Friday, May 31, 2019

Easter 6C

Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22:1-5

Revelation 21

10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 22

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Easter Day 36 or the Sixth Sunday of Easter! Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7x7. The Easter season began with accounts that mostly featured people who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. As the weeks rolled by, the stories reached further outward, and began introducing and embracing people from other places and cultures. Two weeks from now we'll celebrate the 50th day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost (wear red!) that initiates the long Season of the Spirit/ Time of the Church liturgical season, with its mostly green Sundays.

We've been discussing Revelation as a kind of guidebook for living baptized amidst empire. Last week we talked about a God so in love with creation God chose and still chooses to live with and to indwell creation; a God so passionate about creation God even chose to live amidst creation as one of us in a body formed out of the stuff of the earth. Last week Revelation 21:3 told us God makes a home on earth, using the same word for live or dwell as in John 1:14 – "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Late Pastor Eugene Peterson says God pitched a tent, because the Greek word for dwell is tabernacle, a portable shelter you can carry with you, as God's people Israel did with the Ark of the Covenant.


Genesis 1 and 2, the first books in the canon of the bible brings us the original creation with:

• tree of life
• river of life
• a garden

Revelation, the last book in the biblical canon, bring us the new creation with:

• tree of life
• river of life
• a city (is this a new Garden of Eden? Not quite.)


Today's text from Revelation pictures a city literally descending from heaven. A city of safety, a place that welcomes and includes everyone. Everyone is an insider to God and in the City of God; God has no outsiders! This city's gates always are open; this city is light and bright all the time, without the fearsome dangers night and darkness in an urban area often bring. God's presence permeates and lights the city. As God's people filled with the Spirit of Life, our presence in the city and wherever else we venture permeates and lights our surroundings.

Some City Characteristics

• ethnic and cultural and income diversity
• buildings of every kind – someone pointed out those structures are fixed in place, anchored to the ground. Especially in California we're very aware building codes keep getting revised so they will stay where they're supposed to when earth quakes and shakes (which it will)
• infrastructure that includes "streets and roads," educational, sports, entertainment, social, and other services
• cash economy (includes credit, debit, and investment options) rather than a barter economy
• home of the go-between (formerly "middleman," lol) or broker who arranges transactions between entities
• a literal crossroads with multiple land, air, water ports of entry. Most cities are built along a waterway.
• many kinds of fusions: language; music; cuisine; home and individual fashion
• cultural appropriation? Nah! Mostly cultural appreciation!

Maybe especially because of my wonderful Tree of Life art of the worship bulletin cover quoting Revelation 22:2, The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations, we discussed healing leaves, trees, shrubs, branches, and herbs and never got to my intended mention of a parallel passage in Ezekiel 47:1-12.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Easter is Fifty Days! This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter—next comes Easter 6 and Easter 7 when we celebrate Jesus' Ascension (Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter is the official Ascension Day), then on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost before we move into the season of the Spirit, time of the Church that will be another green and growing segment of Ordinary Time.

Bookends in the canon of scripture reveal God as origin and end of all things:

• Genesis 1 and 2: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a Garden

• Revelation 21 and 22: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a City that grows out of a well-tended garden

Revelation was written during the reign of Roman emperor Caesar Domitian; very briefly, the book of Revelation shows us how empires everywhere operate. It's somewhat of a guide book for living baptized in the context of empire—any empire. Imperial-style governments such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia in biblical times, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, present-day USA later on; trans-national imperial entities such as Bayer and Amazon that surreptitiously creep into almost every aspect of the planet's existence. This week and next week the passages from Revelation especially show us ways to live baptized into the new creation.

The book's author, John the Revelator, is an unknown individual, but he's not Jesus' cousin John the Baptist or Jesus' beloved disciple John of fourth gospel fame and renown.

Much of Revelation is in the literary style of apocalyptic; we've previously mentioned apocalyptic uncovers/reveals something hidden as it uses symbolic language, physical symbols, and indirect speech. Other scriptural examples of apocalypse include – but aren't not limited to – sections of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Isaiah, and Mark's gospel.

We discussed Patmos that may have been a Roman prison island; a class participant who'd visited Patmos later emailed me it's "a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea," though as our quick internet search discovered during class, it's physically close to present day Turkey. Wikipedia provided a link to Patmos' Greek language website.

"Ocean no more" in Revelation 21:1 isn't about ecological disaster! It's a code word for untamed chaos. In the famous passage that opens Genesis 1 the Spirit of God hovers and breathes and speaks over the "deep," the unordered chaotic waters. In our baptism with Water and Word, God calls and enables us to speak words that tame and order the chaos of empire.

