Saturday, June 12, 2021

Pentecost 3B

Mark 4:26-32

26Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

30He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

The Good News According to Mark

As the church's year of grace moves into the green and growing Season of the Spirit or "Ordinary Time," we continue in the gospel according to St. Mark, the main gospel for Revised Common Lectionary Year B, Mark's year.

This gospel probably is not by Peter's ministry companion John Mark, but from an unknown author. Current consensus says Mark probably was compiled between 60 and 70, close to the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple. As the shortest gospel, Mark is the one for texting and tweeting.

Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the other army's troops. This gospel according to Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over the powers of sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is economic, political, religious, social, and cultural. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims life and brings new life – resurrection out of death – everywhere.

Mark has no birth narrative; no resurrection account. Mark particularly asks and answers where do we find God? We find God not in established religious, economic, political institutions, but outside the city limits, in the wilderness. We discover God in the stranger and outcast. On the margins rather than at the center. In, with, and under all creation. We supremely find God in the openness, exposure, and vulnerability of a condemned human dying on the cross.

Agricultural Parables

A parable is a comparison, analogy, illustration: the kingdom of heaven is like; the reign of God is like. Parable means to put something alongside something else, to make a parallel. Sometimes it feels as if Jesus had a particular meaning in mind; other parables lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Teaching and explaining with comparisons was common in Jesus' rabbinic tradition and in the Hellenistic world. Please note… a parable is not an earthly story with a heavenly meaning; if anything, a parable is a heavenly story with an earthly meaning.

As necessary as it is to plan, plant, and tend crops to feed and nurture people and animals, this Sunday's pair of parables of the Kingdom of God demonstrate the role of God's grace rather than human endeavors in the growth of the reign of heaven among us (and in the growth of some fruit of the earth).

Scattered Seeds

This simple story about scattered seed in Mark 14:26-29 is unique to Mark's gospel. Jesus says someone scatters seed (they don't carefully plant it) and while the farmer sleeps "…the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself…"

14:28 "the earth produces of itself" literally is automatically; "spontaneously" also works. I found a couple of internet meme-worthy phrases: "While you sleep, the gospel will grow." "We sow – God grows."

It's important to stick to what the parable actually says and not expand it to what it doesn't say. Of course farmers need to take care of the earth; planters need to pay attention to seasons and agricultural cycles; most crops need to be watered; different types of crops do best in certain kinds of soil; some need particular fertilizers, but that's a concern for another time.

Both this scattered seeds account and the mustard seed story mainly describe God's inbreaking realm with images Jesus' agriculture-savvy audience easily could compare with their direct experiences or observations of farming. For sure we can equate the scattered (not carefully planted) seed with telling people about the good news of Jesus, with small gestures of love, caring, compassion, and service. All of these tend to multiply in close to imperceptible ways. People often resolve to pay forward a kindness or goodness, and they usually do, and that typically leads to further expansion of the Good Stuff.

Last week we mentioned Jesus calls us to be apostles, as people Jesus sends out (an apostle literally is a sent person) to continue his ministry of loving and reconciling the world. The Greek for "goes in with his sickle" in 14:29 derives from apostle.

Mustard Seeds

Besides Mark 14:30-32, synoptic gospels Luke 13:18-19 and Matthew 13:31-32 include the renowned Mustard Seed parable. You've likely heard the mustard seed is far from the smallest seed and doesn't grow into "the greatest of all shrubs," but it does get big enough to provide shelter for birds and small animals. Remembering this is a parable about God's kingdom or reign rather than a farming handbook, just as mustard seeds expand from something small and hard to notice into a big bush that's impossible to miss, the tiny seeds of love, hope, and care we (mostly randomly) plant ultimately grow into something big enough to fill the world. Like the sower in the first parable and the mustard planter in the second, we don't need to do anything more than take that loving action. We don't need to engineer, plan, or add on additional value. God's grace takes care of the outcome, which frequently is far disproportionate to the original input.

Maybe Jesus was being ironic with this story, because few people would intentionally plant mustard seeds. Mustard already was "there," and prolific most places, though just as now, mustard had medicinal value and culinary uses for seasoning and salads. Small mustard seeds grow into a shrub (technically mustard is a vegetable-not-a-shrub, "plant" will work) big enough to shelter birds and small animals and it can't easily be eliminated. I'm not sure invasive is the proper term, but from this non-gardener's perspective it appears invasive as it doesn't honor pre-determined boundaries or limits. This is a parable of the Kingdom of God, of the gospel that ultimately spreads everywhere, ignores established limits and conventions, and becomes part of every facet of existence.

Related to God's constant reminder for us to remember (I led you through the desert, I quenched your thirst with water from the rock, I fed you with manna, I zapped your enemies, I made you my chosen), I recently heard, "Remember! God runs in my direction when the whole world walks away." Like mustard plants that spread everywhere and can't easily be rooted up and done away with, God's boundless mercy and love is here to stay. Like mustard plants that spread everywhere, we can show God's mercy and love everywhere we go.

This is a parable of the gospeled reign of God in Christ Jesus. In the Old Testament, trees and sheltering branches are metaphors or images for political rule and sovereignty, and not always of the desirable divine kind. Jesus' audience would have recognized the symbolism and considered this parable a hope-filled promise of God's reign: a heavenly story with an earthbound outcome.

This Week's Questions

• What tiny seeds or other inputs can you think of that often result in a big outcome? I read the size of a COVID-19 vaccine dose is about the size of a teardrop. As more and more people get vaccinated, protection against getting infected will spread further and further, so herd immunity may become possible, after all.
• Birds can nest in the mustard tree's shade. What biblical images of shade do you remember? Especially consider the psalms. What are some contemporary twenty-first meanings of shade?
• Question to gardeners and famers: is there actually such a thing as a weed, or does calling a plant "weed" depend entirely on context?
• What part of nature would you compare or parallel to God's Kingdom or reign? An animal? Tree? Plant? Biome such as mountain, prairie, or desert?
• Around here mustard plants interspersed with California golden poppies create such visual beauty! Most California mustard is Brassica tournefortii (known as Asian, African, or Saharan Mustard), so a different variety than Jesus' who probably talked about Brassica nigra or black mustard. The mostly Southern cuisine I grew up with often served mustard, dandelion, collard, or other greens. My research into the mustard seed parable reminded me mustard is a cruciferous veggie and part of the cabbage family.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Pentecost 2B

Prayer: Hearing the Word

Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.

By John Wurster; used with permission
Mark 3:19b-35

19Then Jesus went home, 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."

23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Sundays after Pentecost

Today the Church's year of grace moves into a half-year of Ordinary Time, and we start counting Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. Ordinary refers to ordered and organized rather than mundane or commonplace, but we hold these Sundays in common with most denominations, church bodies, and traditions. During this green and growing Season of the Spirit, time of the church, we especially emphasize the contemporary Acts of the Apostles (that's us!).

The Gospel According to Mark

This is Mark's year in the Revised Common Lectionary that provides our scripture readings. Mark is the earliest and shortest of the four canonical gospels; Mark is particularly apocalyptic. An apocalypse is a revealing or uncovering—something like an epiphany. Apocalyptic typically employs contrasting dualism: light-dark; heaven-hell; empty-full; good-evil; near-far. Signs, imagery, and symbols in apocalyptic literature sometimes have an easily discernible meaning; other times it's best to consider its context within an entire passage.

