Friday, March 25, 2022

Lent 4C

2 Corinthians 5:18 ministry of reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Mid-Lent: "Rejoice"

Thursday was the mid-point of Lent. Because every Sunday celebrates Easter, all six Sundays are in but not of Lent; however, the fourth Sunday especially is a time of respite and refreshment. Each Lenten Sunday has a unique name based on the first word of the traditional Latin introit; this fourth Sunday is Laetare, "rejoice." Rather than penitential purple, the liturgical color for vestments and paraments is lighter, brighter rose that we also can use on Advent 3.

Texts for the Laetare introit come from Isaiah 66:10-11 and Psalm 122:1
Isaiah 66:10 "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance."

Psalm 122:1 I rejoiced when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."


The gospel for today includes Luke 15:11-32, the waiting father, prodigal younger son, resentful older brother parable. In the canonical gospels, only Luke includes this story. The second reading from 2 Corinthians also is about reconciliation, forgiveness, new beginnings, restorations. I love the idea of our being baptized into Christ and becoming a new creation—"from now on"!

The apostle Paul tells us way back when (maybe before Paul got into his high Christology?) people considered Jesus only from a human perspective, "according to the flesh," which isn't bad at all, but it's low-level basic, first rung of the ladder. We know Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine. Paul parallels looking at Jesus in a more comprehensive way with considering each other more completely. Surprisingly, Paul does not use the word disciple or apostle or follower of Christ; he says we are "in Christ." That organic incorporation into Christ begins with our baptism. Well, it actually began 2,000 years ago. Because we all are "in Christ," we are more than just human, too!

2 Corinthians 5:18, 19, 20

The word Paul uses for reconcile, reconciliation is not so much about making everything even and equal as in settling financial or other accounts; it's closer to a new beginning on common ground, creating a commonwealth with common cause.

The Greek here for "world" – cosmos – means more than simply planet earth we live on; it refers to everyone and everything. All people, plants, animals, revise, oceans, deserts—everyone! everything! all creation!

An ambassador, [envoy, representative] gets sent out of their own country to represent it in a foreign country. God calls us out and sends us out to do the same ministry of reconciliation Jesus did!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Lent 3C

Isaiah 55:1-9

55Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.


This first reading comes from the final chapter in the second main section – "Second Isaiah" – (chapters 40 through 55) of the 66 chapter long book of Isaiah. The author mostly wrote during the Babylonian exile. This section begins with the famous tenor recitative and aria, "Comfort, Ye–Every Valley Shall be Exalted" that opens Handel's Messiah.

By the way, everyone in Judea did not get deported to Babylon, and of those who did, some stayed and helped create good lives for themselves and their neighbors, while others returned to Jerusalem and Judah.

Given the size of the population, we almost necessarily live in a world of economic exchanges where we expect to pay something (legal tender, labor, in-kind) for everything we receive. We don't believe in free lunches; God does believe in free lunches and provides them, too!

For the past month a devastating war between the Russian Federation and the three decades young democracy of Ukraine has raged and been viewed by the entire free world—because democracies don't censor their press. As I blog this, around 3,000,000 people have left Ukraine for neighboring free states of Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary(!) that's technically closed to immigrants, Moldova and others. All nations have been doing everything they can to welcome, accommodate, feed, and help refugees feel as much at home as possible. The European Union has offered refugees from Ukraine the right to stay and work in any member state for up to three years. The United Kingdom has a similar welcoming arrangement. When things are going ok, most people don't and won't imagine receiving or providing free food, but immanent starvation reverses that conviction. Countries of Ukrainian refuge have been fulfilling God's promise through Isaiah of free food and water!

Free Food, God's Thing

If you're thirsty, come to the waters and drink your fill. If you're hungry, come on over and "buy" food that won't cost you anything. The people Isaiah addressed these words of promise to were hungry and thirsty. The war has cut off communication, transportation, and basic supplies, so even citizens of Ukraine who've stayed put no longer can shop for food as usual. Besides, at home or on the road, food and water get used up and need replacing, which humanitarian agencies and welcoming nations have been trying to do.

We don't believe in free lunches; God does! We frequently consider how God created humanity in the Divine Image (Imago Dei) and through the Holy Spirit calls and enables us to be God's hands, feet, presence, and provision wherever we find ourselves. Have you noticed how those locations sometimes feel both accidental and providential? Amidst the current horrific war, individuals in every kind of setting, organizations of every type, and entire countries have been providing free lunches, breakfasts, and dinners.

Material or Spiritual?

It's sometimes hard to know where God’s offer of material goods ends and where God's offer of the spiritual substance of salvation begins. Does this passage refer to material provision or spiritual provision? Yes. Both. And.

Where We Live

This scripture opens with a series of commandments, summons, invitations:

come – buy – eat – listen – eat – delight – incline – come – listen – seek – let

Through Isaiah God asks why we spend money on fake food? Nutrition has become commodified. Even water has become a commodity. The spiritual soul food and the bodily soul food God offers in Isaiah 55 isn't even available for the kinds of money we use for economic exchanges. God has picked up the tab because we could never have paid for it, anyway.

