Saturday, November 26, 2022

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!


Last Sunday we concluded the church's year by celebrating Jesus Christ,

…the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16

As the northern hemisphere approaches the time of year with least daylight and inches toward the winter solstice, the first Sunday of Advent opens wide a new year of grace. We light candles at home and at church; glowing warmth from a fireplace or wood burning stove brings a lot of comfort in some homes. We ended the old year with a splash of apocalyptic (uncovering, revealing, signs and wonders in creation and in the everyday world along with coded speech or art that needs to be interpreted); we start the new year with apocalyptic, too. The unfamiliar, upside down, inside out, strangeness of apocalyptic literature or art signals "look! listen! the end of the world as we've known it!"

This new lectionary Year A features the Gospel according to Matthew for most of the gospel readings; today's apocalypse is a parable from Matthew 24:36-44. However, for these Advent Sundays I expect to blog about the first readings that all come from the first section of Isaiah (chapters 1 through 39) that's mostly from Isaiah of Jerusalem who ministered before the Babylonian exile.

Advent imagery and scripture subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, disease, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival in our midst as a human baby. God in the manger? How counter-intuitive is that?

As we await and expect God on earth, close to us as one of us, advent is a season of hope. Blue, the color of hope, is the contemporary liturgical color for advent. With its emphasis on light that continues through epiphany along with its theme of hope, Advent is the favorite season for many people.

Advent 2022

Immediately before today's reading, Isaiah chapter 1 rants about the vision he saw concerning violence, bribery, injustice, empty religious festivals, sacrifices, and extravaganzas. In Isaiah 1:17 God charges us, "Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

The first advent, ad-venire, coming, or arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome. Advent imagery and reality subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival as a human baby. Reformer Martin Luther insisted to see the fullness of God's power and the style of God's reign—"look to the Bethlehem manger! Look to the Calvary cross!"

During Advent 2022 we wait for Jesus' arrival into territory already occupied by: Covid? Armed conflict, maybe particularly the Russian Federation's (mostly President Putin's) war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine that has grieved Western hearts, though worldwide at least a couple dozen wars continue to rage? Competitive consumerism, especially during the gift-giving December holidays? Wall Street, the DOW and the NASDAQ? Crypto currency? Social media? Ethnic conflict? It seems as if stabbing has become the new shooting? What other death-dealing, life-negating entities and activities overwhelm our living spaces?

Today's Reading

Isaiah 2:1 "The word Isaiah…saw." A visible word! Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action. Visible words? How about us? Sacraments, visions, dreams, paintings… advertising art! Do you know Tom Wolfe's book, The Painted Word?

Isaiah 2:4, "…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah's 8th century contemporary Micah 4:1-3 also included this life-giving promise.

Paradox in this passage is Zion was not the highest mountain, and "the nations" were not caravanning to Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Also, God's people were not unique in considering their capital city the center of the world. Imagine!

Isaiah 2:3 "God of Jacob" – Genesis 28:13-15, Jacob's dream, Jacob's ladder: land; offspring; God's constant, abiding presence; homecoming.

All of Isaiah conveys an expansive worldview with a universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Psalm 122:1-2 for today: I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Matthew's Gospel

Here's a highlights summary of the Gospel According to Matthew outside of my reflections on one of today's scriptures so I easily can link back to it.

Matthew's Gospel

Every year on the first Sunday of Advent that's always the Sunday closest to Saint Andrew's Day on November 30th, the church begins a new year of grace. Gospel readings for this formally designated Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year A are mostly from Matthew. During the great 50 days of Easter, all three lectionary years feature John's gospel.

Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus with a similar perspective, despite each having a markedly different personality. Syn=together (synthesis, synod, synagogue, synopsis, synergy, synonym); optic=related to vision (optician, optical, optometrist, optimistic, optimum, optimal)


• Date and Author

circa 80 - 90

There's no historic indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but we can assume followers of the apostle and tax collector Matthew similar to the way we consider the community that surrounded John the beloved disciple authored John's gospel.

