Friday, November 26, 2021

Advent 1C / Luke

Advent 1 Candles

Advent Family Prayer

God of Love,
Your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us.
He is a sign of your love.
Help us walk in that love during the weeks of Advent,
As we wait and prepare for his coming.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior.

Author unknown; from Xavier University, Cincinnati: Jesuit Resources–check them out!


On the first Sunday of Advent the church begins a new year of grace. Happy New Year!

From the Latin Ad + Venire, Towards Coming of Jesus, every lectionary year Advent opens with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we know it, the beginning of a new way of living and being—the world is about to turn. Many churches sing Canticle of the Turning that's based on Mary's Magnificat at least once during Advent.

Blue, the color of hope, has become the official color for Advent. Advent is especially about hope, although it also includes a theme of repentance. In Spanish esperar/espero means wait, hope, and expect. We hope for and anticipate not a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays as the rest of the world sincerely wishes us; we hope for the incarnation of mercy, grace, and love. Instead of the rest of the world's irenic peace that's not much more than a temporary cease fire, we hope for, wait for, and expect the fullness of shalom the Prince of Peace brings us. We hope for the dawn of the new creation the death and resurrection of the Prince of Peace will initiate. Advent light shines amidst all kinds of darkness, including a seemingly endless pandemic, injustices that don't or won't quit, an earth that grieves its own losses. Come, Lord Jesus!

The Gospel According to Saint Luke

This is Revised Common Lectionary Year C, Luke's year. Luke is a synoptic gospel that views Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner to Matthew and Mark. Luke is the only Gentile, non-Jewish writer in the entire New Testament. Luke was a highly educated physician, but think "bronze age" in terms of sophistication. Luke wrote a two-volume account consisting of this gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's distinctives:

• world history and Jewish history

• Jesus' genealogy in Luke ends with "Adam, son of God."

• the Holy Spirit has been prominent throughout scripture's witness, but Luke-Acts brings a fulfillment of God's reign in the Spirit

• prayer

• women

• marginalized people of every class and type, the underclass

• table fellowship

• neighborology: the word about the neighbor! During Year C the lectionary has quite a few readings from Jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also emphasize the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community despite differences.

• Starting with John the Baptist counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in their midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" in Luke. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke includes three psalm-like songs or canticles based on Old Testament sources:

• Mary's Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…" – Luke 1:46-55

• Zechariah's Benedictus, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." This is John the Baptist's father Zechariah—not the one from the OT Book of the Twelve or Minor Prophets. – Luke 1:67-79

• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared…" – Luke 2:29-32

Uniquely in Luke:

• Sermon on the Plain – Luke 6:17-49, which emphasizes re-distributive justice and material well-being. Matthew's parallel Sermon on the Mount is more about spiritual well-being.

• Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

• Prodigal Son – Luke 15: 11-32

• Stones cry out Luke – 19:37-40

• Emmaus Road in Luke's post-resurrection account takes us back to the Maundy Thursday Upper Room and to Luke's many accounts of Jesus' table fellowship with all comers – Luke 24:13-35

The Gospel for Advent 1C

Rather than coming from the beginning of Luke's gospel, in the gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent Jesus speaks toward the end of his public ministry. We hear about signs and symbols coming alive in nature/creation; we'll soon celebrate the birth of Jesus who is not a god in nature, but God and Lord of nature. Look at creation; consider what's not manufactured or engineered.
Luke 21:25-28

25"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place,

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Reign of Christ 2021

Prayer in Response to the Verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse Trial
"I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:21, 24

I lift my eyes to the hills, Holy God, from where will our help come? We pray for those confused and demoralized by our system of justice. We pray for those who can't keep from hoping and praying for justice, yet who also can't forget our history.

We pray also for those with the luxury of forgetting history, those whose privilege protects them from the pain of this moment, those whose lives need not be interrupted by controversial trials or an urgent need to work for a more equitable world.

Embolden us all, Holy God, to interrogate our systems and structures, to risk creative change, to listen to people long silenced and to work for peace. Hear us as we pray that justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


by Teri McDowell Ott

John 18:33-38

33Then Pilate entered the praetorium again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"

35Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

37Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

38Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"

So Far

About nine months into pandemic awareness and mandated measures to help stop the spread, late November 2020 we began a new year of grace with Advent anticipation and hope. Since then we've welcomed the newborn Jesus, followed him to baptism by the river whose waters still interconnect all waterways and all peoples, experienced his ministries and his teachings, journeyed to Jerusalem, been in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, grieved at his trial, death, and burial, met the risen Christ at the dawn of resurrection day, trusted his promise to be with us forever, and started to follow him into our futures.

