Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Day of Pentecost 2020

Acts 2:1-8

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?


This is the 13th Sunday in a row we haven't met on the church campus. Our last time physically together was the Eve of the LA Marathon when we gathered for Holden Evening Prayer with an interactive study of Psalm 121, a savory supper of sandwiches and salads—plus our Second Annual Bakeoff. Psalm 121 assures us "The Lord is your keeper" (verse 5a) and "The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore." (verse 8) What better words could there be to start our months apart from one another? …though we didn't realize it until later in the week.


God of creation, God of resurrection, God of pentecost, what a time this is! What a time for your Spirit; what a time for your Spirit-filled people! God of life, God of love, we grieve the murder of George Floyd. Pain and death and tired and violence and stereotypes and tokenism and seeing the law cover the perp again with the victims getting nothing again … will make people do things they never imagined they could do.

Spirit is a-movin' all over the land—this Spirit blows where it will; Spirit burns where it will. The wind of pentecost cleans, refreshes, clears, and renews. The fire of pentecost sears, refines, clarifies, and ignites. The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Freedom, but none of us is free unless all of us are free. The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Justice, yet not a single individual knows justice until everyone does.

Earth cannot bear the sorrows of too many deaths, too much loss from COVID-19. God, we know you lead the way into the world's future. You will go ahead of us, your Spirit will lead us to the places that are ready for us.

In Jesus' name,


The people who assemble the lectionary that provides our scripture readings don't always do everything in order:

Two weeks ago we heard Jesus' promise in John's gospel to send an advocate, defender, helper, comforter.

On the second Sunday of Easter, we heard the upper room narrative of Jesus' bestowing the Holy Spirit of life on the gathered assembly—and sending them out!

Last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

The church's year of grace features three major festivals that relate to each Person of the Trinity/Godhead:

• Christmas – Nativity –> Creation
• Resurrection – Easter –> Redemption
• Pentecost – Whitsunday [British Isles term, refers to white robes worn by people being baptized on Pentecost] –> Sanctification / Theosis / Holiness / Deification / Divinization

The Day of Pentecost

• Luke 4:18-19 begins Jesus' public ministry with the HS;
• Luke's book of Acts begins our public ministry with the HS.

Easter is 50 Days; today, the Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter. Penta = 50. Similar words includes pentagram, pentagon, pentacle, pentatonic.

Scripture reveals countless ways the Holy Spirit always has been present on earth; the Day of Pentecost celebrates the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit Jesus' followers experienced after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In his Acts of the Apostles Luke brings us the only scriptural account of the Day of Pentecost; tradition says it began in the same upper room as Jesus' last supper we remember on Maundy Thursday. The Holy Spirit we sometimes refer to as the Third Person of the Trinity is prominent In Luke's gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles. As theologian Jürgen Moltmann explains so well, "…the Holy Spirit is …the creative and life-giving, redeeming and saving God … present in a special way."

• in all of these Day of Pentecost accounts, Spirit is Pneuma rather than the Paraclete Jesus promised in last week's (Easter 7) text from John 16:7. (But in John 16:13 Jesus speaks of the Pneuma=spirit of truth.)
• Luke'a gospel and his Acts of the Apostles use the word Spirit (pneuma in Greek), and not Paraclete/Advocate.
• Pneumatology is the technical word for the branch of theology that's about the person, presence, and activity of the HS.
• The Spirit came to individuals gathered in community, "all together in one place." In the pentecost of our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.

In this narrative, everyone from everywhere was in Jerusalem for the Jewish Pentecost. Shavuot, the feast of weeks (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10) is "The day Heaven kissed Earth" as God bestowed the 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai. Like Pentecost, Shavuot refers to seven weeks – "a week of weeks" – after Passover.

• Acts 2:3, 4, 11 "tongues" is glossos – you may know the word glossalalia for speaking in tongues some charismatic churches practice; when we dissect scripture and find a phrase out of line with the rest of the content, we sometimes refer to the added words as a "gloss."

• Acts 2:6, 8 "tongues" is dialect, one of our English words for language.

Everyone heard in their own language. Last year on the Day of Pentecost we discussed the importance of learning other spoken languages, and maybe especially cultural languages. Those "other cultures" sometimes include other sections of the USA. The Spirit of God surrounds and fills all creation. In some senses, the fire and wind of the HS blows away and incinerates differences and barriers of culture, status and religion, gender, age, ethnicity; in a more biblically true sense, the HS rearranges expectations and demands to make room for differences that enrich the entire community.


