Monday, February 25, 2019

Epiphany 7C

Genesis 45:1-15

1Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.

3Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'"

12"And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.

15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The church's year of grace has reached the seventh Sunday after Epiphany; this has been an exceptionally long epiphany season that will conclude next week with Transfiguration. And then? Ash Wednesday followed by six Sundays in (but not of) Lent. More about the shape, history, and purpose of Lent when that time arrives.

Although today's gospel reading continues Jesus' sermon on the plain from Luke, We'll briefly study the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible first lesson that's a small segment of the story of Jacob's son Joseph that spans Genesis 37 through 50.

Joseph as a Type of Christ

Joseph is about forgiveness, reconciliation, and newness. Joseph is very much like Jesus. Joseph's behavior and attitude is similar to the be-attitudes Jesus calls us to in his sermon on the mount (in Matthew) and his sermon on the plain (in Luke) we'll continue reading today.

We often refer to characters in scriptures as "types" or images/icons of Jesus Christ. For example:

• Adam – firstborn of the old Creation // Jesus – firstborn of the new creation.

• Moses and Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai // Jesus as the new Moses in several senses that include sermon on the mount, the new exodus of liberating humanity and all creation from bondage of several kinds.

• David the shepherd who later becomes king // Jesus as the new shepherd, new king.

• Jeremiah the weeping prophet // Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

• And there are more—Martin Luther read Jesus into almost every sentence of the OT!

Living in Empire

The story of Joseph and his brothers is about living well and fruitfully under empire (in this case Egypt). Last year we talked a little about Ezra and Nehemiah living well under another empire when they returned after Babylon. It's impossible to escape influence of empires, whether they're national governments (Babylon, Persia, Rome, Spain, Great Britain) or transnational corporations (GE, Bayer, Nestle…). Because we can't escape into a bubble or to a remote island, we need to find ways to live and sometimes thrive whether it's resistance or even some degree of cooperation. In the Joseph narrative, with famine all around, they had no choice but to go to a place where crops would grow and they could be fed.

Joseph and forgiveness – Jesus and us – God reconciling and resurrecting

Pastor Peg did a fairly complete but quick(!) Joseph summary. You need to read the whole entire thing in Genesis 37-50! You'll notice some backtracking and repetitions that occur because Genesis was compiled from different separate sources.

Joseph's brother had intended serious harm (as in killing him) to Joseph, but Joseph was wise enough to recognize the action of God's Spirit of life in redeeming an incredibly bad situation. in today's reading, Joseph keeps giving God the credit; in fact, in the last chapter of Genesis, chapter 50, Joseph again credits God.

In spite of us, in spite of other people, in spite of circumstances, God heals, mends, renews, resurrects. Because of time constraints, we're not hearing 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 (today's second reading) that's the apostle Paul's assurance of resurrection from the dead. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection!

Final note: God even redeems (literally takes back, buys back) death into new life!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Epiphany 6C

Luke 6:17-26

17Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

Because I was late getting to church last Sunday and the pastor led the class, we didn't get into the discussion I hoped these ideas would lead to, so these notes are extremely basic and undeveloped.

Comparing the beginning of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) and Luke's Sermon on the Plain or Level Place is a classic move that to a degree is essential in differentiating the style and emphasis of both gospels.

Matthew's Jesus proclaims and declares from a high place, a mountain—Matthew brings us Jesus of Nazareth as the new Moses. You probably remember God spoke Ten Words (Commandments, called words in the Hebrew text)) on Mount Sinai or Horeb through Moses. Matthew's Sermon on the Mount includes only blessings that follow from certain attitudes and behaviors. This list sometimes is called the beatitudes. It may not have been original with her, but a participant in a study group I once was in called the beatitudes "be-attitudes." These blessings are quite spiritual in nature. (You may recall Matthew also emphasizes Jesus as the new King David.}

Consistent with his emphasis on distributive justice, common-wealth, and the well-being of the neighbor we've been referring to as neighborology – the word about the neighbor – in Luke's gospel Jesus descends from the hill he'd been on with his disciples so he can stand on the same level or elevation as they are. Besides blessings that are more earthbound than Matthew's, in Luke Jesus follows with woes or sorrows. Earlier in Luke we've seen social and economic leveling in Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:39-55}; Jesus' first act of public ministry (Luke 4:14-24) picks up Mary's theme as he quotes from Isaiah and promises jubilee: good news (gospel) to the poor, liberty to captives and oppressed, overall economic and social justice where no one has too much or too little, everyone has enough. But this is not sameness! It's a situation that draws upon everyone's unique gifts and ability to contribute, as the apostle Paul often writes about.

As we continue in Luke's Revised Common Lectionary year C, we'll continue tracking these themes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Epiphany 5C

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."

