings us (what's probably, ha ha) the very earliest articulation of monotheism in scripture.

• In Amos 5:24 we find "Let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream," made ultra-famous by MLK.

• Amos 7:7 "...the Lord stood by a wall built true to plumb, with a plumbline in his hand," is another especially memorable image from Amos.

As cultural anthropology emphasizes and celebrates, humans are symbol-makers who tend to be adept at interpreting and giving meaning to objects, signs and symbols. In fact, written and spoken words themselves qualify as symbols.

God speaks through Amos with quite a few natural and other everyday, real-life symbols people easily would recognize and interpret. Cedars, oaks, locusts, fire, a plumbline, waters, rivers; immediately before today's selection there's a basket of summer fruit.

Back to today's reading:

Amos speaks judgment against merchants who are not dealing fairly. They didn't have coinage yet; ephah was a volume measurement, shekel (that later became the name of a coin) was a weight measurement. Markets or other locations where people sell, barter, use means of exchange to acquire goods they need to survive are totally legitimate by biblical or any other standard, and they've been necessary ever since humans stopped living as hunter-gatherers and foragers. Making a profit in excess of your asking price also is fair, just, and necessary, since sellers need to become buyers to acquire items that meet their needs. Back then in the 8th century BCE and now in the 21st century CE, problems arises when sellers misrepresent their offerings in terms of quality and quantity, and when they realize excessive profits.

The merchants Amos addresses also had no interest in keeping the commandment to observe Sabbath or in keeping other mandated religious festivals. They only wanted to return to making money and even exploiting people. Besides providing the gift of needed rest, Sabbath remains a time to trust God will provide for our needs; when we keep Sabbath we don't count, produce, (or ideally) even slice or dice or chop—or turn on a stove and cook.

Furthermore, "selling the sweepings of the wheat" refers to gleanings that didn't always get caught during harvest, and that scripture commands be left so people in need can pick them up and benefit from them.

We had a wonderfully interesting discussion about contemporary agricultural gleanings. Many local Trader Joes/TJs have become well-known for re-distributing quality produce and other food that hasn't sold by tag date. Someone told us about a nearby charity organization checking in to her supermarket that's part of a nationwide mega-chain and leaving most mornings with a truckload of mostly baked goods, sometimes fruits and veggies.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pentecost 14C

Exodus 32:7-14

7The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! 9The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

13"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Like last week's scripture reading from Deuteronomy, Exodus is part of the five books of the Pentateuch in the Old Testament /Hebrew Bible. We sometimes call those first five books Torah, God's law or rule that goes far beyond English-language stereotypes of law because it is flexible, malleable, insightful, responds to the current needs of humanity and of all creation.

God says, "Moses, your people" ... and Moses reminds God, 'God, your people.'" It's always both/and. Could God accomplish God's plans and desires without human agency? of course! As frequently happens, we again discussed ways our hands (feet, minds, creativity) can do God's work.

This conversation between Moses and God is only one of countless instances in scripture where God calls and in the power of the Holy Spirit enables humans to do God's work. I quickly sort of proof-texted a handful:

• In the garden of Eden, God gifts Adam and Eve land "to till it and to keep it," and tells the humans they may freely eat of everything in the garden except one particular tree (or type of tree). Genesis 2:15, 16

• God literally inspires Jeremiah, and then sends and appoints Jeremiah as prophet—someone who speaks truth to power, unsettles the status quo, lines out alternatives that include hope for a future that's different from today. Jeremiah 1:9-10

• Jesus tells his disciples (taught people) / apostles (sent people) he possesses "all authority in heaven and on earth" and charges them "therefore, go, make disciples, baptize, teach..." and promises his ongoing presence with them. Matthew 28:18

• Jesus tells his followers they are his witnesses (people who testify, have a testimony), and tells them to stay where they are in Jerusalem for now. Luke 24:49

• Still imagining the return of the reign of a Davidic king they trust will annihilate imperial Rome, the disciples famously ask pre-Ascension Jesus if now he finally will "restore the kingdom," and Jesus tells them (their question is wrong) to wait, and soon they will receive power on the day of Pentecost, and they will be Jesus' witnesses in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth, that we now know is a far more extensive expanse then they knew.

Since the dawn of creation, the reign of the Holy Spirit of life, the primacy of grace has pervaded earth, but since that Pentecost event in the upper room Spirit and Grace have been even more alive.

