Friday, April 29, 2022

Easter 3C

Revelation 5:1-14

1Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

6Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth."

11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice,

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!"

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

"To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!"

14And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Easter is 50 Days – Revelation Concludes the Bible

Easter 2 blog from last Sunday

As I blogged last week, Revelation reveals in coded insider language how empires everywhere operate, but more urgently and beyond graciously, this last book of the biblical canon reveals in Pastor Scott Hoezee's apt turn of phrase "another whole world" from the default Roman or other empire that objectifies life as it reigns and rains death.

As we practice resurrection for all seven Sundays and fifty days of Easter in this lectionary year C – Luke's year – the second reading for today and subsequent weeks moves toward the last page of the bible with its vision of God bringing heaven to earth, God living among us (notice an echo of John's gospel) and the reality of the new City of God (Jerusalem in this text) with its river of life and healing trees along the riverbank.

Today's Scripture…

…comes after the author John's pastoral letters to seven churches. The number "Seven" of completion or perfection is so prominent throughout, we can consider Revelation a book of sevens (and not, not 666). As I mentioned last week, this John is not the beloved apostle John whose community brought us the fourth gospel. Strong tradition says Rome had exiled John the revelator to the prison island of Patmos; more recent scholarship suggests he may have been an itinerant preacher, with Patmos a regular stop on his circuit.

After verse 5, the author no longer portrays Jesus as the conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but as Lamb whose death – and resurrection – has redeemed all creation. As a kind of lead-in to the rest of the book that culminates with the fullness of the New Creation, this chapter features a symphony of praise, acclaim, blessings, and amens from heavenly angels with "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea."

Referencing Psalms and Isaiah that also report exuberant, joy-filled, non-human creation, OT specialist Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "Of course trees sing! No more clear-cutting! Of course oceans roar! No more pollution!" Each of us has our own list of where, what, and who on earth we're most passionate about restoring, redeeming—sometimes simply maintaining so it doesn't become extinct. BTW, a myriad is 10,000. Citizens and colonials were expected to acclaim the Roman emperor "Worthy" whenever he came into town, making Worthy is the Lamb speech that subverts empire and threatens the status quo.

You may recognize Handel's Messiah, familiar hymns, and parts of the Sunday liturgy in this passage.

Over the next four Sundays we'll continue to discuss interpreting Revelation as a roadmap for living well and faithfully in this other "whole world" of a redeemed creation in spite of inescapable empire.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Easter 2C

Revelation 1:1-8

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

3Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Easter is 50 Days

In its place in the church's chronological year of grace, Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks—7x7. However, Easter is actually 24/7/365. You may remember Lenten Sundays are in but not of Lent? That's because we celebrate every Sunday as a day of resurrection.

During the fifty days of Easter, the first reading comes from the New Testament book of Acts rather than from the Old Testament. In Matthew's year A, Mark's year B, and Luke's year C, the gospel usually is from John, the fourth gospel that doesn't get its own year in the RCL. Easter season scripture readings begin with accounts that mostly feature people who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. As weeks roll by, the stories reach further outward to begin introducing and embracing people from other places and cultures. On the fiftieth day or eighth Sunday of Easter, the Day of Pentecost initiates the long Season of the Spirit/ Time of the Church.


From the second through the seventh Sunday of Easter during this Revised Common Lectionary year C (Luke's year), the second reading comes from Revelation. The book that concludes the New Testament is highly apocalyptic, written mostly in coded symbolic language only insiders would know how to interpret. Apocalyptic uncovers or reveals something that's hidden. The author John the Revelator is not John the Beloved Disciple whose community brought us the fourth gospel; clearly he is not John the Baptist who was beheaded.

John may have been exiled to prison on Patmos, a type of Alcatraz for Roman prisoners of state, probably in present day Turkey in Asia Minor. Or Patmos could have been a scheduled stop on John's preaching circuit. Revelation was written during the late 90s during the reign of Roman emperor Caesar Domitian. In addition to other content, it includes a famous series of pastoral letters to seven churches; very briefly, the book shows us how empires everywhere operate. Contrary to the traditional view, recent scholarship says there's no historical evidence of widespread persecution of Christians at that time, but pressure instead on Christians to take part in the imperial cult—remember, the empire was a god! Beyond religious, the empire's cult was political, economic, and social. John the author challenges too much accommodation to empire of too many supposed followers of Jesus' way that subverted conventional religious, political, economic, and social ideologies and practices.

Genesis to Revelation

Bookends in the canon of scripture reveal God as origin and end of all things:

Genesis 1 and 2, the first books in the canon of the bible bring us the original creation with:

• tree of life.
• river of life.
• a garden.

Revelation, the last book in the biblical canon, brings us the new creation with:

• tree of life.
• river of life.
• a city that grows out of a well-tended garden. Is this a new Garden of Eden? Not quite.