Today the church concludes another year of grace as we celebrate the sovereignty of Jesus Christ who reigns from a cross of shame.

Today's Scripture

John's gospel uniquely brings us a dialogue between Jesus and Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, who had sole authority to sentence a person to death. Earlier in this gospel Jesus rejected the title "king" and all four gospels frequently call him Son of Man or the Human One that in Mark is Jesus' favorite title for himself. However, in today's short account, Jesus evades Pilate's, "are you the King of the Jews," yet announces his kingdom or reign is not from this world – not from here, which sets Jesus' subversive ways of justice, love, mercy, and inclusion at right angles to conventional human rules of injustice, hatred, violence, and exclusion. Particularly that of Rome two millennia ago? Especially that of many authorities in this twenty-first century?

Jesus lived fully engaged here in this world—wherever he found himself, yet he revealed a different kind of power – whether elected or hereditary – than most of the world sees most of the time. Jesus announces to Pilate that he came into the world to testify to the truth, and those who belong to the truth will listen to him. Jesus' truth is not necessarily verifiable data or observable events. Jesus embodies God's truth that will redeem ("buy back") and restore all creation as we follow his way. Jesus' own life, death, and resurrection was just the beginning; now it's our turn!

COVID Continues

Raise your hand if you even remember when COVID-19 wasn't part of our vocabulary? Next week on the first Sunday of Advent a brand new year of grace opens wide and mostly will feature the gospel according to Luke. Please join me in hope as we again prepare for Jesus of Nazareth's birth in Bathlehem as God among us!

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Pentecost 25B

Mark 13:1-8

1As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"

5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs."

• Overview of the gospel according to Mark from November 2020

Today's Scripture

The church's year of grace will end next Sunday with Reign of Christ / Christ the King, After that, Advent begins Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year C, Luke's year. Although the current Year B mostly has belonged to Mark, for Reign of Christ we'll hear from John, the Fourth Gospel; today is the last time we'll consider a passage from the gospel according to St. Mark.

In verse 4, Peter, James, John and Andrew beg Jesus for a sign related to the destruction of the built environment he has predicted. Jesus' reply in verses 5-8 includes some apocalyptic related to the badly labeled "end times." Apocalyptic writing and art incorporates symbols and words that don't mean what they initially look like or sound like: they need to be interpreted. In scripture, those symbols often come from nature such as fires, floods, skies, and earthquakes. Similar to a sign, a symbol points to something beyond itself.


Mark maybe especially brings us the end of the world as we've known it, but all four gospels reveal God's newness in Jesus of Nazareth. Although Jesus shows us a way of being that's in radical (at the root of) continuity with God's self-revelation and salvific actions from the dawn of time, God's revelation in Jesus is ultimate and definitive! Jesus also refers to birth pangs of the new creation that's constantly in progress and process, that won't be complete until planet earth's last day.

Beginning late February / early March 2020, life as we'd known it and expected to continue albeit with usual disruptions and disappointments slowed down and ended with COVID-19. A once in a century pandemic caused countless deaths (will we ever have an accurate count?) and devastated families. It shut down businesses and affected the worldwide economy. COVID led to even more political divisions, maybe particularly in the USA.

Mark probably was written down around the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Scholars suggest a range of dates and there are no extant source documents Mark might have drawn upon, but in any case the temple still was standing during Jesus' earthly life. Consider how central the J-temple was to economic, political, and religious life. People believed it was a conduit between heaven and earth. In today's scripture Jesus' followers gaze awestruck at the ginormous building! They imagined the temple actually contained and protected the God who never asked for and never wanted a physical structure to call "home!"

Into a Future?

Mark has no birth narrative and no resurrection account (in the earliest manuscripts), but strongly implies Jesus' ministry continues in his followers who have received their second birth and first death in baptism. Beyond those who formally belong to the church, God doesn't mind being anonymous and delights in using people who don't acknowledge him to help meet the world's needs.

Even more than the other three gospels, Mark asks, "Where do we look for God? Where do we find God?" Mark shows us we find God not in religious, economic, or political institutions–but in the vulnerability of a human dying on a cross. Do we find God in loss and devastation? Have we been finding the divine presence hidden in the COVID-19 pandemic? Do we recognize God in health care workers, police and fire professionals, delivery drivers and retail personnel, all those "frontliners" who keep us safe and keep our homes and businesses stocked with essentials? Do we find God in the sick and in the dying?

Our earthbound lives need houses, schools, religious buildings, stores, offices. We've learned to design safe buildings and to construct them out of stuff of the earth. The sight and size of the J-Temple wowed Jesus' disciples; humanly built and divinely inspired structures like Saint Patrick's Cathedral and the WTC Memorial impress and awe us in the twenty-first century. Without a doubt God indwells places people gather to pray and celebrate sacraments, where we remember and give thanks for those who have gone before us.