On Sunday most of us wore "God's Work / Our Hands" shirts for the denomination's God's Work / Our Hands weekend. The choir sang contemporary composer David Haas' anthem Christ Among Us, with text inspired by Teresa of Avila. I frequently remind everyone we're God's hands, feet, eyes, ears, voice, and the anthem took it further with thoughts, words, song, heart, touch, care, love, light, hope, strength, joy!

Sunday was the 18-year anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers. We spent some time remembering our original 9/11/2001 experiences and updating our emotions and intentions to remain God's presence wherever we go.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pentecost 13C

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.

Today's first reading comes from the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch or Torah, Deuteronomy that roughly means a "second (deutero) law (nomen)" but really isn't because it articulates the same covenantal way as the rest of scripture. In today's passage we have God's "if – then" call to obedience via Moses. God's love always is unconditional, but God's promises mostly carry the necessary response of human obedience.

For several years we've been talking about neighborology: who is my neighbor? how can I be a good neighbor? That concept is particularly central in Deuteronomy, in Jeremiah, and in Luke's gospel, though it's always a concern for the people of God.

The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, rebuilding community, restoration of worship, of Torah. Like this year's featured gospel of Luke, Deuteronomy is wide and expansive and inclusive. The entire bible is gospel, good news, but Deuteronomy just may be the most grace- and mercy-filled book of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.

We need to stay aware the English word "law" can be a caricature of Torah. God's covenantal way of Torah is fluid, dynamic, and responds in love to the situation at hand. Deuteronomy reminds us to choose life by keeping the commandments, by considering the needs of the other person as at least as important as our own needs. That's neighborology!

The refrain "into the land" runs through Deuteronomy; stewardship of the gift of the land is a central aspect of God's call to keep covenant with God and with all creation. Rather than still depending on God for life-giving manna from the sky or water from the rock as in the exodus desert, after they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, God gave, the people received, land to live on, ground (dirt, soil, sod, all the same word in Hebrew) that would offer life and sustenance if they cared for it well.

Related to today's reading from Deuteronomy 30, in 2 Kings 22 we find the narrative during the reign of King Josiah of Huldah's discovering the scrolls of Torah, the people in tears when they listened and heard. This happened after some of the people who'd been exiled to Babylon returned to Israel and Jerusalem, a historical time we refer to as "post-exilic." Although the texts had circulated in the dynamic oral tradition and gotten written down piecemeal, at that time those words started to be codified and canonized and the Israelites became a People of the Book—just as we Christians are People of the Book.

This passage from Deuteronomy actually narrates events from five or six centuries earlier when the people were getting ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after the post-Egypt wilderness trek; here, close to the end of Deuteronomy, the people retell, recount, and remember their experiences of God's faithfulness. Remember is far more than passive recollection; re-member means to identify with, to live into past events so they became present to us and carry us into the future. We do the same thing when we celebrate Holy Communion! Part of most Eucharistic Prayers includes events from God's history with the people; by retelling those events, we claim them and place ourselves in the history of all God's people. We call that section of the communion liturgy anamnesis, or "remembering." Someone mentioned "Remember!" is the Gospel in a single word. Think about it!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Pentecost 11C

Isaiah 58:9b-14

9bIf 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;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken....

Earlier in this chapter: Isaiah 58:1-9

Isaiah

The 66 chapters of the major prophet Isaiah can be divided into three distinct sections:

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: chapters 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon: chapters 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye.... every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other exquisitely memorably poetic passages.
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile: chapters 56-66. Back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures; attempting to restore meaning.

Today's Reading

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; of those who left, some settled permanently and helped continue to create good living conditions in Babylon—the astonishment of empire as a venue for shalom that's a peace far more than absence of conflict, peace that's total well-being and fullness of life. 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.

Last week Jeremiah reminded us God is God of the exodus, the God who liberates us from slaveries of every kind, bringing us into and settling us in land that yields crops and community to help sustain us. As Jeremiah pointed out, God also is God of homecoming, the God who gathers people from exile and dispersion (any of many literal or figurative diasporas) into a trustworthy place.

A few people had stayed in Jerusalem, some of the exiles returned. The temple was gone, the city was in near-total disrepair, almost no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild the physical infrastructure of the city that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild a reliable human substructure that would include neighborhoods of real community and hope. We need safe, reliable shelter; we need safe, reliable people.

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."

This passage ties together being good neighbors with keeping sabbath. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effectiveness of the outcomes. Like much of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke, this scripture is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another—notice how this map for rebuilding shalom includes faithful Sabbath observance.