• Sources

Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke both contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Scholars still speculate there might have been a no longer extant written collection of Jesus' sayings, sometimes referred to as "Q", from the first word of the German Quelle—river or source.

• Language

Scholars still aren't certain, but suggestions include Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic that was the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke.

• Setting

Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch in Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch's part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.

World View / Content

• Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos. Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

• Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, Father of the Jewish nation, in whom all nations would be blessed. Matthew's Jesus is Son of Abraham, who blesses all people everywhere. Matthew's Jesus is Son of David, not a temporary, short-term monarch like the old David, but this new David reigns for all eternity, embracing all creation.

• Matthew's Jesus is the ultimate Rabbi – "teacher" – who wants students, pupils, learners.

• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions

• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God because of the Jewish proscription against saying G-d's name aloud.

• Angel's visit to Jesus' stepfather Joseph; Joseph's dream to flee to Egypt. Possibly an echo of Joseph the dreamer in Genesis? (Luke tells us more about Mary.)

• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany in response to a dream: ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world. Scripture does not say how many kings there were, but tradition says three because the text lists three gifts.

• Jesus as the New Moses – "a prophet like me," as Moses himself predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15
* Flight into Egypt – Jesus as refugee
* New Exodus out of Egypt with Jesus as freedom-giver, liberator, like the first Moses
* Five discourses that parallel the Torah/Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses: Jesus as a new Moses, the gospel as a new Torah. The Sermon on the Mount explicates ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses at Mount Sinai.

(1) chapters 5–7
(2) chapter 10
(3) chapter 13
(4) chapter 18
(5) chapters 24–25

• Matthew 16:18; 18:17 – the only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia," and has some instructions related to church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiology, ecclesiastical are words about the church. In southern California there are quite a few mostly Spanish-speaking assemblies that style themselves iglesia.

• Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

• Concluding Great Commission in 28:16-20 positions the Good News as salvation (integrity, wholeness, shalom) for everyone everywhere.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Reign of Christ / Christ the King

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Christ the King / Reign of Christ

Every year the church's year of grace concludes by celebrating Jesus Christ as Lord of all. Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe in 1925.

The language of Christ the King – a male monarch with single, singular authority – trips up some people. Once again explaining circumstances as cultural (ways people relate and create meaning) sometimes feels tired or too persistent, but the two millennia ago Greco-Roman culture would not have taken a female redeemer seriously, nor would a woman connect with Old Testament passages about a coming savior and a messianic age. As we've discovered, Jesus son of David, child of Mary and son of heaven, inverts and subverts the way it's always been – the endless recycling of the same thing that always ended in death – in almost every detail, including his inclusion and affirmation of women.

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, in Saxon English the Lord provided the loaf or the sustenance for the citizens of his realm.

You may have come across kindom of heaven. For sure we all are close kin to each other in Jesus, our elder brother; we absolutely are interconnected with a high degree of responsibility and accountability to one another (as Jesus counseled, to be saved, keep the commandments, keep covenant with all creation). However, "kindom" erases the reality of Jesus' power and the wisdom of his rule; it comes close to obliterating our need of a Savior who is both fully human and also God in our midst. It even removes Jesus as sovereign!

Cosmic Christ

Particularly this chapter of the letter to the church at Colossae brings us the pre-existent and still regnant Christ who fills and rules the entire cosmos, who subverts empire, inverts the political, social, economic, and religious status quo, who is the image and the reality of God parallel to In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. (John 1:1) Colossians 1:15 announces, "Christ is the image of the invisible God"; in John 14:19 Jesus tells us, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Everything I blogged during July on Colossians 1:15-20 for Pentecost 6 works well for today. I mostly wrote about resisting empire and overcoming in general; there's no need to say it all over again, except my last paragraph:

If – because! – Jesus rules the cosmos and us as individuals, then Samsung, BP, and Shell don't. If – because! – Jesus is our ultimate authority, then the Russian Federation and the United States government aren't. Because Jesus is Lord, national flags and corporate logos aren't our central symbols. The cross of Calvary is.