The HS is constantly in action, but to us humans it seems as if sometimes the Spirit nudges us toward greater changes than at other times. The COVID-19 pandemic remains an opportunity for increased scientific research and knowledge. Despite deaths, job losses, and overall economic devastation, this has become a time of phenomenal caring and compassion, one of imaginatively figuring out how to move forward in retail, recreational, and educational venues. Did you notice sales of board games are up? We've learned physical distancing and social distancing are different concepts!

With the sudden(? probably not) eruption of rioting and violence in the wake of an officer sworn to protect peace and justice murdering a civilian …
• Can we learn to understand the language of looting, violence, anger, and torches that are not the fire of pentecost?

None of us approaches human perfection, yet as we claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ…
• How much leeway can we allow for bad behaviors? In what circumstances?

We won't hang red banners from the rafters this year!
• Are you doing anything to make Pentecost 2020 unforgettable?

Specifically related to our life together on Santa Monica Blvd:
• What changes do you imagine the HS nudging – or propelling – us toward between the first Sunday we gather again and (for example) Thanksgiving Day?

• What image(s) of the Holy Spirit particularly resonate(s) with you? Wind? Fire? Dove? Advocate? Peace? Attorney? Comforter? Quilt? Something different?

• Have you especially sensed the Spirit at work in your own life or in your surroundings during the past few months? Or not?

Next Week and Counting

Next Sunday we'll celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity / "tri-unity"; after that we'll spend 6 months in a growing, greening segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. We can be confident our baptism (immersion and filling) with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will enable us to live as Jesus's crucified and risen presence everywhere we go.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ascension 2020

COVID-19 #SaferAtHome

Since early March we've been church without walls – as the church always is – but we've been doing it in a very different way. Most of us have been doing our best to accomplish our usual tasks by Staying Safe and Staying Home. With fewer direct service opportunities like serving meals, visiting homebound and sick friends and neighbors, churches all over the world have used this unique opportunity for prayer, scripture study, live and pre-recorded worship and praise. Although I've enjoyed preparing a more formal than usual lesson to blog on Saturdays, I'm looking forward to meeting in real life again soon, and to live, on-campus worship.


"Glorious Christ,

you whose divine influence is active at the very heart of matter, and at the dazzling centre where the innumerable fibres of the multiple meet: you whose power is as implacable as the world and as warm as life, you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; it is to you to whom our being cries out a desire as vast as the universe: In truth you are our Lord and our God!

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Mass on the World, 1923

Luke 24:44-53

44Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Acts 1:4-11

4…Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Ascension – Easter 7

Easter is a season that's a week of weeks, (the biblical number of) 7 times 7. Next Sunday we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the third great Trinitarian festival, that's the 50th day of Easter—the pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised. We then move into the green and growing season of Pentecost, a l-o-o-o-n-n-g segment of Ordinary Time when the church really comes into its own.

Today is day 43 of Easter, often commemorated as the Sunday after Ascension Thursday that the church observes on the 40th day of Easter. For Ascension Day this year, Pastor Peg and Friends posted an Ascension worship and study video anyone can watch any time.

In easy theological terms, ascension, ascendancy, ascent refer to reign, rule, sovereignty, power, authority, stewardship. Not "domination" as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to the needs of all creation everywhere. Unlike in human governments and organizations, Jesus' authority has no checks and balances. It is supreme. It is absolute.

Luke – Acts

As we prepare for the season of Pentecost and close to six months' focus on our living as Jesus' presence in the world, let's consider both Ascension passages from Luke: the account in the gospel that bears his name, along with his account from the Acts of the Apostles.

Luke 24:49 "…I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Acts 1:5 "…for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

When the disciples ask the resurrected Jesus if now he finally would "restore the kingdom to Israel," he replies, "the question is wrong," and tells them to wait, they will receive power (the Greek is our dynamite word) and then they'll be his witnesses everywhere. What you’ll get is not reclaimed splendors like the Davidic monarchy or the Jerusalem temple! You'll receive the Holy Spirit so you can live as Jesus' presence in the world; from now on, the world will discover Jesus within the church. In other words, Jesus' disciples (that's us!) will be the ones to restore God's reign of love, justice, mercy, and shalom on earth.

Jesus promises us baptism or literal immersion in the Holy Spirit of life; Jesus promises our lives will witness to him, but we don't do this on our own, by ourselves; we accomplish it with the power of God's life with us and within us. In the global reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we become Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation, as the HS empowers us to walk the talk!