Cities and communities that have been destroyed and need rebuilding have become very familiar to us. New Orleans after Katrina; other cities after major weather events. The nearby town of Paradise after fires during fall 2018. A series of destructive earthquakes in Haiti. Fires currently raging through the Amazon rainforest. The God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection! In order to be resurrected to new life, you must be dead.

Any of God's Work, Our Hands endeavors may seem small to us (most are very tiny compared with the needs that surround us). As I often remind everyone, our actions are synergistic and add up to more than the sum of all the actions.

Isaiah 58:10a "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted..." echoes last week when again we talked about Jeremiah and his emphasis on (especially distributive) justice, social and economic equality, making sure everyone has adequate food and housing. 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!

Historical Note: In terms of post-exilic Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple especially concerned Haggai and Zechariah; Nehemiah focused on rebuilding city walls; Ezra's passion was restoring worship. During those years God's people rediscovered Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament that form the Pentateuch); as they learned to read, study, and live by the counsel of the inspired texts, they became a People of the Book.

Sabbath: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. We can assume "sabbath" as a necessary time out, a literal ceasing from producing, counting, working, but not a time of laziness and shiftlessness.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pentecost 10C

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?

The Church's year of grace has reached the Tenth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! "Ordinary" or arranged, lined-out, ordered time will continue three more months until Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday that celebrates the sovereignty of the risen and crucified Jesus Christ. Then we'll enter a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.

Our Old Testament/Hebrew Bible reading today is from the prophet Jeremiah. A very quick overview of OT structure and content:

Torah, sometimes called the five books of Moses, not because Moses wrote them, but because Moses is a central character and their general trajectory reflects his leadership: Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – Deuteronomy.

Prophets, with the "former prophets" of historical bent: Joshua; Judges; 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel; 1 Kings, 2 Kings. "Major or Writing Prophets" 1, 2, and 3 Isaiah; Ezekiel; Jeremiah; Book of the Twelve, sometimes called "Minor Prophets" because of their length, not because of lack of importance.

Writings, a truly miscellaneous collection that doesn't always have the same canonical content everywhere. Writings include the vital to the church Psalms; plus Job, Proverbs, Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Song of Songs; Ecclesiastes. I've probably omitted a few.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition. Bud remembered what other famous biblical figure came from the tribe of Benjamin—Saul/Paul of Tarsus!

Jeremiah is very very much within the classical tradition of Hebrew/Israelite prophecy that brings us a Word from the Lord. Scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen. Later in the history of Israel both roles became somewhat conflated.

As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. Jeremiah also is very much within the covenantal tradition of Deuteronomy with its care for the least of these, society's marginalized, caring for the neighbor, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner. Jeremiah is another example of someone who had memorized and internalized scripture so he could quote and live that Word of Life.

This is Luke's lectionary year. We've seen Luke's Jesus has the same political, cultural, religious, social, and economic emphases as Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.

Chapter 22 immediately before today's very short reading is one of the most famous from Jeremiah as he addresses the wicked king sons of Josiah, who was one of the only good kings of Israel. Known as The Boy King because he assumed leadership at the age of 8, in a highly exemplary way Josiah helped take care of powerless widows, orphans, strangers, sojourners. In short, Josiah literally did justice and righteousness as God calls every one of us created in the divine image to do.

Jeremiah 22 also reminds us Israeli's God is not only God of liberation (redemption} from bondage and slavery with the subsequent gift of a Promised Land; God also is One who gathers the people together and enacts homecoming (restoration) from exile.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Pentecost 9C

Luke 12:32-40

32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

The church's year of grace continues in Luke's gospel. Today's short gospel reading comes to us in three or four sections. We've previously discussed sources; Matthew and Luke both include a lot of Mark – the earliest canonical gospel – in theirs. Luke and Matthew may or may not have drawn upon an additional written source that may or may not actually have existed, though scholars still speculate some about "Q," named from the German word for river, Quelle. Besides those written documents that began as part of the dynamic, ever-changing oral tradition, Luke may have had a document we can label "L" for Luke.

12:32
Today's gospel reading opens with Jesus' command not to be afraid and why! Uniquely recorded in Luke's gospel, Jesus then announces the Reign of Heaven, Kingdom of God, Sovereignty of Grace and Love is a gift, a given, not something we need to earn or beg God for. It is not a transaction or an exchange. Gifting us brings pleasure and joy to God!

I asked how people felt about being called a flock (of sheep or birds). Sara mentioned how "All we like sheep have gone astray" in Handel's Messiah includes a wonderfully illustrative musical pattern that wanders all over to demonstrate straying sheep and people.