In the earliest manuscripts, Mark has no resurrection account, but implies Jesus' ministry continues in his followers who live and serve as Jesus' presence. Then again, all the gospel accounts are about God-with-us, God-among-us, God-for-us in Jesus and in the church that's Jesus' presence in the world…

And we find God in other temples. Not in Large Stone Structures that might contain and protect God, but in defenseless, imperfect humans God has created in the divine image. In the people God chooses to inhabit. In us!

Saturday, November 06, 2021

All Saints 2021

Psalm 24:1

The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof—
the world and those that dwell therein.

Isaiah 25:6-9

6And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

7And God will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

8God will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of the people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.

9And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God we have waited for, and God will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for, we will be glad and rejoice in God's salvation.

King James Version (KJV) Public Domain

All Saints Day/Sunday…

…particularly commemorates saints who have gone before us and now reside in the church triumphant, but the festival includes all of us because baptism makes us saints! You probably know Halloween on October 31st is All Hallows' Eve—the day before All Saints on November 1st. A hallowed person, place, or event is a holy one.

Back in Martin Luther's time, people were required to attend church on All Saints Day, so legend has it Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church on October 31st because everyone would notice them on their way to mass. These days most people don't attend weekday services, so when November 1st isn't on Sunday, we celebrate All Saints the following Sunday. When churches observe Reformation and October 31st isn't a Sunday as it was this year, the last Sunday of October becomes Reformation.

On All Saints many churches display pictures and mementos of beloved saints; we celebrate their lives, cherish their memories, often still feel and grieve their loss. All Saints 2021 happens eighteen months into COVID-19. Despite All Saints' emphasis on human lives – one million COVID-related deaths worldwide – in addition we can mourn and hope into a future on the other side of economic and organizational losses due to the pandemic, because God's ultimate response to any disappointment, bereavement, or devastation is the same as to physical bodily death: resurrection!

Isaiah 25:6-9

Today's verses from First Isaiah are from the Little Apocalypse of chapters 24 through 27. As with many biblical texts, scholars aren't sure of its author or origins, although most believe Isaiah of Jerusalem who wrote most of First Isaiah (chapters 1 through 39) before the Babylonian exile probably didn't write it.

Every lectionary year (A,B,C) God's glorious promise via Isaiah of "beyond abundant" life is the first reading for Easter afternoon and evening. It's also the first reading on Easter Day for our current lectionary year B.

This scripture reminds us the God of Israel is God of all people. It borrows from ancient near east (ANE) legends that personify death as a life-devouring monster; it assures us God will take the shroud of death that negates life along with death itself into God's own being. And God will wipe away our very necessary tears of grief! In a fascinating parallel, the white pall that covers the casket of the deceased at a funeral is a baptismal garment that symbolizes the person has been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection.

Wars, corporate greed, over-farmed turf, and other factors can result in insufficient or not very nutritious food—sometimes famine. As important as justice is, food is even more essential. You won't have energy to advocate for justice if you haven't eaten. You've probably noticed the many accounts of Jesus providing food and sharing a meal with friends and strangers? Jesus' IPO/first act of public ministry or "sign" in John's gospel is a wedding banquet. Today's first reading tells us God will prepare and serve an amazing spread. I quoted the King James version because I love Love LOVE "Feast of Fat Things!" This Easter-All Saints feast will be God's sign that death and dying have been obliterated! Abundant food also signifies people aren't hoarding in anticipation of scarcity that may or may not ever happen. They're not consuming more than they need. You've heard there's enough for everyone, but not too much for anyone?

Death. COVID. Hope.

When we consider this scripture on All Saints rather than on Easter, do we interpret it differently? On Easter we especially celebrate God's victory over death in Jesus' resurrection. On All Saints we particularly celebrate God's victory over death in Jesus Christ. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are very clear about the realness of death. Besides too many COVID-related bodily deaths, countless social, emotional, and financial deaths of dreams, organizations, and plans have cascaded through almost two years of pandemic. Death is real and hope is real.

In his letter to the church at Rome [5:20], the apostle Paul announces, "The law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Alongside that we can affirm, "Where death increased, life abounded all the more." You may recall that for Paul, the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection.

All Things New

The second reading for All Saints from the last book of the New Testament brings us a promise similar to Isaiah's:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:4-5

People, animals, plants, and dreams continue to die, yet our theology tells us Easter, the event of Jesus Christ's resurrection, marked the end of death and dying. We remember, grieve, and celebrate the world we knew before COVID. In the same way we live in resurrection hope that we'll again be face to face with loved ones we've lost to death, we can claim God's future for every lost aspect of our lives.