Mark's gospel brings us the inbreaking rule or reign of God—the end of the world as we've known it. Mark answers the question "Where do we find God?" Not far away in an unreachable heavenly location; not enthroned in the temple; not in conventional religious, economic, political, social, and cultural persons and establishments. Especially in Mark's gospel, we find Jesus outside the city limits (remember the location of the Calvary cross), outside the center of almost everything, on the margins, in the stranger, the outsider, and the outcast, even in those falling off the edge of the edges. More than in the other gospels, Mark's Jesus acts outside of regulation and convention as he offers limitless mercy, inclusion, forgiveness, and grace. Jesus in Mark erases old boundaries and redraws them to include everyone.

Just as with Luke, Jesus' journey to the cross in Mark is especially intentional and incessant. Particularly for Mark, the cross is the ultimate revelation of Jesus' identity and mission; the cross also reveals our identity and mission as the church, as people Jesus sends out (an apostle literally is a sent person) in the power of the Spirit to continue his ministry of loving and reconciling the world. Related to the gospel reading for today, in The Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Lamar Williamson, Jr. makes the noun apostle into a verb, and declares we have been "Apostled for proclamation and the removal of demons."

So Far in Mark

Mark 1

• Good News / Gospel announcement (no genealogy, no birth narrative). "Gospel" is a short form of Godspell or God's Spell you may remember from the musical Stephen Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak based on Matthew's gospel.
• John the Baptist in the Jordan River wilderness
• Jesus joins John's riverside assembly and John baptizes him.
• Forty days of temptation in the even deeper desert wilds
• Back in his hometown Galilee, Jesus announces now is the time! The reign (kingdom) of God has come near.
• Jesus calls fisher brothers Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John Zebedee as his first disciples.
• In his first act of public ministry, Jesus drives out a demon after teaching in the synagogue during services.
• Jesus heals Peter's mother in law.
• Casts out "many demons" who recognize Jesus
• Heals a leper

Mark 2

• Another healing (the scribes don't like this)
• Calls tax collector Levi
• Eats with sinners and tax collectors (once again, scribes don't like this at all)
• Question about fasting
• About doing good deeds on the Sabbath

Mark 3

• Heals / does good on the Sabbath again. After this the Pharisee religious leaders conspire to get rid of Jesus
• More healing – this time by the water feature that's technically Lake Galilee, not a sea or an ocean
• Jesus specially calls and appoints twelve apostles. A rabbi would need ten disciples or followers to be credible; Jesus added two more to that number.

Kinship, Authority, Family

Today's gospel reading continues chapter 3. Cast of characters include a crowd, Jesus' family of origin, and hyper-religious scribes from Jerusalem. Verse 23 tells us Jesus spoke in parables, a type of story we know from Mark and from the other synoptic gospels Matthew and Luke. A parable makes us listen – and hear – beyond the immediately obvious.

In Jesus' time and place, biological family or household determined a person's social and economic trajectory. Family would be comprised of several generations and stretch horizontally to include cousins. It was far removed from the nuclear Western family of parents, grands, and offspring that started at the turn of the twentieth century, eons away from the post-World War II mid-twentieth century phenomenon of parents and kids that prevailed for (maybe) a couple of decades.

In Jesus' time and place, Jerusalem scribes were highly-regarded experts on everything Torah and Temple; they had extremely high religious and social standing. In this reading, Jesus has gone home to Galilee; that means those scribes had journeyed a distance to scope out and engage the itinerant rabbi who'd been making radical claims and causing crazy commotions. In this anecdote, both family and religious leaders mis-identify Jesus' person and purpose. By looking only at the surface, they simply perceive his actions as being outside of conventional kinship and religious behaviors and apparently never wonder about a meaning beyond the obvious.

Mark's Jesus brings us the inbreaking rule or reign of God—the end of the world as we've known it; Mark's gospel or good news often describes the world newly reordered by the Word in vividly contrasting apocalyptic images. In Mark, Jesus especially engages religious, economic, and political institutions: The Establishment. Mark particularly unmasks the systemic brokenness and sin that's within all institutions and structures that yet remain necessary for the world to keep spinning. In Jesus' first act of public ministry in Mark [1:21-26], he exorcises or expels a demon in the midst of a synagogue service. Talk about conventional, established religion! It even has its own fixed meeting place!

Although "house" in this scripture can mean a domestic dwelling, it equally applies to any structure or infrastructure that needs to cohere and function in order to function as intended. Thus, Jesus refers to a kingdom divided, a house divided, Satan against himself. (Satan is the prosecuting attorney in Hebrew anthropology, and not necessarily a personification of evil). As we've especially been learning over the past few years, systemic and institutional injustice, inequities, sin, ineffectiveness, and brokenness happen because of far more than inept actions of individuals, occurs from much more than good or bad or indifferent organizational or institutional pronouncements and activities—a type of dysfunctional disease pervades them. No single action or decision of an individual or corporate entity has caused them to break; no righteous move or loving resolve has enough power to breathe life back into them.

Today's reading doesn't say Jesus expelled another demon or incubus, but he spoke in understandable religious and cultural terms. Whatever our own location in time and place, words like "demonic, satanic" describe forces outside our control very well.

Where We Live: Today's Gospel

"A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to Jesus, 'Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.' And he replied, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'" Mark 3:32-35

During this green and growing Season of the Spirit, time of the church, we especially emphasize the contemporary Acts of the Apostles (that's us!). Jesus invites us to join his new family configuration by claiming our baptismal gift of the Holy Spirit and following him into the world where he waits for us. Jesus apostles us to proclaim the end of the broken, death-dealing, dysfunctional world as we've known it and (in the power of the Holy Spirit) to remove demons. Yay!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Trinity Sunday 2021

Come, Join the Dance of Trinity

1 Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun—
the interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

2 Come, see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;
then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;
when fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

3 Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame
set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior's name.
We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;
go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

4 Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity

Text: Richard Leach; © 2001 Selah Publishing Co., Inc.
Tune: Kingsfold

John 3:1-17

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

4Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.' 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

9Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Trinity Sunday…

…is the Octave of Pentecost. The church long has celebrated important events in octaves of eight days—you may know the musical octave of eight notes. Trinity Sunday celebrates a doctrine or teaching, instead of an event. Scripture strongly implies God as triune or three-in-one / one-in-three, yet never uses the word "trinity." The Trinity is a mystery, but our human brains insist on trying to describe it. That's not at all negative! In many classes in school, teachers have students write about almost everything. The idea is if you can talk/write about a concept, you essentially understand it.

You've probably heard the Trinity described in ways similar to "ice – water – vapor" // "son – friend – brother"? Those attempts end up with the heresy of modalism with its claim God manifests in different ways at different times, yet they still provide some idea of the variety of roles the triune God rocks. Instead of an analogy that never approaches the essence of the godhead, early church fathers and mothers frequently talked about the Dance or the Perichoresis of the Trinity. "Peri" refers to in the vicinity of, around, nearby–perimeter, peripatetic, pericope (a scripture or other literary passage cut out from its surroundings). "Choresis" has the same root as dance-related choreography. Father, Son, Holy Spirit interact with each other, collaborate, do life together so wonderfully we also want to dance in response! Maybe more than anything, the Trinity models our interactive and cooperative lifestyles and ministries. The Church [that's us!] is the Image of the Trinity; as the hymn sings, "Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free, to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity."

Holy, Holy, Holy

"Holy, Holy, Holy" absolutely without a doubt is the most famous and best loved Trinitarian hymn. It acclaims a "Holy" for each person of the Trinity.

