Friday, March 17, 2023

Lent 4A

Lent 4 psalm23 sheep
God, my shepherd!
I don't need thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows;
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
Psalm 23
Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.


Psalm 23

1-3 God, my shepherd!
I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

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

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

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

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

Halfway through Lent

The church's year of grace has reached the fourth Sunday in (but not of) Lent, because every Sunday is a little Easter. This midway point has several traditional names and practices. In the North American church, Laetare – "Rejoice" – probably is best known. Each Sunday in Advent and Lent has a designation taken from the opening of the Latin Introit or entrance prayer; for Lent 4, "Laetare Jerusalem" ("Rejoice, Jerusalem") comes from Isaiah 66:10. On the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete also means rejoice, be glad. The idea is to take a short break to lighten up before the relatively somber season continues. Lent 4 is Mother's Day in the UK.

Psalmody, Hymnody

The psalms or the psalter is the hymnal of the synagogue. Unlike most of scripture that leans in the direction of God addressing humanity, psalms overwhelmingly feature humans addressing God. Because of this, they're well known for expressing every imaginable feeling, emotion, and desire.

The psalter was the hymnbook for John Calvin's Geneva Reform. Most contemporary hymnals including dozens of psalm paraphrases, from metrical to lyrical. The psalms probably are the Old Testament book most Christians know best. When we follow the Common Lectionary in the context of the church's historical liturgy, each week's psalm is (ideally sung or chanted) a response to the first reading and not considered a reading or lection.

Scripture and Context

Besides today's Psalm 23, many scriptural narratives originated in an agricultural setting.

• Abram/Abraham left Ur in Chaldea because of the land God promised: "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.'" Genesis 12:1

• God commanded Moses, "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey…" Exodus 33:3a Milk and honey is a sign of the fullness of God's reign in justice and righteousness for all creation

• In the gospel of John, Jesus announces, "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me." John 10:14

• …but Jesus of Nazareth lived and ministered in a mostly urban, completely colonial context. A well-tended garden or field grows into a city.

• Land is central in both OT and NT; land is central to our existence—well-stewarded land is necessary for individual and community well-being.

We call our church leaders pastor, the Latin word for shepherd. A pastor I served with told me whenever he thought of that congregation's founding pastor, he always remembered pastoral means "rural."

Theological Comfort Food

"The Lord is my Shepherd"—Psalm 23! Easter 4 is Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 – Sunday every year. And Matthew's lectionary year A schedules it for Lent 4. Besides translations and versions of the biblical text, there are near-countless paraphrases of Psalm 23. "The Lord is like my Probation Officer…" Did one-time shepherd King David write this psalm? No one knows, but any sheep-tender would have known the words and imagery well.

Conventional translations refer to God in the third person in verses 1 through 3, and then address God for the remainder of the psalm. The Message speaks directly to God throughout.

Although green pastures and dark valleys sound countrified, we can translate those meadows and canyons into almost any psychological and physical realities. Flourishing green fields and disappointingly devastated neighborhoods? Families and livelihoods starting to be restored despite covid continuing; fallout from long covid and businesses that couldn't make it even with covid loan assistance.

Most hymnals have three or four musical settings of Psalm 23. What one do you especially like? My all-time favorite uses the tune Resignation from Southern Harmony; I especially love Randall Thomson's choral arrangement. I've mentioned that I no longer blog YouTube links because videos come and leave faster than I can remember to do a routine link check.

• Do you have a favorite musical / hymn version of Psalm 23?

• How would you express the ideas in this psalm for your own life?

• What's in your 6-course dinner?

Friday, March 10, 2023

Lent 3A

rough cross with bokeh background and superimposed leafy branch
Exodus 17:1-7

1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?"

3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do for this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

5 The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink."

Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah [test] and Meribah [quarrel], because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Desert Water Features

Immediately before today's Exodus 17:

[Exodus 15:22-26] After Israel left Egypt, one of their first stops in the desert wilderness of Shur was Marah; water was evident there, but it was too bitter to drink. Into the water Moses threw a piece of wood, and the water became sweet enough to drink. [Exodus15:27] Next they arrived at Elim, where twelve springs of fresh water and seventy palm trees offered welcome hydration and shade.

[Exodus 16:4-5, 12-16] Out of Elim, onto the wilderness of Sin, still on their way to Sinai, wishing they'd died back in Egypt because empire sometimes delivers basic needs fairly well, God supplied manna and quail.