Each of the gospels has a distinctive emphasis or personality; even the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus' life and ministry in a somewhat similar manner are markedly different. Luke places his solidly within measurable historical time and space. Luke emphasizes women, other marginalized populations, prayer, the Holy Spirit, table fellowship, a reign of heaven that inverts the status quo, levels the economy and everything else about conventional society so everyone becomes social and economic equals; in God's Reign on Earth, everyone has enough, no one has too much or too little, creating an "Upside-Down Kingdom."

Early on in Luke when Mary learns she is pregnant, she remembers Hannah's song that she's likely memorized from a lifetime of exposure to scripture. Based upon Hannah's words, Mary sings her own beautiful prayer of praise and exultation we call the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord" [Luke 1:46-55]. Mary announces the upcoming reign of Heaven will mean justice and the sufficiency of "shalom" for all. Jesus' first act of public ministry (IPO/initial public offering) in Luke also announces justice and plenty enough for all—the arrival of jubilee justice [Luke 4:16-21].

12:33a
"Sell your possessions and give alms" isn't about making a guilt-propelled contribution so you'll feel better about having more than many others; it's a concrete action that redistributes money and possessions to help create a common-wealth and evened-out society. It's wonderful to contribute time, money, possessions for a particular cause, and though most of us love to respond generously to specific giving appeals, for Jesus, alms-giving is a way of life.

12:34
The heart in Hebrew biology is the seat of the will; heart is not a sentimental, romantic, lacey Victorian, greeting card, floral bouquet warm fuzzy. Jesus begins with treasure (thesaurus, the word we use for a book of word synonyms and antonyms) and then goes on to heart. How we act with our treasures of money, time, and possessions actually changes our attitudes or hearts.

12:37b
The master serving the slaves at table is very within Luke's emphases that include feasting and dining togetherness; it also coincides with Jesus' identifying himself in the image of the servant God as "one who serves."

12:40
The Son of Man/Human One arriving at an unexpected hour? Yes, as Bud suggested, this would include the Second Coming, but even more poignantly it reminds us Jesus' presence always surprises us, happens when we don't expect it, or when we least anticipate it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Pentecost 7C

Luke 11:1-13

1Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
5And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7And he answers from within, "Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
The church's year of grace is two-third's spent, with only four more months in Luke's lectionary year. Major thanks to Barbara for facilitating the past three weeks; given this is summer, attendance likely was more random than usual, but I trust everyone gave her a lot of holy trouble.

Today we'll hear Luke's version of the famous prayer that's Jesus' response when his disciples ask him to teach them to pray, just as all rabbis and religious leaders did. Let's put it in context by backtracking with a overview of the gospel readings for the past five Sundays. This sequence of readings shows the nature of Jesus' authority.

June 23 – Pentecost 2 :: Luke 8:26-39

"Gerasene Demoniac," about the guy possessed by a legion of demons or unclean spirits and who hung out naked amongst tombs. Jesus's liberating word drove the demons into a herd of swine that then plunged over a cliff and drowned. This has been called a story without a sequel, as it demonstrates Jesus' ultimate power and authority over bondage, slavery, evil of all kinds.

June 30 – Pentecost 3 :: Luke 9:31-62

Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem—no looking back. His disciples claim they will follow Jesus wherever he goes!—to the cross?! Jesus replies the cost of discipleship includes having no regular place of residence, no predictable place to sleep. The price of the itinerating all of us (not only United Methodists and Wesleyans) do as we go where God sends us. And, of course, following Jesus wherever he goes includes the cross. And the empty grave.

July 7 – Pentecost 4 :: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus gives instructions for going out into the world as itinerant missionaries (that's what we all are, all the time). Paralleling Moses and the 70 elders, Luke's Jesus picks up on the number 70 and sends them out in pairs. Their very first thing is to offer Shalom, the fullness of God's loving, merciful, reign and presence to everyone they meet. Then they proclaim the gospel. If the people we go to don't receive us? Shake the dust off your feet! One of the outcomes of prayer is learning to discern when to quit trying to engage an individual, a family, or a group; figuring out when to move on to the next place.

July 14 – Pentecost 5 :: Luke 10:23-37

How to have eternal life? How to have heaven on earth? Keep the commandments! Jesus' shorthand "Great Commandment" version: love God, neighbor, and self. Then the probing question: And who is my neighbor? And then? Activist Jesus narrates the Good Samaritan parable that's unique to Luke. We've talked about Luke's emphasis on the neighbor and called it neighborology, the word/logos about the neighbor. The Good Samaritan sums up the emphasis on the neighbor we find in Deuteronomy that's superbly about actively living out our covenants with God and with one another; Jeremiah also emphasizes the neighbor. Jesus instructs (commands!) his listeners to "go and do likewise" as the Samaritan man has in caring for the guy who's fallen by the wayside after being robbed and beaten.