• What does it mean to be Jesus' witnesses? Think of courtroom testimony.

• When we return to Santa Monica Boulevard, is there any new or renewed ministry you'd like to see happen and/or participate in during the next few months?

• Do you have a sense anything we've been doing will change substantially? I particularly think of the choir and of our own congregational singing. Assuming we'll be arranged 6 feet apart and probably wear face masks for a while…

• I'm also thinking of activities that bring us together in more informal, less structured ways, like craft days and Sunday brunch.

# # #

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Easter 6A

John 14:15-21

15"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

COVID-19 again

Anyone know Carly Simon's song Anticipation?

"We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway."

Whatever the subject or situation, we never know what's next, yet we still think about it. I don't know if "we" in Carly's song is the royal we, the deferential we, or simply every single one of us. (Except when they have actual information from the creator of a song, most song meanings sites make random, often stupid guesses.) In this global corona virus pandemic, there is no us and them. Concerning susceptibility, regarding care for neighbors next door or on the other side of the world, as we look into future days to come, there's only us, we, our, ours. Theirs is ours. What's mine is yours. As disciples of Jesus, can we live and lead during this time of suffering and uncertainty in ways that heal and truly bring us together?

Today's gospel reading assures us we can live and lead and help heal. Together.


God of constant presence, God of resurrection promise, we bless you for welcoming our praise and heeding our prayers, for staying alongside us with your steadfast love. Thank you again for first responders and essential workers; please keep them healthy and safe. Thank you for breaking down real and imagined divisions and barriers between them and us. Thank you for the written word that reveals you as God of the promised land, but also as God of wilderness, God of exile, God of pain and loss wherever it happens.

In the name of Jesus, who calls us friends, who in the Holy Spirit of Life calls and enables us to live as comforters to our neighbors.

cf: Psalm 66; Acts 17; John 14


quilt comforter

On my oldest blog, desert spirit's fire! I almost never post without at least one picture. This blog's purpose and personality are different, but I couldn't resist an illustration this week. Keep reading!

Easter is 50 Days

The Great Fifty Days of Easter are almost over—Easter is a week of weeks (7 x 7). The sixth Sunday of Easter is day 36 of 50. The third of the church's great trinitarian festivals, the Day of Pentecost, is the fiftieth day of Easter.

John's Gospel

Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in a somewhat similar manner) has its own lectionary year. John's gospel doesn't, although during the shortest gospel Mark's year we hear a lot of John, and for the Great Fifty Days of Easter during all three years the gospel readings are mostly from John.

John is the gospel of God's abiding presence in Jesus Christ. This good news we received from the community gathered around Jesus' beloved disciple John offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action that make a difference in the world. With the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive in baptism, we live as God's abiding, comforting presence in the world.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

• John chapters 13 through 17 sometimes are known as Jesus' Farewell Discourses.

Today's gospel reading happens in the upper room of Maundy Thursday after Jesus washed the disciples' feet. In this passage, Jesus promises to send "another advocate." Jesus says anyone who loves him will keep the commandments; Jesus promises to love and reveal himself to those who love him. In today's text Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, but four weeks ago we read about Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on the evening of the first Easter Day when we celebrated Easter 2:

This year's notes from Easter 2

However, the lectionary people scheduled today's scripture about Jesus' Maundy Thursday promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit for late in the season of Easter. Maybe because two weeks from today, we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost with the account of the Holy Spirit filling the world? By the way, that event also happens in the upper room. The same room as Maundy Thursday and Easter evening? Not sure.

Have You Heard this Story?

Grandma couldn't get to church one Sunday, so she asked her granddaughter to listen carefully and tell her what the pastor preached. When granddaughter got home, grandma asked what the pastor talked about. Grandkid replied, "Don't worry! You will get your quilt!"

Presence. Comfort. Accompaniment.

16"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever."

Jesus promises to send the advocate or paraclete, a word for the Holy Spirit that's unique to John.

Para means beside, next to, alongside. Clesis /clete means call, called. Paraclete in Greek is the same as advocate in Latin: ad means beside; vocare means call, called.

Jesus was the first paraclete, the original called-along-side, so he promises to send "another," additional one.

Paraclete / advocate has a legal dimension as public defender, defense attorney, lawyer for the accused. Just as here and now, in Jesus' day if you went to trial and didn't have your own attorney, the court would appoint a paraclete to defend you. Beyond the legal definition, a paraclete is about general comfort, protection, counsel, and guidance—all wrapped up in God's presence the same way a cozy quilt or comforter wraps us up. This paraclete Jesus promises is on our side and has our back. We won't fall!