Creation Care

It's easy to find accurate statistics about water: how much covers this planet; what percentage of our bodies are water; the amount we need to drink to stay alive—how soon we'll die in certain conditions without enough water. Water is the womb of earth's birth, of our human beginnings. Waterways are about communication and commerce that sustain life on many levels and provide livelihoods. Because countless books, articles, and related have been produced about water, "etc." is the best way to continue this paragraph.

During the Exodus trek, Israel was on the way to the land God promised to Abraham. On the other side of the Jordan River, Canaan (foreign deities to contend with!) brought heavenly ground underfoot to seed, nurture, and harvest. Crops watered by streams cascading down the surrounding mountains—not by treated water running through pipes from a thousand miles away. Soil warmed by the great light of the sun in the sky above, not by artificial illumination plugged into a grid originating in Arizona? Colorado?

The name of my first ever blog had to reference the desert, because the abundant life that teems underneath the desert landscape's apparently quiet surface always feels like a miracle. California isn't alone in experiencing recent serious droughts; science proves the popular suspicion that human violence and lack of creation care has caused most of the damage to the fragile creation God created in flawless balance.

God created a perfectly balanced ecosystem with an inherent ability to balance and heal itself; God calls us to heal and maintain the planet by connecting, cooperating, and coordinating with others.

Is the Lord among us…

…or not?

It doesn't get more basic than clean air and clean water, but is the Lord among us or not?

We have the scriptures, ready to open, to read, to study, to interpret. Jesus of Nazareth is Emmanuel, God with us—God's Word Alive! In the sacraments, God is present among us, in and for each of us.
They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness? Even though Moses struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can God also give bread, or provide meat for the people?" Psalm 78:19-20
When Moses threw wood into the bitter water at Marah, it became sweet enough to drink. When Moses struck the rock at Rephidim with his staff, water poured out. Moses helped awaken resources already there.

The Holy Spirit shapes and forms us into an alternative community to empire and death (as the covenanted exodus assembly was in Canaan!), to feed, to revive, to restore by connecting with existing resources and cooperating with others.

Can God supply bread and nourishment for the world? Can God spread a bountiful table in the food deserts around us? Are we people of hope? Does Jesus Christ reign?

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Lent 2A

rough cross with bokeh backgrund and superimposed leafy branch
Genesis 12:1-4a, 7a

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him … 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."


After I'd read this week's passages from Genesis and Romans, the one-word prompt "reach" for the Five Minute Friday free write I often participate in felt perfect for Abram/Abraham's journey to the land God would show him when he got there and for our Lenten journeys.

Five Minute Friday :: Reach

This closely relates but it's a different take on part of today's text.

Another Called and Sent Story

Our Sunday readings have featured the call, (response), and sent stories of Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-8] and Jeremiah [Jeremiah 1: 4-10]; we've heard Jesus calling, teaching, accompanying, and sending his first disciples; finally, Jesus calls, instructs, sends, and accompanies us on ministries in his name. The Apostle Paul explains in today's passage from Romans 4:3 the God of grace yearns for our trust. The gospel writer John says Jesus wants us to abide in him, because Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. [Matthew 1:23]

Not too far into the book of Genesis or beginnings, God's commission and promises to Abram and Sarai (later renamed Abraham [Genesis 17:5] and Sarah [Genesis 17:15]) is a watershed text in all three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Along with the land scripture views as both holy and inalienable, descendants more numerous than the grains of sand or the stars in the sky [Genesis 13:14-17; 15:5] is a familiar aspect of God's promise to Abraham and Abraham's claim to trusting God, yet God sends Abraham for a purpose—to bless all he encounters.

You already know it's about the journey and I'm far from the only person who owns and enjoys wearing a shirt with that reminder. For sure it's a daily exploration and expedition into greater connections with God, creation, and self, to become holier and more whole. That's because God's purpose is reaching out, connecting, and blessing.

Abraham. Trust. Us.

As I mentioned last week for Lent 1,
In addition to being a time of catechesis leading to baptism on Easter, Lent is a season for those of us already baptized to consciously live bathed in grace as we confess and repent of sins and shortcomings, sometimes reconcile with those we've wronged or who have wronged us, and then move into the world to live as good news for all creation.

In my Five Minute Friday I wondered, How far does your life reach? How far does my life reach? Many individuals and most churches are deep into discerning their next move in the ongoing world of Covid. We'll all take some minor mis-steps, maybe a few major mistakes, but…

As we go through Lent with Easter hope, Matthew brings us assurances from the risen Christ:

• But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee. Matthew 26:32

• Go quickly and tell his disciples, "He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him." Matthew 28:7

• Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

My Five Minute Friday last words were:

"Reach out!
Go from your home, your comfort, and your kindred, to the place and the people God will show you (when you get there…) because in you they will be blessed."