July 21 – Pentecost 6 :: Luke 10:38-42

Jesus visits Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. Martha's busy in the kitchen preparing a tasty meal for Jesus their guest; Mary hangs out with Jesus, basking in his presence and in his word. This contemplative way is a radical switch from the tale of the Good Samaritan immediately before it. So which is it? An activist "go and do likewise" or a more receptive "better part" of simply being in heaven's presence? It's both/and.

Today – Pentecost 7 :: Luke 11:1-13

Aspects of prayer include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and petition. After acknowledging God as hallowed or holy, Jesus' prayer guides us through petitions that help envision the reign of heaven will come to earth.

We had a very helpful (IMNHO) discussion of our own prayer lives. Pastor Peg pointed out she liked Jesus praying at "a certain place." A recurring time or times of day and a regular location or locations can help prayer become a habit.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Pentecost 3C

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Ordinary Time

In the church's year of grace we've reached a long stretch of Ordinary Time that will continue for the next five months. Ordered, orderly, arranged, structured, this is the green and growing Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church. We count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost; the church lives in the power of the Spirit of Pentecost.

Galatians

The apostle Paul's letter or epistle to the Galatians is one of his seven undisputed or authentic epistles. All seven carry evidence of his grammar, syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary, and theology, though there's a clear progression from 1 Thessalonians to Romans.

The community at Galatia was the first ethnic church, not in the sense of Jewish–gentile ethnicity, but of geography and culture. But they also were ethnos as gentiles! The words Galatia, Gaulle, Gaelic, Celt, Celtic all come from the same root.

• Galatians is the Epistle of Freedom.
• Galatians is Reformation central, vitally important to Martin Luther's theology.
• Galatians demonstrates we all live under the same law of God, with the same freedom or liberty in Jesus Christ.
• This passage brings us a typical Reformation contrast and dichotomy between law and gospel we try to articulate in preaching.

Galatians famously brings us:

• Paul's only birth narrative: "In the fullness of time God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law." Galatians 4:4
• Neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, bond nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 – last week! The ground is level at the foot of the cross. But this doesn't obliterate distinctions and wonders of each person's individual gifts and contributions.
• [works of the flesh and] fruits of the Spirit: "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23a

Freedom, liberty throughout this passage is eleutheria in Greek. Greek doulos is slave/slavery rather than servant/servitude.

5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free ... do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13 ... do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Paul and Law and Gospel

"Gospel" means Good News. For Paul, the gospeled good news is death and resurrection.

Christ has died – Christ has risen – Christ will come again

Almost every time Paul uses the word "law," he refers to circumcision, sacrificial law, ritual law, keeping kosher, ceremonial law, and not to the ten commandments, but "law" in Galatians 5:14 does refer to the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant. Like Jesus, he summarizes the commandments with "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The commandments are the working papers for our life together, as they set permissions, limits, and boundaries so we can live and serve in freedom.

Ethnic Churches – Outreach

Every mainline church body in this country began as an immigrant church—whether non-English speaking Lutheran and Reformed or very English-speaking Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists; American protestantism now has come full-circle with substantial numbers whose first language wasn't English, members who still may not know much English. We need to welcome and receive the gifts Asian and Hispanic, African and Caribbean Christian traditions bring. Besides all of those protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church in this country originally began with ethnic immigrant local churches. Midwestern and Northeastern cities were filled with people from Poland, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. They worshiped in Latin until Vatican II, but did everything else exactly like in the old country;

Pastor Peg mentioned a Pasadena congregation that contextualized the gospel by cycling through many different languages and cultures over many decades before finally recently closing its doors.

We talked about Christians who originally settled in other parts of the country bringing everything with them to California—not only Hot Dish Casseroles and Nativity observances, but as Steve W observed, they also built church buildings with steeply pitched roofs even though snow isn't a current concern in southern California. He said, "That's what they knew."

Outreach, evangelism in the church building and in our everyday worlds: what demands do we make of newcomers? Do we insist people look like us, talk like us, act like us, etc.? Because that's what we know? Do we insist they claim our cultural (ethnic) styles and habits as their own? No one at LCM does, but we still need to be constantly aware. As the Reformers insisted, wherever you find Word and Sacrament you find the church. No Word and Sacrament? No church. No requirement for everyone to look, act, talk, think, feel the same as everyone else.