"Jesus answered, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.'" John 3:5-6

We baptize using water and the trinitarian formula, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Holy, Holy, Holy triune God. Matthew 28:19 is the only scriptural occurrence of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit baptismal formula; it was a later addition to the text. The early church probably baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, Jesus the Savior, or with similar words. However, the early church would not have imagined that baptism into the redeemer and savior Jesus would not also encompass baptism into the Holy Spirit of life Jesus bestows on us.

John 3:3, 5, 11 – the Greek original brings us John's famous double amens! Jesus says, "Amen, amen," that the Douay-Rheims retains, yet that dramatic phrase otherwise gets translated "truly, truly," "verily, verily," "most assuredly," or into other less evocative words. Pastor Eugene Peterson first phrases it, "You're absolutely right," and dilutes it more further on. In general I find his translations usually bring added dimension and understanding, but (editorializing) not this time.

John 3:3 is the only time the fourth gospel mentions kingdom/reign of God. Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke say Reign of Heaven / Kingdom of God literally all the time, but John doesn't. This wonderful scripture passage contains other riches including verse 16, "God so loved the world," possibly the only verse some people have memorized; many claim John 3:!6 as their life scripture. The less familiar verse 17, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him," reminds us of God's inclusive longing and loving, and reminds us to help erase stereotypes and mistaken ideas too many people have about God and church.

If religious leader Nicodemus sounds doubly familiar, he's the same Nicodemus we read about in John 16, when along with Joseph of Arimathea, he anoints Jesus' body for burial and lays it in the tomb Joseph has donated.

Holy God, Holy People

One of the times God commands holiness to the people:

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'" Leviticus 19:1-2

How does Leviticus describe this divine holiness God calls, commands, and promises (you shall!) us to participate in? This holiness reads like a summary of the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant: keeping Sabbath; caring and providing for each other; equitable wages, marketplace measures, and legal judgments; stewardship of the land, welcoming the stranger and treating the "other" of any category as part of our own community. Final verse 37 in this chapter: "You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord." We can be confident that God fulfills the charge and the promise of shall in the reign of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.

More than anything, the Holy (Holy, Holy) Trinity models our interactive and cooperative lifestyles and ministries. The Church [us!] is the Image of the Trinity, after the way the Dance of Trinity hymn sings, "Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free, to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity."

Next week we'll start counting Sundays after Pentecost as the Church moves into its own in the 6-month long, green, and growing season of Ordinary Time. We'll continue walking the talk as we follow Jesus into worlds around us as his presence. This year's Ordinary Time may feel less structured, less already arranged than most years. We're not yet post-COVID, yet the church worldwide necessarily will be experimenting with new ministry models, trying out new possibilities, and being more imaginative than usual. Baptized into the Dance of Trinity, we minister to the world as the presence of the Triune God.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Pentecost 2021

Acts 2:1-11

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?

9"Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

The Collect for Whitsunday

God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

From the Book of Common Prayer on the Church of England website

The 50th Day of Easter

Easter is 50 Days: Ascension Thursday is the 40th day of Easter; the Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter. These events belong together.

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 [common British Isles term, refers to white robes worn by people being baptized on Pentecost] —> Sanctification / Theosis / Holiness

In his Acts of the Apostles, the gospel writer Luke brings us the only scriptural account of the Day of Pentecost. The HS is prominent throughout Luke's gospel; the apostle Paul and the gospel of John also tell us a lot about the HS.

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

Every year we revisit images of visible fire and audible wind as evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence among us and within us. Today's account starts with Jesus' followers gathered together. Strong tradition says they were in the same upper room as during the last supper on Maundy Thursday, but the actual physical location remains unknown. Everyone from everywhere was in Jerusalem for the Jewish Pentecost to celebrate the wheat/grain harvest and probably God's giving the Sinai Covenant of Ten Words or Ten Commandments via Moses. Parallel to Easter and Pentecost, Shavuot refers to seven weeks – "a week of weeks" – after Passover. The day of Pentecost is one of the three most major Christian festivals; the Jewish Pentecost was one of the three mandated festivals.

This all ends of the earth with devout Jews from every nation under heaven not only represented geographical diversity and inclusion; in addition, it was about historical inclusion. The Storytellers Bible explains this assembly was historically impossible for the first century because Medes had disappeared a couple of centuries earlier.

Starting with creation, the witness of scripture reveals innumerable ways the Holy Spirit always has been present. God always has been triune—this gift and reign of the Holy Spirit of life is nothing new! But… the Holy Spirit constantly is doing something new. As theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann explains so well, "…the Holy Spirit is…the creative and life-giving, redeeming and saving God… present in a special way."

Where We Live

Last week we discussed Jesus' Ascension and his conversation with his disciples beforehand. They asked Jesus if now he'd finally "restore the kingdom to Israel," and Jesus told them the question was wrong, because "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] In other words, they would help "restore the kingdom." A witness sees, experiences, and testifies in words, often in action. With its senses the world can witness – see, hear, touch, taste, smell – the church, and in the church's activity the world will recognize the presence of God's reign.

Remember the Golden Calf Event in Exodus 32? God said, "Moses, your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt." Moses replied, "God, your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt." Which is it? Moses' people or God's people? It's both/and.

The wind of pentecost cleans, refreshes, clears, renews. The fire of pentecost sears, burns, purifies. A year after a wildfire, new seedlings cover the forest floor. Some seeds need to be singed by fire in order to open. The forest service regularly engages in controlled burns.

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

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


The Holy Spirit is constantly active, but it feels as if the Spirit nudges us more at some times than at others. The COVID-19 pandemic has been and remains an opportunity for increased scientific research and knowledge. Despite deaths, job losses, and overall economic devastation, this has been a year of phenomenal caring and compassion, of imaginatively figuring out how to move forward in retail, recreational, and educational venues. Sales of board games went way up. We've learned physical distancing and social distancing are different concepts!

Related to our life together:

• What changes do you imagine the HS nudging – or propelling – us toward between the first Sunday we gather again and (for example) Thanksgiving Day?
• Have you especially sensed the Spirit at work in your own life or in your surroundings during the past year plus?
• Specifically over the past few months as vaccines have been available and life slowly has opened up? Or not?

Holy Holy Holy

Next Sunday we'll celebrate the Holy Trinity (tri-unity) and then move into a six month long, growing greening segment of (ordered, arranged, structured) Ordinary Time as the church blossoms and blooms as Jesus' presence in the world. The indwelling Spirit we receive in our baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection engulfs us in God's creative power of resurrection; we live and serve as a Pentecostal people filled with gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Easter 7B • Ascension

Psalm 47

1Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
2For the Lord Most High is awesome;
God is a great King over all the earth.
3God will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
4God will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

5God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.
8God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.

9The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
God is greatly exalted.

New King James Version (NKJV). © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Acts 1:3-11

3After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to the apostles by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he 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."


…through the church's year of grace so far. During Advent we anticipated God's arrival in our midst; then we celebrated Nativity /Christmas with Jesus' birth as God-among-us. Next, the day and the season of Epiphany demonstrated God for all people of every culture, ethnicity, and situation—not exclusively for God's original people Israel. Then with his disciples alongside, Jesus ministered publicly among people of all types. Toward the end of Jesus' earthly life he reached Jerusalem; the week we now call "Holy" included Maundy Thursday with foot washing and the Lord's Supper; Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death on Friday; waiting again on Saturday (but with a sense of defeat, loss, and sorrow rather than Advent's hopefulness); finally the astonishment of Easter/resurrection Sunday.