Sent into the world to live as good news of hope and resurrection for all creation!

Friday, February 24, 2023

Lent 1A

spring 2023 bokeh cross
Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But Jesus answered, "It is written,
    'One does not live by bread alone,
      but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" [Deuteronomy 8:3]

      5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
    'He will command his angels concerning you,'
      and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written,
'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" [Deuteronomy 6:16]

      8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."

10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
      'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" [Deuteronomy 6:13]

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Gospel According to Matthew Overview

Where We Are

From Advent into Christmas through Epiphany, [in the global North] ambient light increased and days grew longer in the 3-month long segment of the church's year of grace that celebrated Jesus as light for all, God as God of all creation. And Epiphany was about us as light to the world.

Lent 2023 started on Ash Wednesday. Ashes symbolize the earth we've been created from as well as our mortality—eventually our bodies become dust of the ground. Ashes also represent cleansing. Lent was one of the church's earliest observances, beginning with only a few days, then gradually expanding into our current 40 days excluding Sundays.

Churches that observe the Three Days-Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter generally count Lent from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week; others go from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday evening.

"Lent" comes from an Old English word for spring and refers to lengthening days. You may know the music tempo Lento or Slow? Lent historically was the time of preparation for baptism, with baptisms at the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve or very very early Easter Sunday morning.

Lenten Moods

Somber purples and subdued lavenders reflect Lenten repentance. In addition to being a time of catechesis leading to baptism on Easter, Lent is a season for those of us already baptized to consciously live bathed in grace as we confess and repent of sins and shortcomings, sometimes reconcile with those we've wronged or who have wronged us, and then move into the world to live as good news for all creation.

Many people give up or relinquish certain foods, habits, or pleasures during Lent; taking up a spiritual, devotional practice or service activity is popular, too. Some quit their Lenten discipline on Maundy Thursday or Easter Sunday, and some continue it.

Is Lent usually a time of special discipline or focus for you, or not?

The First Sunday in (but not of) Lent

In all three lectionary years, the first Sunday in but not of Lent (because every Sunday is a little Easter) the gospel reading is Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.

Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke all include Jesus' testing by the devil – ha 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 our current year of Matthew, Jesus goes from his baptism in the wilderness of Judea [3:1] alongside the Jordan River [3:5-6] into a deeper level of wilderness [Matthew 4:1]. Matthew 4:1 begins with the word "Then."

Then is immediately after Jesus' baptism. Although Jesus did not receive our trinitarian baptism into his death and resurrection, his baptism or mikvah by his cousin John still related to turning-around repentance and newness for the entire people of God, and his baptism was identity-forming and affirming, just as ours is.

Like Moses and like Israel, Matthew's Jesus is called out of Egypt [Matthew 2:15] and goes through a wilderness testing time that necessitates his complete trust and reliance on God's gracious provision. In his interactions with the tempter, Jesus quotes scripture he learned being raised as an observant, synagogue-going Jew. Jesus, the living, incarnate Word of God quotes from the Pentateuch book of Deuteronomy, the written word.

Scripture in our Hearts

In today's passage, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, with replies that affirm God as source, path, and destination. Jesus had spent a lifetime attending synagogue and being instructed in Torah, so he carried the substance and meaning of scripture in his inner being, which resulted in faithful outer actions that often subverted the economic, religious, and social status quo. Closely related, we've mentioned Mary praying the Magnificat recorded in Luke 1:46-55 – "My soul magnifies the Lord, and spirit rejoices in God my savior" – that's roughly based on Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

What scriptures, prayers, hymns, or other quotes do you rely on when the going gets rough and tough? When you're confused or uncertain about the next move? What scriptures inspire you when life is glorious and you want to acknowledge and thank God?

Friday, February 17, 2023

Transfiguration 2023

Transfiguration 2023 Matthew 17:5
Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Epiphany Concludes

Opinions differ as to whether the Christmas season ends at the Day of Epiphany, at Jesus' Baptism, or at Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. But with Lent beginning next week on Ash Wednesday, without a doubt Transfiguration concludes seasons that formally magnify Jesus as God incarnate and Jesus as light to the world.

One more thing! On Transfiguration we bury the alleluias because we usually don't sing or pray "alleluia" during reflective, penitential Lent.