The reign of the crucified and risen Lord has no limits, no checks and balances. It is comprehensive. Notice the repeated word all in today's scripture!

Luke 23:33-43 is the gospel for this Sunday. You might be interested in reading through Luke 23. Notice how many non-israelites, non-Jews, "outsiders" say something about Jesus' kingship. The king whose throne is a cross of shame!

Luke's lectionary year ends today. Next week the first Sunday of Advent begins a new year that features the gospel according to Matthew.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Pentecost 23C

Isaiah 65:17-18, 21-22, 25

17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating,
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy
and its people as a delight.

21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat,
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom
So Far

The witness of scripture ranges from the First Creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, to bondage and liberation, gifts of covenant and land, exile and homecoming, to incarnation, death, resurrection, and the New Creation at the end of Revelation. Scripture gives human creatures a place within the created order and a call to steward, maintain, treasure, and support the rest of creation; the Ten Words or Commandments that relate human creatures one to another and to all creation are critical for the planet's survival. The Creator God covenants with all creation, and as creatures in God's image, so do the people of God.

This is the next to last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday we celebrate Reign of Christ, and then the hope-filled season of Advent begins a new year. For the past three months the lectionary has focused on experiences of uncertainty, exile, and homecoming to a place that has been almost totally destroyed, and no longer could support anything resembling life as they'd known it—and probably assumed it always would continue. Habakkuk, Haggai, and Jeremiah's latest writings brought realism about the people's past and most recent situations along with God's promises of future restoration.

Today's first reading is from the third part of the long book of Isaiah that's in three main sections. Chapters 1-39, "First Isaiah" mostly written by Isaiah of Jerusalem (with a few insertions of passages from others) ministered before the Babylonian exile. Isaiah of Jerusalem was the subject of God's dramatic call we find in Isaiah 6. Addressed to people exiled to imperial Babylon, chapters 40-55 comprise Second Isaiah that opens with "Comfort Ye – Every Valley Shall be Exalted." Almost everyone knows those words and music well from Handel's Messiah that has become an icon of Advent hope for Christians as we anticipate Jesus' birth in our midst. Scholars don't know much about Third Isaiah, whose inspired words form chapters 56-66, but evidence says the writer was active during the time the city of Jerusalem was being restored, the temple being rebuilt.

New Creation

Today's scripture starts with God's promise of New Heavens and a New Earth. In a very practical sense, that newness will include houses and fertile land. This assigned reading ends with friendship and reconciliation among all creatures in all creation. You've probably seen at least one Peaceable Kingdom painting by Edward Hicks? I did realize he'd painted more than one, but several websites said 62 versions! A Society of Friends or Quaker minister, Hicks lived from 1780-1849. Quakers are one of the historic peace churches, and it's interesting Hicks chose this passage to illustrate. It's also clear the writer of Third Isaiah knew and drew upon a similar passage from Isaiah of Jerusalem that's widely considered a reference to Jesus of Nazareth as a descendant of Jesse:
From Isaiah 11

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
4a With righteousness he shall judge for the poor
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.


Apocalyptic is a genre found in literature and in the visual arts. Although it means revealing or unveiling, it has achieved a popular connotation of devastating destruction. Several Old Testament prophets use apocalyptic imagery; in the New Testament, the gospels of Mark and Luke and the book of Revelation include sections of apocalypse. Every year Advent opens with a splash of scriptural apocalyptic because God in our midst will signal the end of the world as we've known it, but definitely not in a negative sense.

Scripture moves from the waters of the old creation to the rivers of the new; the narrative of scripture moves from the garden of the first creation to the city of the new creation. That "end time" of the no more of cycles of war, violence, famine, hatred, deceit, and deprivation will be a time of the fullness of redemption for all creation, not solely human creatures. The wolf shall live with the lamb … the calf and the lion will feed together… The apocalyptic, eschatological, "final things" feast of the Eucharist is sign, symbol, realization, and reality of the answer to the apostles' question to Jesus, "will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?"