Post-resurrection Jesus first encountered people he knew during his earthly ministry, and then drew a wider circle embracing people from everywhere. At the end of those forty days, all four gospels record Jesus' charging and commissioning his followers (that includes us!) to continue his ministries as his presence in the world. In the fourth gospel, the gospel according to John, Jesus makes a round-trip from heaven to earth, from earth back to heaven.

Ascension / Easter 7

Easter isn't a single day; Easter is a season that's a week of weeks, (the biblical number of) 7 times 7. Next Sunday on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised. During the green and growing season of Pentecost, a l-o-o-o-n-n-g segment of Ordinary Time, the church really comes into its own.

Three days ago on the 40th day of Easter, church and world (to some extent) celebrated Jesus' ascension with its declaration and confirmation of Jesus' authority over everything everywhere. The Feast or Solemnity of the Ascension is always a Thursday, but since most people don't go to church on Thursdays, today for Easter 7 we're hearing about the Ascension.

Although we sometimes refer to a balloon or a plane ascending, or we may mention a person has ascended to a better job or fancier house, "ascension" isn't a common word. In easy theological terms, Jesus' ascension refers to his reign, rule, sovereignty, power, authority, stewardship. Not "domination" as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to creation's needs. When we read about Jesus seated at God's right hand, this is a way of saying Jesus ascended, or assumed authority over all creation. Unlike with human governments and organizations, Jesus' authority has no checks and balances. It is supreme. It is absolute. Jesus is "King of all the earth," as Psalm 47 says.

Today's Reading

In our passage from Luke's Acts of the Apostles, the disciples ask Jesus, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus' disciples somehow still imagined maybe a warrior king who'd zap their enemies, possibly a ruler like David or Solomon who'd reside in opulent splendor far away from the thick of things. After they ask Jesus if now he'll finally remake their world with the end of brutal Roman imperial rule, poverty, injustice, and death, Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong and replies, "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."

The disciples still imagined a warrior who'd zap their enemies, or a ruler like David or Solomon. But instead the crucified and risen Savior told his followers they would receive power and be his witnesses—people who had seen and therefore could testify to his resurrection. In the power and reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we become Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation. The Spirit of Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from death to new life.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Why is the son of God called Jesus, meaning Savior?" And then, "Why is the son of God called Christ, meaning anointed?" And then: "But why are you called a Christian?" Answer: "Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign over all creation for all eternity."

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Easter 6B

Love That Commandment – John 15:9-17

Keep my commandment:
that is, give heed to, observe—
doing it with joy.

Keep my commandment:
by its daily exercise
love one another…

Keep my commandment
by bearing fruit that will last:
abide in my love…

Keep my commandment
so that your joy may be full:
serve one another.

Jeff Shrowder, 2021

Prayer from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia

John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Easter is Fifty Days! On this sixth Sunday of Easter that's day 36, we're back again with Jesus on Maundy Thursday and his concluding discourse (speech, talk, homily, reflection, sermon). Although we're in the season of Easter, this passage describes an event before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Just as in last week's gospel account, this week we hear more about obeying and abiding in Jesus Christ. Abiding means staying put.

During the Great Fifty Days, readings from John's gospel and from the Acts of the Apostles particularly reveal the shape and form of the servant church God calls us to be—and in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, God enables us to be. But this is not a solitary endeavor; our lives correspond to last week's image of God as the vinegrower, Jesus as the vine, us as the intertwined (inter-vined?) branches that support, complement, and compliment each other.

In Jesus' time and place, the unbending relationship between patron / sponsor and client / servant was heavily constructed and pre-determined. In this reading Jesus tells us our relationship with him mainly is friendship with the intimacy and closeness friendship implies. In the twenty-first century global West, we acknowledge many degrees of friendship, yet both the deepest and the most casual friendships have a sense of unstructured spontaneity.

Words of Love

As I first learned via C.S. Lewis, the bible uses four different Greek words for love (and the Greek language has at least four more). In today's account, Jesus loves his disciples with the unconditional agape love we know as divine; Jesus calls us to love one another with God's agape love. The word for friends in verses 15 and 16 incorporates the affectionate, companionable love that's philia in Greek. We know "philia" well from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia; we recognize the phil root in philosophy that's love of wisdom. It's interesting that contemporary English with its extremely large, nuanced vocabulary that usually has many synonyms or same-meaning words for almost every noun, verb, and adjective, is impoverished when it comes to writing or talking about love. We love a friend, a spouse, or a child. We love God. Many of us love a particular city or a favorite food. I love that song! However… given the nature of cities, maybe loving some cities and towns with the same quality of love we have for some people isn't out of line at all.

• Here's some of what I discovered about origins of the English word love from Online Etymology Dictionary:
love (n.) Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; from Proto-Germanic lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise." Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). Germanic words are from root leubh- "to care, desire, love." The weakened sense "liking, fondness" was in Old English.

love (v.) Old English lufian "to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve," from Proto-Germanic lubojanan (source also of Old High German lubon, German lieben), a verb from the root of love (n.). Weakened sense of "like" attested by c.1200.

Love One Another – COVID-19

God gifted Israel with the ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant after they'd been liberated from slavery, been freed from production quotas. Out of imperial Egypt, into the exodus desert, on their way but not yet at the promised land, they'd learn to keep and maintain that freedom by keeping and obeying the commandments. Slavery to empire no long would be their frame of reference; instead they would reverence God by serving the neighbor.

As I've mentioned countless times, we discover the neighbor at the heart of the Torah, we meet our neighbor when Jesus of Nazareth summarizes the ten commandments into two: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. God gifted us with commandments (ordinances, precepts, statutes, laws, torah) so our lives would harmonize with the late Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber's definition of love as responsibility of an I for a thou.
"This is freedom. This is a weapon greater than any force you can name. Once you know this, and know it with all your being, you will move and act with a determination and power that the federal government cannot ignore, that the school boards cannot overlook, and that the housing authority cannot dismiss." Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, 1966
• Obedience / Freedom • Once you know [the power of freedom]…

Early in the COVID-19 mask-wearing mandate people started to protest. Over a year into masks, people haven't stopped complaining, with some refusing to mask up because they insist masks take away their personal freedom. Now that vaccines are available, some people make the same argument and say getting vaccinated robs them of their supposed autonomy. As the commandments (the law!) and the prophets (grace!) reveal, life's not about a supposedly autonomous "me" individual because no one lives by or for themselves. Polite suggestions or municipal demands to mask or get vaccinated don't remove anyone's freedom; freedom always has limits and boundaries because no one can be an autonomous "law unto themselves."

Life is about me, a person connected to the other – to my neighbor whose neighbor I become – in love that regards their greater good as my privilege and obligation, that perceives the neighbor's good as my own. Loving our neighbors brings the Ten Words of God's Commands to life; love in action helps obliterate and reverse the reign of death. Love in action bears fruit that will last!

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:17

Once we know freedom of obedience, we will know love in action. Justice, determination, power – and responsibility – come alive when we love God, neighbor, and self. We have opportunities to love by continuing to wear a mask even after we've been vaccinated. The experts still don't know about transmission from vaccinated individuals; besides, even if there was zero risk, wouldn't you feel safer if everyone around you wore a mask? The etymology for love says the Proto-Germanic word "lubo" also is the source of the Old High German word liubi that means joy. Jesus tells us, "I have said these things [keeping the commandments and abiding in love] to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11

Next Sunday on Easter 7 we celebrate Jesus' Ascension; the following Sunday is the Fiftieth Day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Easter 5B

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Vinegrower God,
through the raising of your Son to new life,
you broke the power of death.
Do not forsake those who call on your name;
do not be far from those we name today,
and those whose groanings are known only to you.
Loving God of all generations,
hear the cries of our world;
in Jesus' name…

Prayer from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia

John 15:1-8

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

The Gospel According to John: Abiding and Obeying

Christ is risen, Alleluia! This Fifth Sunday of Easter is the 29th day of Easter; Easter is 50 days,

The Revised Common Lectionary that provides our weekly scripture readings has a year each for the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Every year the lectionary intersperses sections of John, particularly during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. With Mark being shorter than Matthew or Luke, we get more John during Mark's [current] year B than during Matthew's year A, or Luke's year C.