Translations/interpretations include comforter, helper, advocate, counselor, solicitor, attorney…The Message reads "another friend." Friend implies unranked equality, intimacy, one knows what the other does. Common English Bible [CEB] says companion, someone we break bread with. Ever notice what a leveling experience sharing a meal or a snack with a person is? How eating at the same table often is the start of real friendship? Sitting beside each other at Sunday brunch?

Like a keyboard accompaniment to a vocal or instrumental solo or choir anthem, the Holy Spirit accompanies us. Similar to breaking bread along side a companion (with+bread=com+panion).

King James [KJV] language parallels Jesus promising not to leave us comfort-less after he promises to send another comforter.

• The Comforter will stay with us forever: what does comforter and forever mean for us?

• As people who receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, God calls us to comfort, help, advocate for others. What are some ways that happens? Being a cozy blanket or quilt without hovering too closely and smothering the person?

Comfort, Presence, COVID-19, Resurrection

Especially at this time, everyone in the world needs comfort, solace, and reassurance. Engulfed by a demon that continues to kill too many people, an intruder with a multiplier effect on every aspect of the economy, every corner of our lives, we need help! Comfort! A friend! A defense attorney! And we need new life out of death!

The Holy Spirit that wraps us up in comforting hugs is the Holy Spirit of resurrection that raised Jesus from death to life. To be resurrected? You first need to be dead! Gimme Jesus!

• What does resurrection mean to you?

• Jesus has many titles or names (Savior, Redeemer, Lord, King, Rabbi); what title would you give the Holy Spirit?

Verses 17, 18, 19: Worlds & Orphans

In the New Testament, two different words typically get translated as "world." Here in John 14:17, 19, world/cosmos means this planet, a physical space; it also can refer to people, institutions, and structures that do not know or obey God. John 14:18 – when Jesus promises not to leave us orphans, the Greek is the same as our word for orphan. Orphan is another legal term: a minor without living parents, or someone whose parents have abandoned them.

• Jesus will not leave us orphans or abandon us? What does that promise feel like to you?

Keeping the Commandments

Today's reading from John's Gospel begins and ends with love, commandments, and obedience. The fulfillment of God's promises depends upon God's free, unearned gifts of grace; they also depend upon our obedience.

John 14:15If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

verses 15, 21 love, love, loved, love = agape, the word for love the NT uses for God's unconditional love

verse 21 appear, make manifest, reveal = same as epiphany

• What does Jesus mean when he tells us he and the Father will love and reveal themselves to those who love him?

• "If you love me…" What is the connection between love and obedience?

For Consideration Now or Later

John 14:15If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism, traditional preparation for God's gift of First Communion, with the Ten Commandments.

• But aren't the sacraments all about grace, about gift?

• What does it mean to obey Jesus?

• Are Jesus' demands different from or the same as the ten words or commandment of the Sinai Covenant? Why? How?

• Matthew 19:16-22 the rich young ruler

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" and Jesus answers, "keep the commandments" with the demands of the Sinai covenant.

• Mark 10:17-22 where Jesus tells the rich guy, "You know the commandments" and does a basic short list.

After Jesus sends out the seventies, tells them share the peace; tell people God's reign has come near, shake the dust off; after Satan falling from heaven…

• Luke 10:25-37 Jesus asks the legal eagle, "What do you read in the law?" After the lawyer answers, "love God, neighbor, and self," Jesus responds to "…and who is my neighbor" with the parable of Good Samaritan.

To be saved, made whole, have integrity, be alive as part of the common wealth, we must keep the commandments that are God's working papers or guidelines for our lives together. None of us is fully saved or redeemed until everyone is. No one has fullness of shalom until all creation does.

• What is the connection between obedience and freedom?

• What is the connection between faith and action?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Easter 5A

1 Peter 2:1, 2-10

1Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 
6For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

With some trails and golf courses now accessible, a few shops offering curbside service to complement supermarkets and big boxes that have stayed open, we still need to #StaySafeStayHome and maintain physical distance outside our homes. On-campus, in-person church meetings will wait a while. As Nancy Pelosi observed, science and medicine are among the ways God acts in our favor and provides for our future.