Where We Live

Like all scripture, Revelation was not written to us or for us, but like the rest of scripture, we can interpret quite a lot of it for our own context, always keeping in mind our first question needs to be the historical one about the text's origin. Revelation shows how empires everywhere operate. It's somewhat of a guide book for living baptized amidst empire—or any agent of death that threatens to overcome us.

During his ministry, Jesus called, taught, and showed his followers into God's earthbound heavenly way of justice, love, mercy, and inclusion. In the wake of his death and resurrection, Jesus calls us to live baptized into the fullness of the new creation. Regarding the book of Revelation, responsible interpretation calls us out of the post- or pre-millennialism of the Left Behind series and similar literalist fiction. BTW, I've read some about which is what, but it's not part of my theological tradition or education and I can't clearly outline much of it.

Whether political (biblical Egypt, Babylon, Persia; later on Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain; present-day USA, Russian Federation), or economic/consumerist (NestlĂ©, GM, Exxon Mobil, Samsung, P&G, Amazon—what's on your list?), every one has swallowed up dozens of smaller entities on the way to market domination. Empires seek to assume the place of God; they surreptitiously creep into almost every aspect of existence and frequently become gods according to the definition of a god as humanity's ultimate reference and final recourse.

If in fact John was exiled and imprisoned on Patmos when he spoke out against Rome and its death-dealing violence, it's no stretch to interpret his situation as parallel to Alexei Navalny's imprisonment by Russia today, and similar to that of too many less well-known political dissidents.

As it ideally continues to do in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, early Christianity symbolized and routinely acted as subversive resistance to economic, political, social, and religious powers that be. The way of Jesus brought life amidst the agents and realities of death, just as Navalny does today. How about us?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Maundy Thursday 2022

Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19
Psalm 116

12What shall I render to the Lord
For all his benefits toward me?
13I will take the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
17I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows unto the Lord
Now in the presence of all his people.
19In the courts of the Lord's house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

The Apostle Paul recorded the chronologically earliest account of Jesus' Last Supper.
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.

love one another – Paul G. Hammer

Jesus, how common can you get? Foot washing, bread, wine!
If you're going to be religious, at least use something special.
No, my friend, I came not to perform special religious rites
But to touch the daily life of everyone
With God's love in the commonest of things.

O.K., water, bread, wine.
But isn't foot washing a bit ridiculous?
And what about "this is my body"?
And "this cup is the new covenant in my blood"?

Foot washing is the work of the commonest servant—I came to serve.
But it points beyond to the "washing" of the cross—
God's self-giving service in me to cleanse away estrangement
And heal the distortions in people's lives.

The bread points to nourishment in that same self-giving of God
At work in my body, that is in me.
And the cup points to the new community drawn together and nourished
In my blood, that is in God's total self-giving in my death.

Do you mean that this common stuff of water, bread and wine
Becomes in you the very focus of God's love for me and for the world?
That there is no excuse for my not loving my common neighbor?
Because you have shown the depth of God's love for me?

You've got it!
But it isn't a love for special occasions.
It has to be that daily love that's as common as water, bread and wine!

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Lent 6 Palm Sunday

Lent 6 Palm Sunday
In February, when war in Ukraine began, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a prayer for the country and its people:

A Prayer for Ukraine

God of peace and justice,
we pray for the people of Ukraine today.
We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or peace,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions.
Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Archbishop Justin Welby – Archbishop Stephen Cottrell

Luke 19:28-40

28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt [Matthew and John: "donkey"] that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40Jesus answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Palm Sunday

The sixth Sunday in Lent is Palm Sunday with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the center of religion, of commerce, of imperial Roman colonial rule. Jerusalem, the location of the Temple, the destination of Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, death—and resurrection. In Luke's gospel, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is especially incessant; Luke reveals more opposition to Jesus' mission and ministry than the other gospels. Luke presents Jesus on the side of poor, overlooked, and marginalized. From Mary's Magnificat, to John the Baptist by the riverside, and onto Jesus' own preaching, teaching, and acting, Luke's Jesus is strongly prophetic.

This is one of the events in Jesus ministry recorded in all four gospels:

• Mark 11:1-11
• Matthew 21:1-11
• John 12:12-19

We expect hosannas and palm branches on this sixth Sunday in Lent, but read Luke's account again—no palms and not a single hosanna! Just as we interpret scripture (and everything else) for our own context, so did Luke the gentile writing mostly to gentiles. His original readers wouldn't have had much interest or understanding of leafy branches that evoked Succoth / Sukkot booths to represent the minimal yet sufficient shelter of God's provision during the Exodus.

Because fewer and fewer people attend Holy Week services, for the past few decades many churches have celebrated Palm/Passion Sunday, moving too swiftly from Jesus' palms- and praise-surrounded triumphal entry to the walk with the cross, on to the actual place of crucifixion.

Donkeys in the Bible

Many many of Jesus' actions were upside-down versions of what conventional political, religious, and economic authorities – "the establishment" – did. At first it may feel as if Jesus' entering the geographical center of power on a humble donkey subverted the return of the victorious general on a galloping steed. However, there also was a tradition of a military victor riding a donkey in order to present himself as servant of the common people.