This is very shorthand, and also broadly accurate.

The gospel account we have from the community gathered around the beloved disciple John conveys a different worldview from the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mark, Luke, and Matthew essentially view Jesus' life and ministry in a similar way (syn=together, as in synthesis, synod, synagogue, synopsis, synergistic; synchronize; optic= vision, as in optician, optimism, optimal, optometrist). Despite each of them having some unique content and a particular perspective, synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us law and gospel—God's holy demands and God's merciful, loving grace. We roughly can place the synoptics in the Torah/Pentateuch and Prophets traditions of the Old Testament.

John is very much about the here and now of the Reign of Heaven on Earth. With a focus on God's ongoing presence and on the commandments, especially encapsulated in the charge to love, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics. John's gospel emphasizes abiding and obeying; it has been called the gospel of abiding presence. To continue the OT parallel, we can locate the Gospel according to John in the tradition of the Wisdom literature.

7 I Am Sayings + I Am the Vine

Today we hear the seventh and last of Jesus' I Am declarations where Jesus places himself within YHWH/God's Old Testament identity I Am—pure being. unmediated presence. We've discussed how each gospel writer and others who wrote down the words of scripture drew upon dynamic oral traditions and existing written documents or sources. Scholars clearly identify two sources used by John's community: Signs and I Am (and suggest there may have been a third). Today's I Am the Vine – You are the Branches passage comes from Jesus' farewell discourse on Maundy Thursday, after he washed the disciples' feet, before his death and resurrection. However, we are reading it during the Great Fifty Days of Easter, after we've again experienced Jesus death and resurrection.

Jesus' seven I Am statements:

• "I am the bread of life." John 6:35, 41, 48, 51
• "I am the light of the world." John 8:12
• "I am the door of the sheep." John 10:7,9
• "I am the good shepherd." John 10:11, 14
• "I am the resurrection and the life." John 11:25
• "I am the way, the truth, and the life." John 14:6
• "I am the true vine." John 15:1, 5

Where we Live: Vine and Branches

Because Jesus lived in an agricultural, somewhat agrarian setting, he used a lot of farm-related imagery. Today? Grape vines! Most Californians get the importance of soil, sunshine, shade, and pruning in vineyards / grapes / harvest. We understand how critical time, temperature, cask, and added ingredients are to wine production. Methods of wine transport and storage, too! In addition, grape vines are one of the seven agricultural gifts of the promised land. We find the people of God as branches of the vine in Old Testament scriptures; Jesus' listeners would have sat up and noticed because of agricultural and historical references.

In this trinitarian passage, Jesus brings us God the Father as vine planter and grower, Jesus the Son as the vine itself, the people of God in the power of the Holy Spirit as branches of the vine; Jesus charges us to abide in him in order to bear fruit. How do we abide as branches in Jesus the Vine? By obeying, especially by loving God, neighbor, and self. Although we primarily abide in Jesus the vine, we remain interconnected with all the other branches. It's interesting that at this time Jesus doesn't describe any other aspects of fruit-bearing.

Do we always abide in Jesus, or do we sometimes settle deeply into family, societal, cultural, and church traditions, practices, customs, and habits? That can be a tough discernment, because as people of history and people with histories that the God of history has shepherded (remember last week's Psalm 23?) us through, we need to stay connected with our own individual pasts, with the identity-forming histories and practices of communities and groups we belong to. We need to contextualize the gospel so newcomers will relate Jesus to their own geography and history.

But what do we make most important? For starters, Jesus commanded us to take, bless, break, and give bread, bless and share the cup of the fruit of the vine(!), and to baptize. But do we insist on a particular type of bread, brand of wine or grape juice? Does the baptismal venue need to be the same every time? Sprinkling, pouring, or immersion?

For other instances, can the format for recording and distributing minutes from a meeting vary? What about flower varieties at Easter? Some churches no longer use lilies because of human allergies and because toxicity to pets can be a major problem if people take their lilies home with them. Does Strawberry Festival always need to be on the Second Sunday in June? Do we even need an annual Strawberry Festival? All churches and organizations worldwide will trial-and-error experiment as they rebuild and partly reinvent themselves post-COVID. As we interpret scripture for our new context, our direct or anecdotal knowledge of grape-growing and wine-making gives excellent counsel regarding Jesus' reminder on this Fifth Sunday of Easter to stay connected to him and to each other.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Earth Day 2021

Earth Day 2021 collage
Prayer: Psalm 23

God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I'm not afraid when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Romans 8:18-22

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the children of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the One who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. NKJV

Earth Day #51

Easter is 50 Days, a week of weeks. We're close to the halfway mark on this Fourth Sunday and 22nd Day of Easter. Though we still can greet everyone with "Christ is Risen – Happy Easter!" the church's year of grace begins to ease toward the Day of Pentecost that initiates the half-year long, sometimes surprising Season of Pentecost, Time of the Church. With April being Earth Month, this being Earth Week and Earth Day only last Thursday, how better to celebrate the New Creation of Easter than with Earth Sunday? What better juxtaposition than Psalm 23 with its natural – not exclusively rural at all – word pictures and reassurance of God as our shepherd who knows us, who always has our back, who goes before us everywhere and waits for our arrival?

I've designed for Earth Day every year for a long time. Results have ranged from a First Place Blue Ribbon at the County Fair to fair to middling. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children was the theme on one of my four pieces for Earth Day 2010 and it seemed exactly right for 2021. The header image for this blog post is one of several variations of this year's design.

Our Divine Image
Genesis 1:26-27

God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself … and every animal that moves on the face of Earth."
God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God's nature. …

Genesis 2:15-17

God took the Human and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order.
God commanded the Human, "You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don't eat from it. …

Scriptures from The Message

Humanity's Image of God or Imago Dei we read about in Genesis is an often-discussed theological concept. It has been described as our relationships, with the inter-relatedness of the Trinity as ideal. In addition, a person who bears God's image would posses divine attributes of love, mercy, and justice as Jesus demonstrated. Stewardship of creation we find in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2? Of course! And more! United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon recently claimed speech is a huge aspect our divine image. Scripture reveals the word of God as both speech and action. God's word creates. It restores and heals. God speaks words of challenge, of resurrection, of new life, of new creation. We refer to the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant as Ten Words because scripture tells us "God spoke these words" to guide us in our common life where those words become actions. We've discussed signs and symbols that point toward something other than themselves; we're familiar with logos in branding for products and organizations. The gospel of John tells us Jesus is the Logos or Word of God; although John's theology tells us Jesus pre-existed with God the Father, Jesus is the result of God speaking. (It gets very complicated and I don't want to summon the heresy brigade…)

We humans speak with far more than languages like English, German, and Spanglish. Physical postures and gestures talk "body language." Whether from our own choices or defaults resulting from actions of others, our homes, professions, clothing, and food send messages. Etc.

Restore Our Earth

"Restore Our Earth" is this year's official Earth Day theme. In Romans 8:19, "…creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the children of God," the apostle Paul assures us when we claim the fullness of our divine nature and image (love, justice, engaging speech that's active in love), especially in this Earth Month – Week – Day, we'll help restore, revitalize, and resurrect aspects of creation that are less than fully alive.