8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

With the fairly short season of Epiphany, the church's year of grace is in a segment of ordinary time that's carefully arranged, structured, organized and "ordered." Starting in the spring when we number Sundays after the festival of Pentecost, we get a many months long segment of ordinary time.

Last week we considered the prophet Jeremiah's call story, a narrative about God's claim on Jeremiah and God's words to Jeremiah that outlined his call, calling, or vocation (same word, different languages). We've also heard and discussed the opening acts of Jesus' public ministry in versions from the gospels of Luke and John; those also are call stores, with Jesus affirming and announcing God's call and claim on him.

This week the Revised Common Lectionary that gives us the scriptures for each Sunday brings us two call stories: the call of the prophet Isaiah and Jesus' calling his first disciples, who worked in the fishing profession. Isaiah is a very long book that historically spans at least two centuries and includes writings from at least three different people. Today's passage is from early in the first section of the book that's mostly by the guy we refer to as Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Contrasting Jeremiah and Isaiah

(1) last week Jeremiah hesitated and was reluctant to accept the ministry task God was calling him to do. The young Jeremiah felt unqualified, but as we studied the text. we saw that God would equip and enable Jeremiah to do everything God asked and sent him to do.

(2) this week Isaiah responds to God's call in a very positive manner announcing he's right here and ready to go where God sends him.

Isaiah's royal sensibility

All three sections of Isaiah affirm God's lordship and sovereignty; today's reading opens with the historical circumstance of the death of King Uzziah who'd been a relatively good and faithful human ruler; here Isaiah receives a vision of the God he knew as the real king, the true ruler of all creation.

Today's reading

Seraphs or seraphim are snaky creatures with wings; elsewhere in the bible, cherubs or cherubim have lion faces. Neither creature is the adorable chubby-cheeked baby angel figure of Renaissance and later paintings, of Christmas and Valentine's Day greeting cards.

Although this is one of the scripture texts for Trinity Sunday (and on Sunday we sang Steve W's favorite majestic Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy") Holy, holy, holy in this passage is not a trinitarian proclamation—it's an artifact of Hebrew and other semitic languages. English adjectives have basic, comparative, and superlative forms, so we say good-better-best, pretty-prettier-prettiest. If I were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic and really liked a Sunday brunch, I might say it was good-good-good or tasty-tasty-tasty. In English I'd tell the chef of the day or the companion sitting beside me today's menu was the best or the tastiest. In this first reading for today, Isaiah tells us God is holy-holy-holy or The Holiest.

Discussion of God's many callings to each of us, wherever we are. Contrast between major life calling/vocation or series thereof (today most people have four or five or six separate careers, or sometimes engage in two or three different ones at the same time) and the many smaller circumstantial callings we each receive literally all the time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Epiphany 4C

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [strike, jolt, shock: not gentle] my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

As we number Sundays after the feast of the Epiphany, the church's year of grace has moved into a short segment of green and growing Ordinary Time. After the Festival of Pentecost, we have a many months long season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary refers to structured, organized, patterned, arranged: "in order."

Today we'll mention Luke's gospel – the prophet Jeremiah – the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy – neighborology, the word about the neighbor. All these sources and concepts are about living together in covenant as God's people, rather than existing alone in isolation.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C when we focus mostly on gospel readings from Luke. You may remember Luke emphasizes making opportunities and resources such as food and housing level and equal for everyone: no one has too little or less than they need; no one has too much or more than they need. That's also very much the style of Deuteronomy, which along with Leviticus is one of the places we find the Ten Commandments that supremely are about living together as God's people with distributive justice, fairness, and compassion.

Today's first reading comes from Jeremiah. Last Sunday we talked about scripture becoming codified, throughly written down, preserved, and in a sense canonized, or made into the standard or measure that describes who God is, what God requires, how God's people live. Although he may have been in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah also likely had some written-down texts (he had his own scribe, as well) and would have been very familiar with the book of Deuteronomy that influenced his own spoken and written words during his forty year long ministry.

Today's first reading comes from the beginning of Jeremiah. Please notice God is the main actor here assuring Jeremiah God has known, consecrated, appointed, and will send, command, and be with Jeremiah.

Like Jesus' call narratives, Jeremiah's call or vocation (same word from different languages) account fits our lives, too. We often think of calling or vocation as the major profession, job, or series of different more or less full-time work opportunities we'll have in our lives; of course those are important, but all of us have noticed God calls, sends, and enables us to smaller jobs, ministries, or acts of service. For every one of those mega or micro opportunities, ministries, or tasks (all the same thing), just as for Jeremiah, God leads us to it, enables us to do it, and will be with us through it. Just as for Jeremiah, we sometimes feel unqualified...

Discussion of language and other cultural conditions we need to meet, of particular gifts or assets we may need to have.