Transfiguration Dates

The Western Protestant Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season; most Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican churches celebrate Transfiguration on August 6th. Many Orthodox churches observe Transfiguration for an octave of eight days; the church long has noted particularly important festivals in octaves, so Transfiguration is that important. The Roman Catholic calendar also schedules Transfiguration on the Second Sunday in Lent.

Transfiguration: The Event

Similar to Jesus' Baptism in early January, the Transfiguration famously brings us a Trinitarian theophany, a simultaneous revelation of all three persons of the godhead. Transfiguration in the Greek is "metamorphosis."

Jesus' nativity and his transfiguration bookend this first major portion of the church year. In Christmas or the incarnation, the divine enters the human condition. At the transfiguration, humans Jesus, James, John, and Peter share in divine glory. The light show on the transfiguration mountain (traditionally Mount Tabor, though scripture doesn't say) continues the epiphany theme of light as an aspect of God's revelation.

All three synoptic gospels that view Jesus' ministry in a similar way narrate his Transfiguration:

• Mark 9:2-9
• Matthew 17:1-9
• Luke 9:28-36

Place and Purpose

Throughout scripture, we experience creation as the setting or venue for God's historical activity. Mountains often were arenas of God's self-revelation. Although Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the Transfiguration, scripture doesn't cite a place.

In this passage, Moses represents the Sinai Covenant / Law he received on Mount Sinai [Exodus 20:1-17]; Elijah, who received divine revelation on Mount Carmel [1 Kings 19:12], represents the Prophets. We receive God's fullest self-revelation at Jesus' crucifixion on Mount Calvary.

In his great commission from a mountain at the end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus promises to be with us forever and charges us to teach and baptize all nations.

Interpreting Transfiguration

In Matthew 17:1, "Six days later" comes after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, after Jesus' rebuke of Peter as satan. In Luke's account, Succoth, the Feast of Booths–Tabernacles–Tents when people re-enacted God's protection during their wanderings in the exodus desert (Leviticus 23:39-43) has just ended. Because of this, Peter, James, and John may have imagined offering hospitality to Moses and Elijah because their memory of Succoth was fresh.

Traditional and valid interpretations include:

• You can't stay on the mountaintop forever.
• The party needs to end because you need to go back to the daily rhythm of life with its public witness out in the world. The worship ends—the service begins!
• You can't contain God or put god in a box. Martin Luther talked about a domesticated god.
• God is not a place god of one particular locale; God is God of all places, all people, everywhere.

Listen to Jesus

Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain with Jesus we know as the ultimate word of God, the definitive interpreter of The Law and the Prophets.

v. 5 During their literally seeing Jesus full of brightness, dazzle, bling, and splendor – glory! – the voice out of a cloud (in Hebrew cosmology clouds are icons of the Shekinah, the feminine image of God as Holy Spirit), doesn't suggest "look at him," but this is my Son …listen to him! In a biblical lifestyle, to listen is to hear is to obey.

Listen to Jesus! and don't heed any other cultural, consumer, economic, ecclesiastical voices evokes the Barmen Declaration [1934] from the Confessing Church in Germany in the wake of the idolatry of nazi national socialism:
Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
Barmen Declaration text and background

Where We Live

v. 6 Fear overcame the disciples.

v. 7 As Son of God, Jesus touches his disciples and commands them not to be afraid, tells them to get up and live their lives! The cloud of the shekinah, the presence of the divine, may have disappeared from human sight (it had), but this is Matthew's gospel, and Jesus the Son is Emmanuel, God With Us, whose presence equals the presence of the one who sent him. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, touches, speaks, and commands with all the authority of the Divine.

v. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Down in the valley, Jesus teaches and heals for a few more chapters, but ultimately he's on the way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the empty tomb.

The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton believed not only Jesus was transformed—the disciples also received a transfiguration so they could recognize the divine presence in all persons, in all creation.

Nelson Mandela: "We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us."

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Epiphany 6A

Word in your Heart Deuteronomy 30:14
The word is very near you.
It is in your mouth and in your heart
so you can do it.
Deuteronomy 30:14

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

This Week

We're at the end of the season of Epiphany that celebrates revelation, showing forth, and shining out. In John's gospel Jesus calls himself light of the world, but we're in Matthew where Jesus tells us we are salt and light! In Western protestant churches, next Sunday is Transfiguration; three days later, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.

This week we'll take an excursion away from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and listen to God speaking through Moses in Deuteronomy.


• Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. v.11

• See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. v.15

In a world of moral relativism and antinomianism that imagines the primacy of grace frees us from the necessity of obedience, God calls us to the freedom of loving God and loving our neighbors.

The ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant [Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5] are working papers for life in community as well as out in "the world out there" beyond the Sunday assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament. Conceptualizing commandments, decrees, and ordinances [Deuteronomy 30:16] as "law" in our post-enlightenment Western sense leads to a distortion that neglects the resilient, adaptable, life-giving reality of Torah.

Not Too Hard or Too Far Away

v.14 The word is in your heart so you can do it.

With our twenty-first century Western tendency to equate heart and emotions, we need to remember that in Hebrew biology the heart is the seat of a person's will or intention. "Heart" is will, but also encompasses reason, wisdom, creativity, and discernment. Referring to a family's kitchen as its heart or an eating establishment's heart of the house are excellent contemporary parallels. Those places follow rules and guidelines, they expect certain outcomes, yet they expect a degree of messiness and often thrive with improvisation.

Our Deuteronomy reading insists the word of life is so close by it is in our heart and in our mouth; it is part of us. Does that mean we instinctively obey? The NRSV translation says we can observe the word, but better ones say we can do God's word. In his Message translation, Pastor Eugene Peterson says… Just Do It! The Hebrew here is dabar that connotes both speech and action.

Moses presents stark if-then contrasts of life/death // blessing/curse.

If you obey the commandments … If your heart turns away … to bow down to other gods

Ten Words / Sermon on the Mount

The commandments and the sermon on the mount (sermon on the plain in Luke) are paths to the shalom and wholeness for all creation we discussed two weeks ago on Epiphany 4. In his hilltop discourse, Jesus interprets and spells out the commandments. He describes blessings we receive that we then use to bless others.

Relational in both vertical (toward God) and horizontal (toward our neighbors) directions, the ten words are a covenant of gracious promise that binds God to people, a covenant of willing obedience that binds people to God and to each other.

We only need the first commandment:
I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (therefore!), you shall have no other gods before me.
The other nine commandments and the great commandment to love God, self, and neighbor clarify the first.

Where We Live

In v.15, life and prosperity means that being blessed with bounty from the ground, the community then flourishes and cares for the least of these already in their midst, the stranger and the sojourner that happen by. It's not abundant money, (real estate!) property, and social success as the world and as "prosperity gospel" people consider prospering.

v.18 the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess…

…is the turf God gifted Adam and charged him to till and steward, the place God promised to show Abraham when he got there. Like many waterways, the Jordan River was boundary, border – and barrier – between the old life and the new. Crossing Jordan is a baptismal reality for us.

Initially innocuous desirable stuff (you know, what's sometimes called "goods") and everyday behaviors carried to extremes can become those other gods we bow down to; we need to be careful and observe our own behaviors and compulsions. Both Old and New Testaments narrate the people's journey with their God. Who is our God or our gods? Where is our journey with our God or gods recorded?

Friday, February 03, 2023

Epiphany 5A

Salt Leaven Light on plaid background
Matthew 5:13-20

13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Gospel According to St Matthew overview

So Far in Matthew

The first sentence announces a new genesis/new creation—biblios genesis. According to Matthew, Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension initiates this new creation, new genesis. According to Jesus, our lives and ministries continue the new creation, the new genesis.

Matthew's genealogy includes non-Israelite foreigners; the narrative continues with Jesus' birth; visit of magi from the East; Holy Family's flight into Egypt where they become refugees from injustice and danger; Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist; forty days of wilderness solitude and temptations; Jesus calls disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus' sermon on the mount has five sections that parallel the five books of Moses in the Torah or Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…

Jesus begins [Matthew 5:1-12] by announcing attributes or characteristics of people who follow him. These Blessed qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes," yet having these qualities demands our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are how we are to be, how God calls and enables us to live. Unlike Luke, who has Jesus giving a similar talk on a plain or level place, as part of his "Jesus the new Moses," Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill.

He probably gave this or a very similar talk many times so it reached different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people… flash mob, anyone? We're welcome to speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and we sometimes need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own lives.

Through Moses God gave the people ten words or commandments at Mount Sinai. Jesus brings us words of life in the Sermon on the Mount on a hill or higher ground, with a different style from the commands God gave us through Moses, yet like the ten words/decalogue, Jesus is all about our flourishing together in safe, healthy, productive community. Jesus' entire ministry shows us how to live and love together in service, how to be church together.

Lights in the World

We're still in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as light of the world, redeemer for all creation everywhere. Today is about our being light of the world – people who radiate like a city on a hill! – and about our living as salt of the earth.

Maybe you're heard Kari Jobe's song,

We Are

Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Lives inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day

So wake up sleeper
Lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows, conquer death
Make the most of time we've left.