God's Word is both speech and action. Especially people outside the church sometimes inspect our lives to determine whether or not we walk the talk. When we claim our divine image, our speech and action reflect each other and we do walk the talk. We'll help Restore Our Earth because We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors—we borrow is from our children.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Easter 3B


We are surrounded by violence,
learning geography through tragedy:
Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Brooklyn Center, Chicago.
No place is safe.

We pray for all whose breath has been taken.
Receive them into your loving embrace.
We pray for all who grieve.
Carry them gently through the darkness.
Be their strength and ever-present help in this terrible time of trouble.

Bring your light into our darkness.
Bring your peace into our chaos.
Bring your love into our broken communities.

We ask because we know you can—because of the cross.
You held all power and yet refused to strike back.
No threat could tempt you to violence.
Through your restraint the world was reborn.

Oh God of resurrection hope, give us the strength and courage to do what you would have us do.
Mold us into who you are calling us to be.
And meet us in our inadequacy to make all things new. Amen.

Prayer by Pastor Jen Brothers, Roanoke, Virginia

Luke 24:13-16; 27-49

13Now on that same day [Easter] two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. … 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

32They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, jesus said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44Then he 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."
Easter is Fifty Days

• Easter is 50 days—a week of weeks (7 x 7). The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter—May 23rd this year.

• As the day after the Sabbath, the Day of Resurrection is both the eighth day of the old week and the first day of a new week. As the first day of a new week, Easter is the beginning of a new creation.

• The new creation contains evidence of old, deadly pasts. Last week's two-part reading from John showed us Jesus' scars. Today on Resurrection Sunday evening Jesus proves his humanity by displaying his hands and feet. On this side of Easter we often find ourselves in the "Yes, already!" of resurrection and the "No, not yet!" of Holy Saturday, that apparently motionless time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The Third Sunday of Easter

Though we've been in the lectionary year of Mark's gospel since Advent, on most Sundays of all three years during the fifty days of Easter we hear a passage from John, and this week we're considering a pair of post-resurrection encounters with Jesus from the evangelist Luke.

Luke's Gospel (Volume 1) and his Acts of the Apostles (Volume 2) emphasize: history with an almost constant "on the road" trajectory; women and other marginalized persons; prayer; neighborology—the word about our neighbors; the Holy Spirit; table fellowship. This week's reading includes most of those themes.


Jesus told them and showed them about the Reign of Heaven throughout his earthly ministry, yet he needed to teach and tell his followers more, because during those three years of public ministry he hadn't yet been killed by imperial forces and raised from the dead. The forty days between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension are particularly important because Jesus calls us – and in the power of the Holy Spirit enables us – to be his crucified and risen presence in the world, so we need to learn how. Last week we read John's account of Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on his disciples; every year on the Day of Pentecost we hear Luke's multilingual fire and wind from his book of Acts. Jesus doesn't ask us to do anything he hasn't already done.

Though we often refer to Jesus post-resurrection appearances, he wasn't a ghost, an apparition, a stained glass likeness, or a digital rendering. Just as when he lived on land from infancy through childhood into adulthood and onto his death and burial, after being raised to new life Jesus had a substantial body. People who met Jesus after the resurrection touched flesh and blood and bone; in the Creed we confess, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." In today's two-part reading Jesus enjoys real meals of real food. However, a resurrected body has an additional dimension. Jesus enters places without going through a door. In today's story he disappears without leaving through a door. We can't do that yet!

To Emmaus and Back to Jerusalem

Luke's story of Jesus emphasizes inclusive table fellowship. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Little Town of House of Bread. Throughout his ministry we meet Jesus eating with friends, strangers, and outcasts; his first act of public ministry in John's gospel is turning plain water into finest wine at a wedding party. In the upper room of Maundy Thursday Jesus says the cup is his life blood, the bread is his body.

Jesus' twice identifying Moses, prophets, and psalms with his own life recalls the Exodus story of the God who sees the suffering of enslaved people and calls Moses to liberate them, along with later prophets who called people back to faithful obedience.

As many have observed, the meal in Emmaus definitely is about the presence of the risen Lord in word and sacrament; it sometimes is considered the first Eucharist because unlike the Lord's Supper Founding Meal of Maundy Thursday, Eucharist is a meal with the Risen Christ in the midst of a fully redeemed creation.

This also is about Christ with us whenever we welcome strangers to our table as Jesus did. Welcoming others often opens our eyes so we recognize Jesus—sometimes in retrospect, like the travelers on the Emmaus Road. As happened in the meal in Emmaus, at times we will find ourselves hosted and made comfortable by people we imagined were our guests.

Where We Live: COVID-19

We've all celebrated the Day of Resurrection countless times, but the world still experiences hatred, poverty, violence, and injustice. Illness and death continue. Every one of us knew we had to trust the year 2021 would be a lot better than 2020 had been, and then it began with an insurrection on Capitol Hill and COVID-19 surges, continued with I've lost count of how many mass shootings. Yet our theology tells us Easter, the event of Jesus Christ's resurrection, that eighth day that's also the first day of the new creation, marked the end of decay and death, concluded endless cycles of poverty, violence, illness, injustice, and sorrow.

Theology of the cross emphasizes Saturday with its winter-like quiet, yet God calls us to live as people of the cross who are fully alive, resurrected, and redeemed. Filled with the Spirit of the Day of Pentecost that's the fiftieth day of Easter, we become agents of God's justice, inclusion and freedom for all.

Where We Live: Into the Future

So… Jesus again shares a meal with friends, in a culturally congruent way, of course:

"While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, Jesus said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence." Luke 24:41-43

Jesus' first followers fished for a living! Fish was a more abundant and therefore less expensive protein source than sheep or goats. They may not have had stationary BBQ pits as we do on beaches and other places, but I love to imagine there were dedicated areas in their meeting spaces where people cooked food they brought to share.

The Christ of God and Christianity always are incarnate (embodied, enfleshed) and contextualized into Right Here and Right Now. With the current plethora of spoken languages, cultures, and cuisines (these days isn't almost everything almost everywhere some kind of culinary fusion?), contextualizing our service to others into this Right Here and this Right Now is a challenge we meet head on as we resume old ministries and create new ones post-COVID.

• In Luke-Acts life in Christ is a journey along The Way of the cross and the empty tomb. How would you describe your journey to the Day of Resurrection 2021?
• What difference does the presence of the risen Christ make in your journey during these Great Fifty Days and into the upcoming Green and Growing Season of Pentecost that's often called the Season of the Church?
• How have you experienced the risen Christ by providing or receiving hospitality?
• How will you recognize the risen Christ when you meet him?
• Like the Emmaus Road travelers, do you sometimes only realize you encountered Christ when you look back?
• Will we make a place at the table for everyone?
• Or is that unrealistic?
• Will the world recognize us as the body of Christ when we welcome strangers and make the surrounding world a post-resurrection reality?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Easter 2B

Prayer on Easter II

God of resurrection hope,
The gloriously surprising season of Easter hope again weaves through an almost endless season of global pandemic that surprised all of us. More than an entire calendar year? We never would have imagined!

God of resurrection joy!
Thank you again for first responders, healthcare, and other essential workers who make it possible for others to stay safe, stay home. Thank you for providing virtual ways to connect socially in spite of necessary physical distancing and remote relating. Thank you for working through scientists and medical personnel during these long months. And thank you for the gift of vaccines! Thank you for the amazement of how so many of us have been cooperating together.

