Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epiphany 3A

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
The Season of Epiphany...

...is a short segment of Ordinary Time within the church's year of grace. This section or installment of ordinary (ordered, structured, arranged) time emphasizes Jesus as light, as revelation to all the world. Even a tiny bit of light reaches far beyond where it starts.

So far in Matthew:

Matthew begins his gospel as another Book of Beginnings, a new Genesis in Jesus Christ. Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the new Moses, as the new King David.

Geography / Locations:


• Jesus' birth in (1)Bethlehem;
• escape into (2)Egypt from Herod's decrees;
• moving to his childhood home in (3)Nazareth;
• now he's in (4)Capernaum.

Jesus' IPO:

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us Jesus' temptations in the wilderness after his baptism. We hear and claim those scriptures every year on the First Sunday in Lent.

All four gospels have a different event for Jesus' first act of public ministry. Most likely all four happened around the same time and clearly only one could have been the really real first, but each gospel writer's choice says something about their emphasis.

• Mark 1:16-26: calling the brothers Zebedee followed by exorcising a demon in the synagogue
• Luke 4:16-21: announcing the Jubilee year in synagogue
• John 2:1-11: wedding at Cana, turning water into wine – a party!

• Today we have Jesus' first act of public ministry according to Matthew.

As 1st Isaiah describes it in the passage Matthew quotes, Galilee of the gentiles, meant non-Jewish, ethnic diversity. Capernaum was a backwater, working-class town, not a large standard metropolitan statistical area. Imperial Rome occupied Capernaum. Rome controlled land and sea; Rome controlled every aspect of the local economy, all of everyone's lives and livelihoods. Food was scarce; people didn't always have safe, clean water. In a workforce dominated by physical labor like fishing and construction, illness would prevent people from working, making them poorer still.

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus doesn't talk about people being in or people being out; he uses near-far language that's more here-and-now temporal then it is spacial.

Was this Jesus' very first encounter ever with the two pairs of brothers? Maybe? Probably? Jesus' presence was compelling and charismatic... and offered a different way of being, an alternate manner of living. Barbara basically was with those who say this probably was the first time the brothers Zebedee had seen Jesus; Charles suggested news of Jesus had started to circulate, so the Zebedee fam was curious and had some prior knowledge. Though Matthew records this as Jesus' first act of public ministry, because he's doing theology just as much as he's writing history, it's very possible Jesus had been itinerating for a week or so, and Matthew pulled out this particular story to demonstrate Jesus' power and appeal.

After calling the fishing brothers as his first act of public ministry, 23"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people." Jesus announced the reign of heaven; he told them and he showed them.

We discussed aspects of careers, paid work, other meaningful activities and endeavors God calls us to. We acknowledged God's call never is only cognitive, but always contains a spiritual and intuitive dimension or dimensions.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Epiphany 2A

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today's second reading is the salutation to the apostle Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth. Just as someone might begin an email or letter sent via USPS (especially to someone you don't contact often), he begins with memories and gratitude, although later on in the epistle we hear about sin and dysfunction within the Corinthian assembly. Corinth was a trading crossroads, with two seaports, north and south. Like the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach?

We're still in the season of Epiphany (revealing, uncovering, revelation, enlightening) when we emphasize the gospel for all creation and here scripture readings especially about the light of Christ shining everywhere. As he continues this epistle or letter beyond the introduction, Paul makes clear he wants people to use their gifts to illuminate God's presence wherever they go, so it contains the epiphany theme.

Throughout his epistles, Saul/Paul talks about function, roles, and behaviors of members of the body of Christ, of those baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul expects a solitary, isolated, individual will become part of the gathered body of Christ and assume one of many differentiated roles and positions appropriate to their gifts and experience; it never was about a solitary, isolated, individual becoming part of an undifferentiated blob. He wants each person to contribute to church and nearby community in ways related to their abilities and sense of call. God calls us out of the world, calls us into the body of Christ out of which God in the HS creates the church; then God continues our call by sending us out to bless and enlighten the surrounding world.

1 Corinthians 1:7 "So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift..."

Although the New Revised Standard Version/NRSV we generally read from translates charisma as "spiritual gift," neither the word for spiritual nor the word for gift is in the original Greek. A charism or charisma is a "grace-thing."

In the church we often desire and want more "spiritual" attributes. In Galatians 5 lists some gifts from the Holy Spirit:

22 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

We sometimes separate less tangible gifts and functions and say things like, "Church Lady A has such a gift for prayer, Church Guy B has so much mercy and compassion" from what appear to be more material ones like "Church Lady C has such a gift for baking, Church Guy D is the best carpenter," but every contribution, every gift, each action well-used has a spiritual component or it doesn't fly very far. The team that prepares and serves our Sunday brunch has the hospitable attitude we recognize as godly or spiritual, and the actual food and nicely arranged dining room table are spiritual gifts, as well.

Evidence of God's life-bestowing Holy Spirit weaves throughout scripture, but for now, a pair of proof-texts:

Adam, the first human, is basically an inert lump of dirt until God breathes life into him:

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

In Ezekiel God breathes life into the dry dead bones:

Ezekiel 37:5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Baptism of Jesus A

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
baptism of Jesus gospels chart

On the first Sunday of Advent, the church began a new year of grace; we've moved into the season of epiphany. Last week we discussed the "epi" (upon) and "phan" {revealing, revelation) roots of the word. The feast and the season of epiphany specifically brings us the revelation of Jesus as savior and lord for all the world. On the Day of Epiphany (or the nearest Sunday, as we observed last week on January 5th), we hear about the wise guys, star gazers, astrologers, Zoroastrians, ethnic and religious foreigners to Israel visiting Jesus, bringing gifts from the east. That event has become an icon of God's gracious universalism that in Jesus Christ redeems all people and all creation.