We are the light of the world
We are the city on the hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta let the light shine
Let the light shine
Let the light shine.

You easily can find some good performances of "We Are." (I no longer link to YouTube videos because they don't predictably stay there.)

The song "We Are" calls us Children of the Day that corresponds with the Old Testament Children of Israel/Jacob and the New Testament Children of Abraham: offspring, descendants, people who carry a certain DNA and therefore rock those traits.

Salt of the Earth

The salary we get paid derives from salt. In some places and times, salt has been a form of currency you can exchange for goods or services. Like gold, salt is a fungible currency with intrinsic value rather than value arbitrarily declared by the government (as happens with paper bank notes or federal reserve notes).

Salt is an easy and interesting topic. Salt adds some of its own flavor, but even more, salt brings out other flavors in the dishes we add it to. Making ice cream. Adding a little so your sauté will brown. Salting sidewalks to melt ice or so ice won't form. Just as we use the salt Jesus references, sodium chloride, we can sprinkle or pour happiness, prayers, concern, gifts, recognition, services, and other graces to people and communities we encounter. Beacuse a whole lot at once might be overwhelming, it's often wise to begin with a few shakes. The sometime glare of afternoon sun can be unwelcome—try a gentle sunrise or an evening glow.

A little salt goes a long way; the flame of light from a small candle can fill a dark room. Mix it all up and add seasoning to life everywhere we go! The world needs us to help it be tasty and lit up!


verse 20: …unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees…

Though they often get a bad rap for coming across as so very grace-impaired, in this context scribes and pharisees are good citizen leaders who yearn for justice, try to keep the commandments to the letter, who do everything possible to make the world a better place. Scribes and pharisees provide good examples of the justice and righteousness that pervade Matthew's gospel.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Epiphany 4A

Matthew 5:9 Happy are the Shalom Makers
Happy are the Shalom Makers
for they will be called
Children of the Father.
Matthew 5:9

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Matthew's gospel…

…includes Jesus as the New Moses with an emphasis on the righteousness and justice of God we find throughout the Hebrew Bible. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus provides formal instruction in the Sermon on the Mount and offers parables about the reign of heaven.

Chapter 5 opens Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Its five sections parallel the five books of Moses (not written by Moses, but with Moses as a central actor) in the Torah or Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Jesus brings us words of life in the Sermon on the Mount, with a different style from the ten words or commandments God gave us through Moses, yet like the ten words/decalogue, Jesus is all about our flourishing together in safe, healthy, productive community. Jesus' entire ministry shows us how to live and love together in service, how to be church together.

It's interesting that Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word church or ecclesia. This called out assembly (us) is similar to the Roman City Council, the Los Angeles City Council, the New England Town Meeting that gathers together, deliberates together, and in our case, prays and worships together.

Matthew and Luke…

…both include this talk that describes characteristics or attributes of disciples or people who follow Jesus. Matthew and Luke tell about the same event; each evangelist makes a particular theological point. Like almost any teacher or preacher, Jesus would have taught the same lesson to different people at different times, with both planned and organic variations to customize the message to his current audience. For Matthew, Jesus is the ultimate teacher who wants his followers to be the best learners ever.

Jesus on the mountain or hill parallels Moses receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. In Luke, Jesus teaches similar content from a level place [Luke 6:20-26] and reflects Mary's Magnificat/Hannah's song [Luke 1:46-55; 1 Samuel 2:1-10] that promise God will raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty to create a world – a lifestyle – of distributive justice, where no one has too much, no one has too little. The sermon on the plain also fulfills Jesus' announcement of jubilee justice during his first act of public ministry in the synagogue service [Luke 4:16-21]. Besides a list of blessings, Luke's Jesus includes woes.

Blessed, Happy

This is not the deep well of joy we sometimes experience as Christians in spite of less than ideal circumstances. Blessed is participation in the reign of heaven on earth and being well-regarded by God. Blessed, happy is not consumer happiness as in "if I buy this tablet or take this trip I'll be happier"; "If I buy that tablet, take this trip, and attend that concert series I'll be the happiest." I thought carefully about my list because those items are valuable and life-enhancing, and though a new tablet, phone, or laptop is a material object, it's mostly a means of communication and can be used in ways that develop an individual's creative abilities and community connections. Travel almost anywhere enhances our perspective and expands our horizons. Music is the food of love, the soundtrack of life!