The Lord's Supper reminds us the food and drink God offers us is both spiritual and material. Eating and drinking can be a means of grace—not only exclusively in Holy Communion. Think about it!

In verse 8, Hebrew "thoughts" is closer to our English word designs than it is to cerebral brain processes.

Our thoughts? We expect to pay for everything we receive. God does believe in free lunches and provides them, too! Without asking, we already know Ukrainians still in their country and those who have left absolutely for sure have rejoiced in food and friendship offered and received them as gifts of grace.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Lent 2C

from Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host pitched against me, mine heart should not be afraid: though war be raised against me, I will trust in this.

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to visit the Lord's Temple.

For in the time of trouble the Lord shall hide me in the Tabernacle: in the secret place of the pavilion, and set me up upon a rock.

I should have fainted, except I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Hope in the Lord: be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart, and trust in the Lord.

Geneva Bible, 1560

Philippians 3:17-4:1

17Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Philippi and Philippians

Philippi was a long-time Roman colony on the east-west road between Byzantium and Rome, so like the apostle Paul himself, the people Paul addressed in this letter were Roman citizens yet still colonials. They received a lot of freedom and privilege in return for loyalty to the Roman empire; with their pride and affluence, most of them would have considered Paul's suggestion of humility degrading.

First Church Philippi may have serendipitously started the way Acts 16 tells the story:

Paul and his ministry sidekick Timothy went to Philippi in Macedonia, then down to the river on the sabbath hoping to find an ad hoc synagogue, because if there was no local synagogue, Jews would gather at the river to form a minyan or at least to pray together. They found Purveyor of Purple Cloth Lydia by the riverbank, and eventually baptized Lydia and her entire family. Anti-imperial heavenly citizenship begins with baptism; the Holy Spirit creates the church out of the assembly of the baptized! So Paul was their founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. Philippi was the first church on European soil.

Paul wrote this captivity (imprisonment) letter either from Ephesus around 52-56, or more probably from Rome around 61-62. Captivity letter? Other prisoners whose writing helped change lives include Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela. Can you think of less famous persons whose witness and testimony has helped change others during incarceration?

Today's Second Reading

The letter or epistle to the church at Philippi is one of the apostle Paul's seven undisputed letters. In that time and place, attaching a famous person's name to your writing was a common practice that honored them and that would get the actual writer more readers and more credibility. Scholars have determined Paul did not write several NT books that bear his name because they contain grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, and theology that's not his.

Philippians is The Epistle of Joy and reveals Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ! The words for grace and joy in Greek come from the same root, so you could say to have joy means to recognize and embody grace.

χάρις = grace

χαράς = joy

Vocabulary Notes

3:17 is an example of paranaesis, a type of exhortation that's not quite teaching or instruction. "Join in imitating" literally is coming together, "sym"-mimesis in a joint effort. Think of sympathy, feeling together.

Paul says, "Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me … the example you have in us." Almost none of us twenty-first century Westerners ever would consider advising someone to act like us or become like us, though in the early church and in the Greco-Roman world in general, it wasn't quite so shockingly arrogant.

Moreover, there's a mimetic perspective in theology and in cultural anthropology that perceives (many if not most) humans as people who tend to imitate (mimic, echo, replicate) behaviors they see, rather than independently thinking out behaviors and responses as well as anyone can. I'd add we tend to be sponges that easily absorb ideas and trends.

I don't know about my readers' culinary tastes, but the upsurge in kale over the past decade proves that most people are more mimetic/imitative than they are thoughtful. "Don't get me wrong," I enjoy kale cooked into soups and stews, but raw, even finely shredded?!

3:17 those who live according to the example (example = a pattern or a type = a strike that leaves an imprint. Typography. Typewriter. Jesus is the archetype that made an imprint on Paul's life, therefore Paul feels justified asking us to imitate him. "you have in us" = Paul and his followers.

3:17, 18 – "live" is walk, go about—peripatetic

3:20 citizenship – politeuma, note the "poli" root, as in politics, or polity: a thing about the people.

3:21 all things subject to himself, Jesus Christ. That's absolutely everything: people, planets, plants, politics, structures, institutions, etc.

"Our Citizenship is in Heaven"

Paul tells the Roman citizens in the assembly at Philippi their real citizenship is in the earthbound reality of God's Kingdom of Heaven. Think about the process for US citizenship. What is the process for heavenly citizenship? It starts with the Holy Spirit and with baptism, and then we enjoy the benefits and claim the responsibilities of Jesus' lordship, of our heavenly citizenship.

What does it mean to be a colonial? Roman? Spanish? British Empires? How about us and empire? Have we been (to what extent have all of us been) colonized by global conglomerates/multinationals that function as cultural, consumer, and economic empires—ExxonMobil, Apple, BP, Samsung, GE, Philips? Our baptismal identity supersedes our citizenship in the USA, UK, or any other country; our baptismal loyalty to Jesus Christ comes before our allegiance to any entity, organization, or corporation.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Lent 1C

Luke 4:1-13

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4Jesus answered him, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone.'"