Revelation 21:3 where God makes a home with creation uses the same word as in John 1:14 (the gospel according to John). Late Pastor Eugene Peterson describes it aptly as God "pitching a tent," a portable dwelling or shelter that allows God to journey step by step alongside creation. We find similar imagery in the Exodus desert account with evidence of God's presence in a cloud by day, fire by night, in the portable ark of the covenant the people carried with them.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Easter 4C

Acts 9:36-43

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the twenty-second day of Easter, the fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the world-changing, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel readings are from John.


The same Luke who compiled the gospel put together the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a pattern similar to Luke as it records events Doctor Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

Today's Reading:

This account begins, "Now in Joppa..." Besides in the Acts of the Apostles, where else in the bible do we hear about Joppa, that's now usually called Jaffa? Jonah 1:3 – "So Jonah went down to Joppa," bought a ticket and boarded a ship for Tarshish in his attempt to run away from the Lord.

This is the only place in Acts that uses the feminine word for apostle. Last week when we discussed the conversion of the apostle Paul, we learned Saul was his Hebrew/Jewish name, Paul was his Greek name. Depending on where he was and with whom he interacted, he always was both Saul and Paul. In today's scripture pericope or selection, the woman Peter raises from death to life is Dorcas in Greek, Tabitha in Aramaic. Pastor Peg mentioned retired United Methodist bishop Will Willimon (check out his writing! Although he's very theological, he presents complex ideas very clearly) suggests the "room upstairs" reference in verse 37 is an additional way Luke uses to identity Tabitha/Dorcas as Jesus' disciple because it connects her with the upper room experiences of Jesus' male disciples.

Verse 40: before taking action, Peter sends everyone else outside and intently prays in order to discern what God would have him do. Peter's word commands Tabitha to"get up" and (Verse41) he takes her hand and helps her up. Jesus still raises the dead! In baptism we receive the Spirit of Resurrection! For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.

Verse 43: Peter then stayed for a while in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Tanners made shoes, clothes, saddles, and other items from the hide of dead animals. Contact with dead carcasses made Simon ceremonially unclean. Peter associating with Simon reflects the radical inclusion of women, social underclasses, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized people we hear about in Luke's gospel; this trajectory continues in the book of Acts and during the later history of the church.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Easter 3C

Acts 9:1-6

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the fifteenth day of Easter, the third Sunday of Easter. Easter Day, the festival of resurrection, is the second of our great Trinitarian feasts.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that provides our scripture readings schedules passages from the Acts of the Apostles for the first reading (lection or lesson). That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the (thoughts and prayers and) activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The stories in Acts reveal the shape, mission, witness, power, and faithfulness of the nascent church. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel accounts are from John.

By definition, Christianity is incarnational; Christianity is about God's embodiment/enfleshment in the world, most specifically in Jesus of Nazareth and now in the church (that's us!) as the incarnate body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. All four canonical gospels affirm this reality early on:

• Mark: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
• Matthew: you shall call him Emmanuel, God-with-us.
• Luke: you shall name him Jesus; he will be son of the Most High.
• John: in the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The same person who compiled the gospel according to Luke put together the Acts of the Apostles. Since the middle of the last century, scholars have affirmed Luke's gospel as volume 1, the book of Acts as volume 2, and frequently refer to the dyad as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a similar pattern as it records events Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

By definition Christianity is incarnational as it celebrates God's embodiment in all creation.

The writer of Luke's gospel ends his account with Jesus before his ascension or return to the Father telling his followers to wait until they are "clothed with power from on high." The disciples then go back to Jerusalem. Luke begins Acts with the disciples asking the resurrected Jesus if he'll now finally restore the kingdom. Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong, and tells them to wait because they will receive power from on high, because they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. In continuity with Jesus' original followers, we live as God's presence on earth. As the denomination's tagline expresses it, "God's Work – Our Hands."

In Acts 6:36 we read about the first ordination in the New Testament. The early church first ordained or set apart for a particular purpose the servant class of deacons. Historically deacons have looked out on, faced and interacted with the world, while ministers of word and sacrament (pastors, once they're called or appointed to that role) historically have faced and interacted with the church. So to outsiders, the church first looked like people who picked up their towels and basins in service, as Jesus modeled when he washed his disciples' feet in the upper room before his death.

Verse 9:2 of today's passage refers to the church as followers of The Way; that would be the way of Jesus, the road to Jerusalem, the cross, the empty tomb. Later on in Acts 11:26 we read Jesus' followers first were called "Christians" at Antioch.