Backtracking to Luke, Pastor Gene Peterson in The Message translates woe as "trouble," but this wouldn't be the good trouble God calls us to so we can help change the status quo. Sorrow, sadness, grief, and similar better convey Jesus' concept of woe.


My illustrating "Blessed are the Peacemakers" as Blessed are the Shalom Makers takes some liberty. The biblical shalom is peace that's more than absence of conflict, but the Greek here is the root of our word irenic. Irenic peace is basic cease-fire, lack of overt conflict, a conciliatory attitude. When the Lord's Prayer or Our Father prays, begs, and pleads for the reign or rule of heaven on earth, it asks for the fulness of shalom.

The important beginning of irenic peace eliminates obvious disagreements, but shalom goes beyond that. Shalom is enough of everything we need to live healthy lives. As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism, asking for actual daily bread or food (water, shelter, good government, etc.) is only part of what we need. Shalom is integrity and honesty with each other inside our work, home, church, and other communities. Shalom is the Good News of the gospel fully lived out every day, everywhere we go. Shalom is the kingdom of heaven, the reign of life on earth.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Epiphany 3A

Zebulun and Naphtali from Jerusalem Windows by Marc Chagall
Zebulun and Naphtali from Jerusalem Windows by Marc Chagall

Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;
he shall be a haven for ships,
and his border shall adjoin Sidon.
Genesis 49:13

Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears beautiful fawns.
Genesis 49:21

About Marc Chagall's Jerusalem Windows

Isaiah 9:1-2

1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Matthew 4:12-22

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned."

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus in the World

Overview of Matthew's Gospel

Epiphany celebrates Jesus as light, as revelation to everyone everywhere, and reminds us YHWH always has been God of all, God for all, not exclusively Israel's.

We've experienced 2023's retelling of Jesus' baptism (found in all four gospels). Slightly out of order for our logic, every year (in the three synoptic gospels) on the first Sunday in Lent we hear about Jesus' Spirit-filled, post-baptismal temptations in the remote wilderness. All four canonical gospels have a different event for Jesus' first act of public ministry; most likely they all happened around the same time and clearly only one could have been the actual first, but each choice says something about the gospel writer's overall focus.

• Mark 1:16-26: Jesus calls the brothers Zebedee and immediately exorcises a demon in the synagogue
• Luke 4:16-21: Jesus announces the Jubilee year in synagogue
• John 2:1-11: Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding at Cana—a party!

• Today we have Jesus' Initial Public Offering according to Matthew: Jesus, the ultimate rabbi/teacher calls disciples. Teachable followers!


You can't separate geography, climate, and culture. Jesus making a home in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali in Capernaum-By-The-Sea, along the Way-Of-The-Sea that connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, is a bittersweet reminder that God owns the world and everything it. When Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us [Matthew 1:23] goes there, light dawns on the people's deadly darkness.

As 1st Isaiah describes it and Matthew quotes, Galilee of the nations-gentiles meant not-Israelites, and Isaiah almost definitely referred to occupation by imperial Assyria. In Jesus' – and later Matthew's – context, non-Israelite, gentile imperial Rome controlled land, sea, and everything related to them: employment, production, processing, distribution, taxation, etc.—the totality of everyone's lives and livelihoods.

Matthew emphasizes Jesus' connections with the whole people of God. Tribal descendants of Jacob's sons, Zebulun (Joshua 19:10-16) and Naphtali (Joshua 19:32-39) were part of territorial allotments first promised to Abraham and Sarah. Land is God's gift of covenanted place and space, yet the land of promise God called the people to steward into agricultural bounty and interdependent community is now under Roman control. Land is not alienable, not a "property" we can sell:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; you are but aliens and sojourners with me. Leviticus 25:23

Jesus' Geography / Locations

1. birth in Bethlehem
2. to Egypt for refuge from Herod's decrees
3. moving to childhood home in Nazareth
4. now he's in Capernaum

Jesus Calls Disciples

For Isaiah, Assyrian occupation equaled darkness and hopelessness, as did Rome's for first century Judea. Since Advent we've been in an extended season of light. Unlike John, Matthew doesn't name Jesus as "light of the world," yet after Matthew narrates the people have seen a great light, Jesus repeats John the Baptist's "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," although Jesus actually embodies the reign of heaven. It is here, it is now, and it is the polar opposite of Rome's life-extinguishing darkness.
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother … he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. … James son of Zebedee and his brother John … left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew tells us light has dawned and Jesus calls us to repent so the light will blaze brightly. Follow Jesus? As Matthew's gospel progresses, Jesus provides formal instruction in the Sermon on the Mount and offers parables about the reign of heaven. We see Jesus healing human diseases and confronting economic, religious, and governmental powers that be.