God of our future,
You have gone before us into the frontlines, and into the hidden places of this ongoing worldwide uncertainty. Sometimes we imagine we have chosen you, but we know you first sought us out and chose us. Please continue to create in us a single heart and mind, as you show us the path of life is the way of the cross and the empty tomb, that our lives will testify to the risen Christ.

In the name of Jesus, crucified, risen, and with us always.

cf: Psalm 133; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Easter Day and Bright Week

• Easter is 50 days—a week of weeks (7 x 7); 7 is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology. The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter! This year Pentecost will be on May 23rd. Where will we be then?
• The day of resurrection is the day after the Sabbath; it's both the eighth day of the old week and the first day of a new week. As the first day of a new week, the day of resurrection is the beginning of a new creation.
• Many baptismal fonts are octagonal with eight sides to help demonstrate our baptism as a new creation Into Jesus' death and resurrection.
• Orthodox churches in particular celebrate the seven days from Easter Sunday through Easter Saturday as Bright Week, and consider the entire week a single day—the eighth day of creation or the first day of the new creation.

The order of the new creation subverts the order of the old:
• God names Adam – Genesis 2:7
• Jesus names Mary – John 20:16

• The new creation is not pristine, but carries evidence of old, deadly pasts. Today's reading from John shows us Jesus' scars. On this side of Easter we often find ourselves in the "Yes, already!" of resurrection and the "No, not yet!" of Holy Saturday, that time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The Second Sunday of Easter, Part I

Although the gospel according to John doesn't get its own lectionary year, on most Sundays of all three years during the fifty days of Easter we hear a passage from John. Every year the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is this 2-part narrative of Jesus coming to his followers twice through closed doors.

Verse 21 Jesus bestows the gift of peace that's not simple absence of conflict; this peace is shalom: expansive well-being, harmony, integrity, when individual and community both function as part of the other. However, (ironically) we get our English irenic from the Greek word the gospel uses. After filling them in his redemptive shalom, Jesus sends the disciples out into the world.

Verse 22 Jesus breathed on them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The only other place the Greek bible uses that word for breath is Genesis 2:7 – "God formed Adam out of dust and breathed into him the breath of life." In the power of the Holy Spirit of life, Jesus then trusts them with the office of the keys or forgiveness that creates radical, from-the-ground-up new life.

And then… that famous incident about Thomas.

Verse 25 "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." The New Creation carries scars from the death of the old. Resurrection doesn't erase crucifixion; resurrection transforms death into life. As we've learned throughout our earthly existence, past negatives frequently intrude on the newness of now.

The Second Sunday of Easter, Part II

The first story happens on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection; the second a week later.

Thomas sometimes gets called "doubting," but unbelieving or not-believing is closer to the perspective of the fourth gospel. Thomas' disbelief? in the scandal of crucifixion! Not disbelief in resurrection from the dead. Gnostic trends that denied the physical reality of the body were making rounds at the time of this gospel. If physical bodies weren't actually real, they couldn't actually die. Thomas doesn't question resurrection, but cannot imagine the outrage of crucifixion, death, and burial. In John's gospel, believing and trusting means abiding (resting, reposing) in Jesus.

Verse 27: Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Jesus draws attention to the scars of crucifixion and invites Thomas to physically experience the reality of his death with his own senses.

Where We Live: COVID-19

Closed door, locked doors: Greek word is the same and means it's hard to get in. Fear again! "Fear of the Jews" probably refers to those who conspired to kill Jesus, because after all, Jesus' disciples were Jewish. For more than a year many of us have spent a whole lot of time behind closed doors (and behind masks when we venture out) for "fear of COVID-19." Government and health officials have instructed us to protect ourselves and others from exposure to a deadly virus, and most people realize COVID is an extremely serious threat, fear a more than reasonable reaction.

As Easter People, we talk and we walk Eighth Day Theology of a New Creation, while on this side of Easter we often find ourselves in the "Yes, already!" of resurrection and the "No, not yet!" of Holy Saturday, that time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So… after over a year of planetary COVID-19 devastation, over a century of environmental destruction, months (years, and decades) of other big and little disappointments wondering, "how can this still be happening in our lives and communities," today's scripture shows us we need to examine not completely healed wounds and other revelations of deaths.

The new creation is not unspoiled and untarnished, but bears marks of death; today's reading from John shows us Jesus' scars. Jesus draws attention to the scars of crucifixion and invites Thomas to physically touch and feel the reality of his death. In John's gospel, believing and trusting means abiding in Jesus; it's relationship and repose with Jesus, and also with one another. As Jesus grants us his shalom-filled peace, we go from being solitary isolated individuals to belonging within the body of Christ, with individuals and community functioning as parts of the other.

Most of us sometimes wonder if Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension already has redeemed all creation, why is so much of the world so thoroughly messed up? We often skip from Good Friday to Easter because we're literally afraid to acknowledge everything is not yet okay, we fear acknowledging (and inspecting) the remnants of death that remain and continue to intrude upon new life. We don't want other Christians (or even ourselves) to think we don't trust resurrection, that maybe we doubt like Thomas because we'd rather not believe in the reality of death.

Besides COVID-19 with its fallout, the past twelve plus months have revealed racial and ethnic brokenness, economic inequalities, histories in the USA and elsewhere we'd rather bury. Notice "know" in the word acknowledge.

Today's Questions

• As churches return to campus to resume previous ministries and create new, much-needed ones, can churches become the places with the people that acknowledge wounds, touch scars, and find ways to redeem them into a future?

• What wounds need to be touched and attended to in your country? City? Neighborhood? Family? Church? Are some more urgent than others?

• What does "shalom/peace be with you" mean in the uncertainties and ongoing realistically high anxieties of this pandemic? We thought we had a few vaccines—in fact, the world has a dozen effective vaccines, then we hear about serious side effects, production slowdowns, and even breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people. Help?!

• Do we know (acknowledge) God's presence in the cruelty of COVID-19, in human hatred and violence toward other humans, in the degradation of everyone's home of planet earth? Can we find (see, touch, hear, feel) God within and God surrounding those situations?

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Maundy Thursday 2021

Maundy Thursday Psalm 116 What Shall I render to the Lord
Psalm 116:12-13; 17-19

What shall I render to the Lord
For all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all his people.
In the courts of the Lord's house;
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Passover / Easter

This week the synagogue has been celebrating Passover; in a few days the church celebrates Easter. These great festivals of freedom and liberation carry a similar focus of remembering God's acts of deliverance from death. Seder participants recount the Exodus narrative of Israel's wayfaring from slavery into the gift of the promised land with symbolic fresh food that no longer depends upon empire—they sometimes call it "eating history." After Lent ends, Christians retell and re-enact their experience of death and resurrection with the Triduum or Three Days: One Liturgy in Three Acts.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Maundy Thursday

The one liturgy in three acts of the Triduum – "Three Days" – begins on Maundy (mandate or command) Thursday with Jesus' example of servanthood when he washes his disciples' feet, and then another demonstration and command as he takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes bread, followed by taking, blessing, sharing a cup filled with fruit of the vine. The second act happens on Good Friday. Act three? Easter: Vigil – Sunrise – Day. Saturday has been described as "the day nothing happens, yet the day everything happens."

The Lord's Supper founding meal we find in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church and in three of the gospels evokes familiar images and rings with unforgettable phrases. The central picture is Jesus sharing a meal with his friends; whether it's Leonardo's Renaissance Italy or twenty-first century Mercy Street Church Downtown, it's the same reality. While Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do this religious ritual? Jesus' world already had plenty of religious rituals. Our world has enough of those, too.