5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8Jesus answered him, "It is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 12Jesus answered him, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.


The Church's year of grace has moved into the 40-day long season of Lent. "Lent" is an old word for springtime that refers to lengthening days and more daylight. The music tempo lento is a lengthening, slowing-down pace. Lent is one of the church's oldest observances that probably began not long after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, although throughout the centuries lent has had different lengths ranging from a few days to our current practice of forty days – Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week – minus Sundays. Sundays are In Lent but not Of Lent, because every Sunday is a festival of resurrection.

Lent 1

Every lectionary year (A, B, and C) for the first Sunday in Lent the gospel reading is Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke all include an account of Jesus' testing by the devil – Satan – traditionally the prosecuting attorney in Judaism. Mark provides no details; Matthew and Luke reverse the order of the second and third temptation or test.


In addition to personal, family, and other struggles everyone experiences now and then, only since winter 2000 as a people we've had a presidential impeachment trial, the start of a once in a century worldwide pandemic with Covid-19, anxious waiting for results of the November 2000 elections… right now memory actually fails me, but many stayed awake on 31 January 2020 to make sure the year 2020 really left. And then? Insurgents stormed and occupied the US Capital on 06 January 2021. (The Day of Epiphany!) Less than a week into the new year! Covid never left. Another presidential impeachment trial. Constant partisan dispute about the validity of the official outcome of the 2020 presidential election. More Covid, despite finally effective vaccines. And now the Russian president and his operatives have invaded Ukraine in what amounts to an undeclared war. It feels as if the world is in a near constant state of wilderness.

Today's Gospel Reading

Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness immediately follow his baptism with the announcement of his identity and calling as The Son of God. Remember, Jesus' explicit wilderness time (somewhat similar to what we might do during a spiritual retreat by ourselves or with others) happened right after confirmation of his divine identity. The Holy Spirit filled Jesus, and then that same Spirit of Life led him into a place more extreme than the wilds alongside the Jordan River.

The late Henri Nouwen points out the devil accosted Jesus with three of the world's greatest temptations; in his rebuttals, Jesus asserted his baptismal identity. Here are Nouwen's ideas followed by my own comments on each one:

• To be relevant: Turn these stones into bread? Luke 4:3

But Jesus himself is the bread of life, he is far more than basic survival food, Jesus is The Stuff of ultimate revival, a.k.a. Living Bread, nutritious grain that won't rot or mold or decay!

• To be powerful: Have authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Luke 4:6-7

Jesus is Lord over and against the insufficiency of temple sacrifice, the dehumanization and violence of Roman or Russian or any other imperial rule. In Christ Jesus all the world possesses the cross of Calvary, the power of life over the death-dealing, life-negating pretenses of too many ecclesiastical, institutional, and earthly governments.

• To be spectacular: Throw yourself down from the temple spire? Luke 4:9

But Jesus himself is the temple; Jesus is more than the temple. In fact, each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so no further need for a brick and mortar structure because we have and we are living temples.

Where We Live: Baptismal Identity

Lenten practices and observances emphasize repentance – thus colors of purple and lavender – and baptism. Just as with baptism, the turning around, repentance aspect of Lent is about living bathed in grace, and responding with grace to the world around us. Traditionally Lent has been a time of preparation for baptism during the Easter Vigil; it's also a time for those of us already baptized to remember how in grace God claims us, names us Christian, calls us to live out our baptismal identity in witness and service, and in the power of the Spirit sends us filled with the Spirit into the world to be the gospel, to live as good news to everyone everywhere.

In today's passage, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy with words that point to the neighbor, the other, and not to himself. Jesus had spent a lifetime attending synagogue and being instructed in Torah, so he embodied the substance and meaning of scripture.

How about us? What about us? Martin Luther reminds us God has redeemed us from the "unholy trinity" of sin, death, and the devil. What scriptures, prayers, hymns, do we rely on to reclaim our baptismal identity when the going gets rough and tough? Maybe especially over the past couple of years? When we're confused or uncertain about our next move? What scriptures do we recall when life is glorious and we want to thank and acknowledge God?

A Prayer for Ukraine

May God grant the Ukrainian people the fortitude to resist and reverse any onslaught from Russia.
May the defeat of Putin's army bring about a rebirth of freedom for the Russian people.

May Russia and its neighbors live together in amity through democracy.
May the hope of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy ring throughout the land—

May all evil dissipate like smoke, for the removal of tyranny ushers in the overall reign of God.

Peace for all.

This prayer for Ukraine, written by Reuven Kimelman, Brandeis University professor of classical rabbinic literature, is inspired by the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah. That liturgy prays for recognizing the one God and the unity of humanity through the elimination of tyranny. It takes its cue from the biblical verse, “When God is acknowledged sovereign over all the earth, God will be one and God's name one.” Zachariah, 14:9