Jesus riding a donkey echoes Zechariah 9:9 that some scholars consider a Messianic prediction. Matthew and John both quote Zechariah; Luke almost definitely remembered it.

Other donkeys in the bible? Balaam's talking donkey in Numbers 22:15-35. Joseph's donkey who carried Jesus' pregnant mother Mary into Bethlehem in Luke 2:1-5, and probably into Egypt, as well. Donkeys illustrate the servant God's call for us to live as servant people and as a servant creation.

Some Rocks in Scripture

If Jesus' disciples were silent, stones would shout praises! Rocks would cry out! Luke 19:40

Genesis 28 – Genesis 31: At the place he names Bethel, House of God, Jacob first uses a stone as a pillow for his head and then as a pillar of witness.

The Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant engraved in stone

Joshua 24:26-27 Covenant renewal at Shechem and the stone that witnessed the people's resolve to serve YHWH "This stone has heard all the words the Lord has said to us and will be a witness!"

1 Samuel 7:12 Ebenezer, "Stone of Help"

Ezekiel 36:26 Hearts of stone changed into hearts of flesh

Psalm 118:22 From the responsive psalm for today probably is the original "the stone builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Mark 12:10-11 Matthew 21:42 1 Peter 2:7 Compare Isaiah 28:16, "A trustworthy foundation stone or cornerstone in Zion."

1 Peter 2:5 We are living stones being built by God into a temple in order to be holy.

Matthew 4:3 and Luke 4:3 Tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread

Stone at Jesus' tomb (and at Lazarus' grave)

St. Francis of Assisi slept on rocks in order to be close to creation and close to Jesus, our rock of faith.

Palm-Passion Sunday into Easter

"If my disciples were silent, the stones would shout praises!" Luke 19:40

Jesus death and resurrection overthrows the death-dealing, established "powers that be" to liberate the entire cosmos from slavery to sin and death. We still spend much of our time downwind, but the day of the fully accomplished New Creation will happen.

Recent science knows and tells us rocks and stones sing; in fact, "All Creation Sings," per the title of the hymnal. Like the morning stars who sang at the dawn of creation. Like Isaiah's trees that clap their hands because… no more clear-cutting! And Isaiah's seas rejoicing because there's no more pollution!

What other examples from scripture and from your own experience can you describe?

Friday, April 01, 2022

Lent 5C

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Knowing you, Jesus

All I once held dear, built my life upon,
all this world reveres and wars to own,
all I once thought gain I have counted loss,
spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You.
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy,
my righteousness; and I love You, Lord.

Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
to be found in You and known as Yours,
to possess by faith what I could not earn,
all surpassing gift of righteousness.

Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,
and to know You in Your suffering,
to become like You in Your death,
My Lord, so with You to live and never die.

Paraphrase of Philippian 3:7-11 by Graham Kendrick


Three weeks ago on Lent 2 I blogged about Philippians as the Epistle of Joy! This week on Lent 5 and next week for Lent 6 (Palm/Passion) Sunday, the second reading again is from Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi where he was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. Philippians is one of Paul's captivity letters from when he was incarcerated (by humans)—probably in Rome. The scriptures for today and next Sunday reveal Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ as a no holds barred prisoner of his Lord!

The church's year of grace has moved into the conclusion of Lent; that means we're seriously getting into some theology of the cross. Theology of the Cross was at the heart of Martin Luther's theology. When we read both the OT and NT carefully, we discover the cross at the heart of God's self-revelation.

Theology of the Cross

In very short:

• Theology of the cross is about God's own self-revelation, especially in Christ crucified. Theology of the cross is about God's often hidden, paradoxical both/and presence in the comment things, people, and situations. All of us have looked back onto a tough, hard, unpleasant situation and in retrospect recognize God was there all the time at that time.

• Theology of glory is about human ideas and imaginings of how a powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God might act. How humans wish God would behave?

Today's Reading

This section of Philippians starts out with Paul's biography. Paul loves to make lists: fruits/gifts of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23; bads of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21… Paul goes on to describe how he wants to become like Jesus Christ. Paul does not use the words disciple or follower or related; for him it's always about being "in Christ," the organic incorporation into Jesus' death and resurrection that God accomplishes in each of us at baptism.

We need to remember that for Paul, about 98% of the time "law" means ceremonial practices such sacrifices, dietary laws, and circumcision. He does not mean the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant or Jesus' Great Commandment capsule summary "Love God and Neighbor as yourself."

Although different translations of Philippians 4:9 read either "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ," most scholars believe "faith of Christ" – Jesus infinite faithfulness – probably is more accurate and almost definitely Paul's intent.

Our organic incorporation into Jesus Christ? For Paul, the gospel is Death and Resurrection, so baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection re-creates us as gospeled people. That means as individuals, as God's locally gathered people, and as the entire church around the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are Good News to our neighbors!