God of refuge, God of resurrection promise—our God who chooses us as your people! As the world continues in lockdown, guide us toward your marvelous light so we can reflect you and brighten our surroundings, so the world will recognize Jesus in us. We ask in the name of Jesus, Amen!

cf: Psalm 31; 1 Peter 2; John 14

1 Peter and 2 Peter – authorship

The pair of letters or epistles 1 Peter and 2 Peter definitely were not written by Peter the Apostle, and most likely the same individual didn't write both. When scholars assess writing, they check out content, context, language (vocabulary, syntax, etc.). Despite many Old Testament quotes and allusions the actual apostle Peter would have known from his studies of scripture, 1 Peter and 2 Peter probably were written to churches formed of mostly gentiles, who wouldn't have been familiar with those texts.

We've discussed how claiming authorship was very different from what it is now; there weren't any copyrights, trademarks, or other legalities to protect a person's creative or inventive output. Using someone else's name was a compliment, and (as Pastor Peg reminded us), a famous person would be more likely to get readers than an unknown would.

Virtually Live on Easter 5

Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 times 7. Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter, the 29th day— so Happy Easter, even as this year of grace inclines toward the Day of Pentecost! During our current Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year A, the second reading for all seven Sundays of Easter is from 1 Peter, but today is the first time this Easter season we're formally studying a reading from 1 Peter. Because of time constraints – brain constraints, too? – most weeks we focus on only one scripture, but 1 Peter and 2 Peter would be an interesting separate in-depth study.

Rocks – Jesus Christ – Us

OT and NT both use many pictures and metaphors for our relationship with God. Some of them describe our relationship to God and our characteristics as Christians by using the same words as it does for Jesus.

Stones, rocks, bricks, granite, concrete: hard, heavy, solid, safe, impenetrable, permanent, won't easily decay

Solidness, safety and security of rock, brick, adobe, concrete, or any masonry as walls or building foundations. This is earthquake country! How does initial construction and possible retrofitting affect how we experience the world around us when the ground beneath us and around us shakes? It's common to parallel human insecurity during an earthquake with human insecurities during times our society, family, finances, jobs, income, toilet paper and paper towel supply—everything literally is shaky. No exaggeration!

Remember the 12 January 2010 M7.0 Haiti earthquake that left the country in shambles? Three months later, the M7.2 April 4th Sierra el Mayor / Easter EQ south of the international border in Baja California caused very little damage—though I can tell you it sounded like a freight train 100+ miles north in San Diego, Alta California. The Easter seismic event caused only minor disruption because contractors in USA and Mexico use rebar that reliably reinforces building materials that to some degree are stable and secure by themselves, but won't endure without added strengthening.

1 Peter 2:5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we over-spiritualize scripture and our lives as Christians. Although that spiritual dimension is essential to our identity as God's people, Judaism and Christianity are highly earthbound and embodied. However, a large sense of this passage from 1 Peter is about our spiritual strengthening – spiritual rebar? – about us, like Jesus Christ, firmly situated where God has placed us. To a limited degree we humans are stable and secure on our own, but we can't last long without reinforcement from the HS and from community.

• 1 Peter 2:4 Jesus, a living stone;

• 1 Peter 2:5 us, like living stones.

What does it mean for each of us as individuals, for us as a community of faith within LA, for any of us as we eventually get to travel outside this region again to be "living stones"? How about writing a poem?

Chosen – Royal – Holy – God's Own
1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Often called a "baptismal hymn" the two verses of 1 Peter 2:9-10 highlight aspects of our baptismal identity.

Word study! What are your own word associations and/or definitions of…

• royal – noble

• priest – mediator

• holy – sanctified, set apart, sacred, consecrated

• nation – ethnicity, people, tribe, generation, population

• God's own people – KJV, "peculiar people" – "special possession" in some translations that echoes a distinctive OT title for God's people

• proclaim – announce, preach, speak, declare, advertise

• mighty acts – "praises" / "excellencies" in some versions

• darkness

• light

• mercy

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Easter 4A


The world continues #SaferAtHome with physical distancing, working at home, schooling at home, leaving home only for necessities. How long, O Lord? Thus far state and county tell us through 15th May; church will be off-campus at least through the end of May.