According to Mark, Luke, and Matthew, the original setting was a Passover meal, maybe a seder, possibly not. In any case, Jesus' words and actions continue the Jewish practice of remembering by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty. There where any observant Jew would have been on that day, Jesus tells his friends to "do this." Repeat this blessing and breaking of bread, this pouring-out of wine? "Do this" blood of the new covenant announcement?


Re-membering means re-collecting the pieces and putting them back together to restore a broken whole. When an individual or a community re-members, they weave together past and present. Scripture abounds with instances of God's command to remember, with instances of community remembrances, with stories of God remembering how quickly humans forget. Our scriptures are written-down accounts of countless communities remembering by telling stories that later got recorded on parchment, still later printed on paper. Even later accessible on-screen!

God told Israel to remember their passage from slavery into freedom; when the church obeys Jesus by breaking bread and pouring out wine in his memory (the Apostle Paul explains doing this proclaims Jesus' death!), part of the liturgical action includes retelling the story of God's people from creation through redemption in order to make it part of our own history. So it's not only about Jesus for each of us, for everyone gathered in a virtual or in-person local assembly—remembering becomes about all of us throughout the history of the cosmos. We recollect how God has led us, how even those hard days didn't last forever…as COVID surges, recedes, and threatens to overwhelm us again, we re-call the small deaths and the huge losses; we again trust God whose final answer always is resurrection from death. For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.

"Do this" religious ritual? There are plenty of those. "In memory?" We keep celebrating this sacrament, this holy communion, this freedom feast of the Lord's Supper with each other. And we're not likely to keep on performing an action unless it has meaning, unless it says something to us and about us.

Do we need bread and wine to remember Jesus? Aren't there other ways? Well, throughout the records of Jesus' life we find Jesus feeding other people and feasting with his friends; Jesus repeatedly talks about those who will banquet in the Kingdom…and about giving his body for the life of the world. The Reign of God, this Welcome Table, and the Calvary Cross are tightly bound together.

Breakout People

As Christians gradually return to their church campuses, resuming some pre-COVID ministries and initiating new ministries in response to new needs, all of us trust God into the future because God has gone ahead of us and waits for us there. Similar to ways a Passover Seder and the Lord's Supper re-member liberation and resurrection with all five senses, we serve our neighbors' whole lives as we attend to their needs and even to some of their wants. When Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do this religious ritual?

Wherever we go we become a living and a life-giving memory of Jesus. In us, Jesus again becomes alive in the world and we become a living connection to the heaven of God's reign on earth. Where will people find us as the world opens up? Will people recognize us as the body of Jesus Christ when we share our substance and pour out our lives?

Today is Thursday, tomorrow's Friday—Sunday's coming!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Lent 6B

Prayer of Hope

O Lord, our God, victim of violence on a cross,
look with compassion upon all involved in shootings this week
in America and around the world.

Receive into the arms of you love those who have died.
Comfort those traumatized by these horrendous events.
Wrap your Everlasting Arms around those who mourn.
Heal those whose hearts and minds are terrorized.
Strengthen those medical personnel who minister to the wounded.
Protect the law enforcement officials to risk their lives for our safety.
Calm all whose memories of violence are triggered by this shooting.
Bring the gunmen to repentance and redemption,
and deal tenderly with his confused family and friends.

Hear our cries of lament as we seek to understand the incomprehensible,
and deliver us from the evil of violence in any form.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.

From the United Methodist Church: Litany on the Tragedy of Gun Violence

Mark 12:28-34

28One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"

29Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; 30so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' 31And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."

32The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So clear-cut and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. 33And loving God with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"

34When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom."

After that, no one else dared ask a question.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Today's Reading from Mark

One more time I'm blogging the focus passage from Mark in the booklet we're using at church to guide our Lenten reading of Mark's gospel. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless; every year on the Sixth Sunday in Lent we re-enact his entrance into the city riding on a donkey and surrounded by excited onlookers waving leafy (palm?) branches. Today's reading is Jesus' last discussion or dialogue with questioners before his trial and execution. His declaration about love of God, self, and neighbor being the greatest commandment and the path to life satisfies him and silences everyone else.

In Three of the Four Gospels…

…so take notice!

Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in similar ways all record Jesus' reply to this question from the scribe or religious scholar. Matthew and Luke call him a "lawyer."
Matthew 22:34-38

34When the Pharisees heard how Jesus had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36"Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"

37Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' 38This is the most important, the first on any list. 39But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them.'"

Luke 10:25-28

25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"

26Jesus answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"

27He [the guy who asked Jesus] said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."

28"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you’ll live."

The Ten Words

Three weeks ago for the Third Sunday in Lent we discussed the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant that God gave the people after they'd been freed from slavery in Egypt, while they still were on the way to the Promised Land. Following the Ten Words (sometimes literally translated into Decalogue) brings heaven to earth, creating God's love, mercy, and righteousness within the community and radiating outward into the rest of the world. Heaven comes to earth in the Ten Words; heaven touches earth in Jesus Christ, God's incarnate Word. The commandments and Jesus recognize all life as sacred. In these three Great Commandment scriptures, Jesus (in Mark and Matthew) and his hyper-religious interlocutor (in Luke) summarize the Ten Words by quoting "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One" from Deuteronomy 6:4 along with "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself" from Leviticus 19:18.

Theology. Context.

The evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels recorded some history of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; they also presented carefully crafted theology. Mark places today's conversation with the legal eagle-religion expert as the last in a series of give and take exchanges between Jesus and The Authorities. As a rabbi-teacher, Jesus constantly engaged others in conversation; many would have had similar content. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus undoubtedly developed some outstanding homilies he'd tweak or contextualize so they'd relate to his current listeners. As a famous example, we have Matthew's Sermon on the Mountain and Luke's Sermon on the Plain that are parallel yet with distinct differences because he addressed different audiences. The events of the week before Easter that we call "Holy" occupy a large portion of Mark's gospel with its focus on Jesus' identity and purpose. Today's scripture portion ends with, "After that, no one else dared ask a question." In real life was that Jesus' final engagement with religious or political powers that be? It's impossible to know. But Mark the evangelist places it there to demonstrate Jesus' overarching authority.

Doing the Word

Then God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore] you shall have no other gods before me." … Exodus 20:1-3

• Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." Exodus 24:3

• But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it. Deuteronomy 30:14

Much later, the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy:
• But what does scripture say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart," that is, the word of faith that we proclaim. Romans 10:8

In these passages, the Hebrew Dabar is the Word that created heaven and earth. "Dabar" is speech and action in one. Speaking Dabar and its cognates generates life, creates a new reality. The commandments' covenant of love acknowledges all life as sacred; acting in love makes life together possible. Doing these words creates life and holds us together as families, churches, and communities. Not doing the words negates life, leads to discord, violence, and death.

Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for First Holy Communion – with the Ten Words or Commandments. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "It is the God of the Commandments with whom we commune."

The Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," isn't explicitly in the bible, but it can be an excellent guideline, particularly once we know a individual's or a group's history, preferences, and needs.

• The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. 1 John 3:14

• Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Revelation 22:14

End of Lent Questions

How has your Lent been? Did you follow any particular devotional practices? Did you participate in any service activities, or find helpful ways to mitigate yours and a few neighbors' COVID loneliness and stir-craziness?

Besides the end of COVID, worldwide vaccinations, and a revitalized economy, what are your hopes for the Great Fifty Days of Easter?