Are we ready to celebrate Reign of Christ / Christ the King? Are we ready for Advent 2022? Are all of us ready to explore and trust that uncertain post-Covid new normal? Are we ready for the end of the world as we've known it?

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Pentecost 22C

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

15 In the second year of King Darius,

1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 "Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say: 3 'Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?'

4 "Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel," says the Lord; "take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you," says the Lord of hosts, 5 "according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear."

6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: "Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with splendor," says the Lord of hosts. 8 "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine," says the Lord of hosts. 9 "The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts, and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts."


Another writer from the Book of the Twelve or minor prophets whose words and work may be relatively minor in length, yet major in import and influence, Haggai ministered after the Babylonian exile. "Back home" in Jerusalem, leaders and regular people sought to rebuild a semblance of life as they'd known it, a tenuous new normal that included a new temple. Haggai was especially concerned about the physical temple with the liturgical and revelatory cult surrounding it; "house" refers both to the first temple the Babylonians had destroyed and to the new one on the way.

Two decades into return to Judah, through Haggai God promises restoration so full and complete this new House of the Lord would be even more splendid than the previous one. Given that the second temple never was as opulent as the first, this sounds contradictory, but for Haggai, the overall well-being of the people, of their political, social, and economic life together was closely tied to acknowledging God's primacy and ownership of everything.

Putting God first by looking after the needs of our neighbors means to know God in the biblical sense of caring for what the late Robert Farrar Capon describes as the least, last, little, and lost. (And isn't every individual and every group in those categories now and then?) Post-resurrection followers of Jesus extended God's charge to loving neighborology by creating egalitarian communities. Although we follow Jesus by affirming every individual, group, and aspect of creation a neighbor, it's usually best to start with those who are physically and geographically nearest us. Who wants to be like an ultra-rich who sends millions to overseas causes and concerns they've never met or maybe even seen pictures of, yet who ignores obvious needs next door?

"…all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you," says the Lord of hosts, "according to the promise that I made you [the word that I covenanted] when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear." vv.4-5

The temple is gone, yet God is with the people. God is never confined to a particular place. Referring to "out of Egypt" reminds the returned exiles that despite precarious wilderness conditions, God provided for their real needs and will continue to do so.

Where We Live

Two more Sundays, and we'll have walked, prayed, studied, and worked through another year of grace. Bringing its words alive in our own context is one of the outcomes we seek from scripture, yet every passage won't apply to every contemporary situation.

The past few months of Jeremiah, Lamentations, Habakkuk, and now Haggai have been about people in fear of exile, then actually displaced to a strange country, later back in the land God first promised Abraham and Sarah. But the place they returned to was very unlike the turf that had yielded plentiful crops amidst fairly healthy political, religious, economic, and social life.

As concerned and prayerful as we must be for situations like those in Syria, Ukraine, and other countries around the world, just as when we seek care for our neighbor, we need to begin with the nearby and closest at hand.

Covid has caused changes, displacement, disappointment, and unexpected outcomes worldwide. Our old normal is gone; we're chasing after a future new normal. Will we know it when we see it?

Every scripture doesn't necessarily apply to where we are, but can Israel's and Judah's experience of exile and homecoming, hope for rebuilding and the reality of God's presence be instructive for us? Can some of the texts we've recently looked at help us move forward? I don't know.

However, in three weeks, on 27 November, Advent begins again with songs and scriptures specifically addressed to people who feel homeless, have been exiled from old normals, who long for and need meaning, structure, and stability. God is God of History, and not a distant deity who vaguely observes the endless recycling of the same thing. God is involved in history, in our lives and our dreams as we seek to rebuild a semblance of life as we'd known it, that tenuous new normal.