God of unmediated presence,
thank you again for never leaving us.
Thanks for helping us be part of the solution for preventing the spread of this dangerous virus.
Thank you for all the essential workers; please keep them safe and healthy.
Thank you again for widespread digital communication!
In Jesus' name we give you thanks,

The Year

So far in the church's year of grace we've experienced Advent – waiting for God's arrival in our midst as a baby in the Bethlehem manger. Then Christmas, the feast of God's Incarnation on earth arrived and we met the infant Jesus. The season of Epiphany showed us God is God of all creation, for all creation. During Lent we revisited Jesus' earthly ministry. During Holy Week we journeyed to the cross with Jesus. The three days of the Triduum – "tri duum" – started with Maundy Thursday, continued to Good Friday, then Easter, Jesus' resurrection from death. Other years we physically gathered and celebrated Easter Vigil, Easter Sunrise, Easter Day, or all three. The lectionary also provides readings for Easter Evening, a wonderful way to close out the day and begin the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

The Season

Easter is a week of weeks, 7x7, and fills about 1/7 of the calendar year. The fiftieth day of Easter is the Day of Pentecost, the third of the church's Trinitarian festivals when we hear about people gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the wheat harvest and God's giving the Sinai Covenant / ten words or commandments through Moses. And on Pentecost we hear about the Holy Spirit filling all the people and all the world accompanied by sensory signs of wind and fire.

The Day

Every year the Fourth Sunday (day 22) of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, with Psalm 23 as its centerpiece. Most years we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm. Find your favorite on YouTube!

The Acts of the Apostles

Most Sundays the first reading comes from the Old Testament, but 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. Hearing from Acts every Sunday also is a bit ironic because the lectionary hasn't yet given us the Day of Pentecost account from Acts 2 that describes the Holy Spirit filling the world accompanied by signs of wind and fire.

Luke who wrote the gospel also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. When we studied Luke's gospel in depth last year, we discovered he emphasizes the Holy Spirit, places everything in historical context, focuses on women and other marginalized populations, loves prayer, makes table fellowship prominent. Acts continues in the same direction.

We've discussed how the oral story-telling tradition took on additions, elaborations, and (especially) interpretations during the process. You know about the distinction between real and ideal? Most scholars assume Acts records some events as they really happened along with others that could occur when the Holy Spirit fills world and people. The title of one of Jürgen Moltmann's books is The Church in the Power of the Spirit. The church – that's us! – still lives, breathes, serves, and hopes in the power of the pentecostal spirit of life, the spirit of resurrection from the dead.

Acts 2:41, 42-47

41they gladly received the word Peter preached and three thousand were baptized on that day!

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Today's first reading officially begins with verse 42 and a description of Christian community, but I added 2:41 because it tells about the baptism of 3,000 people! You can describe the book of Acts as a blueprint or roadmap for living out our baptism—how, then, shall we live baptized?

2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

Learning the words and interpretation of scripture, gathering with others, food, and prayer. Most scholars agree "breaking of bread" refers to the Lord's Supper, probably in what looks to us like a late twentieth century home church context. But without a doubt it also means routinely sharing food so no one has too much or too little, everyone has enough.

2:44 "all who believed were together and had all things in common."

Common ownership of goods and assets, selling stuff to provide for people in need may seem way "beyond" ideal. Even if we've done some anthropology field work or ministered in non-mainstream settings, most of us still tend to interpret scripture from a contemporary western viewpoint. However, in some rural communities and in many less-developed countries, fluid ownership of everything – "what's mine is yours as long as I don't need it right now and you do" – isn't uncommon.

Speaking of real / ideal, later in Acts, Luke writes about discord, persecution, disagreements, fractured relationships, things not going well. All in all, he doesn't present only an ideal, but wisely includes real situations that need resolution.

Koinonia is the Greek word often translated as fellowship. We get our multiple meaning English word common from koinonia. Routine, mundane, ordinary (also with meanings of well-arranged, commonplace, and others), jointly held...

Looking Ahead

Although we'll gather virtually at least through the month of May / Day of Pentecost, we still don't know when we'll return to campus.

Teaching – fellowship – breaking of bread – prayers – awe – all things in common

How well does today's reading describe church as you've experienced it?

• In our own West LA context?
• Other churches you've attended or where you've been involved?
• Churches you've read about?

When we can't be together physically

• How have you read or studied scripture, been taught by others online, in printed books and devotionals, by connections you instinctively make from your own memory and experience?
• Have you participated in church and/ or in other online communities?
• Shared meals in some way?
• Prayed together, either out loud at home, on the phone, or using prayers posted outline?
• Where have you experienced awe recently and a while ago? In nature? Gathered with other people at church? At a concert?

• Has anything about our current way of being church particularly blessed you? Or not?
• What do you miss most about not being in the same space on Sundays?