Today for Jesus' baptism by his cousin John the Baptist, we experience a trinitarian theophany, or revelation of the trinity with the voice of God the Father, the presence of Jesus God the Son, the familiar dove symbol or icon of God the Holy Spirit / Holy Ghost. For the meeting of heaven and earth at Jesus' baptism, Mark uses a word for a rip or tear that can't be mended. As Pastor Peg commented last year, the same word applies to the transfiguration and to the tearing of the temple veil at Jesus' crucifixion. With Jesus, all the earth, all creation, has access to God. Divisions between earth and heaven have been obliterated.

As you may have heard, the word and concept of Trinity is not in the bible, but scripture implies a Triune God—maybe especially in scenes like today's Baptism of Jesus and in the Transfiguration we'll celebrate to conclude the Epiphany season before Lent begins. Although Mark's gospel opens with "Jesus, Son of God," and toward the end the Roman centurion proclaims at Jesus' death "truly this was a Son of God," when the apostle Paul and when the gospels were written, people weren't pondering why the fully divine Jesus Christ would need to be baptized. Again, Jesus' baptism is theologically different from ours; today we'll only consider Jesus' baptism.

The Council of Nicaea that convened in the year 325 and gave us the Nicene Creed, the council of Chalcedon in 451 wrote the Definition of Chalcedon; both statements affirm Jesus' full humanity and complete divinity.

This visual chart relates to the class handout that includes baptism of Jesus texts from all four gospels. Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus being baptized (immersed or dunked); John's gospel strongly implies it. All four gospels tell us Jesus' cousin John was hanging out around the Jordan River. Especially from the Exodus out of slavery into the Promised Land, we know the Jordan as border and boundary between slavery in Egypt, exodus desert wanderings, and a new promise landed life of obedience, repentance, and grace in covenanted community. For Jesus, the Jordan was border and boundary between his more private life and his public life of obedience, grace, and keeping righteous covenant.

To me It's especially striking that people who probably had access to the Jerusalem Temple would venture down to the riverside to listen to John the crazy guy on the margins of polite society.

John the Baptist's baptism of repentance probably related to the entire nation of Israel as a new political, religious, and economic beginning. Contemporary twenty-first century Jews still have a practice of mikvah that's a cleansing bath or immersion. Jesus was not baptized a Christian! However, in these accounts of his baptism, God claimed and named Jesus as Son and as Beloved, just as God names and claims us in baptism as daughter, son, beloved; God also fills us with the Holy Spirit, just as the HS filled Jesus.

Hebrew scripture tells us Elijah will need to return before the Messiah arrives; next Sunday we'll look more closely at John the Baptist as the New Elijah, the link or hinge between the OT and NT; in several places, Jesus essentially announces "For me, John is Elijah." For his cousin Jesus, John the Baptist is very much Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah, end of the time of promise, start of the time of fulfillment. Next week in John's gospel we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Monday, January 06, 2020

Epiphany A

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.

Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today we're having an epiphany and we also move into a several weeks long season of epiphany. From "epi" = upon and "phan" = manifestation, revealing, revelation, illumination, uncovering, an epiphany is a shining out, showing forth. Related words include tiffany, fantasy, theophany.

The day and the season of epiphany (Sundays leading up to Transfiguration that's the Sunday before Ash Wednesday) especially emphasize the presence and persistence of light, particularly the light of Christ that illuminates all creation. The Bethlehem-born Jewish baby Jesus is redeemer of all, Lord of all, king and shepherd for all cultures, ethnicities, and religions. In the global north Epiphany arrives shortly after the winter solstice, making its symbolism of light especially meaning-filled. This scripture tells us about the star at "the rising," at daybreak, at dawning. With light that seeks out and illumines darkness, stars long have been a symbol for epiphany,

When the church welcomed a new year of grace on the first Sunday of Advent, we began the year of Matthew's gospel; aside from the great fifty days of Easter and a few isolated other days, our gospel readings will be from Matthew for the rest of this year until Advent 2020. Along with Mark and Luke, as one of the three synoptic gospel accounts that view [optic] Jesus' story in somewhat similar [syn] ways, Matthew also brings a distinctive perspective. As Sundays come around, we'll study more passages from Matthew, but briefly for today:

Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the new Moses and the new David. With the opening words "A Book of Beginnings" – biblios geneseos – the author(s) announce their intentions to bring us a new genesis, a new creation, in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew's genealogy includes many ethnic and religious "others." Jesus' great commission at the end of Matthew [28:16-20] charges us to go into all the world, preach the gospel to all people.

The visit of "wise men from the east" is one of the stories unique to Matthew. Three gifts have turned into a tradition of three kings, yet the text doesn't specify. Their retinue would have included many male and female servants, possibly children, definitely camels, other animals. They could have been royalty of some kind; most likely they were members of the Zoroastrian religion, a middle-eastern way of life that preceded Islam.