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