Church in the World / Light of the World

And Jesus said, "Follow me…" Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Today let's stay with the season of Epiphany and the gospel according to St. Matthew. Light dawns in Jesus. What does Jesus' presence do in the darkness and death of Roman imperial rule?

We receive a lighted candle at baptism. What does our presence as Jesus' followers feel like, look like, act like in today's uncertain world?

Matthew's Jesus is the ultimate teacher who wants his followers to be the best learners ever.

• "You are the salt of the earth." Matthew 5:13

• "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine!" Matthew 5:14

• "The reign of heaven is like yeast." Matthew 13:33

We can do this! We can be salt, light, and yeast! Amen? Amen!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Epiphany 2A

label scar on vacated Macy's store
label scar on vacated Macy's store

Isaiah 49:1, 5-7

1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.

5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

The Epiphany Season Continues…

…with its theme of God as redeemer for all the world, Jesus as light of the world.

• Last week: Baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17

• This week: Baptism of Jesus in John 1:29-42

• All 4 gospels include John baptizing Jesus!

Jesus' baptism or mikvah was not the same as our trinitarian baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, but more of a signal of newness for the nation. At Jesus' baptism we experience a trinitarian theophany with Father, Son, Holy Spirit all in attendance at the event. We hear God the Father naming, claiming, calling, and inspiring Jesus. At our baptism, God names, claims, calls, and literally inspires us with the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah is an excellent choice during Epiphany because all of the long book of Isaiah brings us broad, inclusive universalism. Israel's God YHWH is God of all, God for all nations, people, creation. God seeks and desires wholeness, integrity, shalom, interconnectedness, a free future not bound by the past—for all.

Servant Songs

Today our first reading is one of Second Isaiah's four Servant Songs found at:
• Isaiah 42:1-9

• Isaiah 49:1-6

• Isaiah 50:4-9

• Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

All of 2nd Isaiah brings us a servant attitude. The church hears these texts during the Holy Week of Jesus' passion that leads to his death. The church long has identified the Servant as Jesus Christ, but the Servant could be God's whole people Israel, Israel of the Babylonian – or any other – diaspora. The servant could be the person who recorded the words of Second Isaiah. How about us as the Suffering Servant?

Today's reading helps us reflect on:

• God's baptismal claim on us as individuals and as a community
• the presence of the HS
• God's baptismal call to be Jesus' presence everywhere

In last week's blog for Baptism of Jesus I wrote:
Jesus conception and birth are the start of the new creation? Yes! But Jesus' baptism opens an ongoing visible, public, manifestation or showing-forth of God's new action in recreating the world. … Did this echo the first creation as it emerged from surging disarray into boundaries, purpose, and intent? Did it replicate Israel showing up wet on the other side after crossing the Jordan into the promised land of covenanted community, agricultural bounty, and grace?

How about us? Our baptism initiates our public ministry. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation. Jesus invites us to follow him into the waters, into the world…

After a retail or other tenant vacates a commercial building, they tear off that company's sign or banner and you almost always can see a scar where the sign had been. In baptism God marks us with the sign of the cross forever—it's an indelible "label scar." Can people see it or feel it? Does our baptism demonstrate and reveal God's merciful love and eternal purpose for the world? Think about it!

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Baptism of Jesus A

Matthew 3:17 Baptism of Jesus Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

A New Creation

With a Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos, Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation with Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. When Matthew's gospel concludes, Jesus charges us to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize and teach them.

• For Matthew's lectionary year I blogged a short overview.

The Season of Epiphany

In the wake of the Day of Epiphany, this season of varying lengths ends with Transfiguration (in Western protestant churches). "Different lengths" because Lent comes after Epiphany, and the date of Ash Wednesday depends on the date of Easter.

During Epiphany that reveals, manifests, and makes apparent the presence of the Divine, we learn about Jesus' early ministry. In all four gospels we find Jesus' cousin John baptizing Jesus. Although it was not our trinitarian baptism but more of a fresh start for the entire people, baptism initiated Jesus' public ministry, just as it does ours. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation; Jesus invites us to follow him to be God's presence in the world.

Jesus' Baptism

We find John baptizing Jesus in all four gospels, so listen up! Next week in John's gospel [1:29] we'll hear John the Baptist identifying Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Jesus' baptism often is identified as a trinitarian theophany, a revelation of all three persons of the Trinity.

Somewhat related to John the Baptist wondering why Jesus would need baptism brings at least one aspect of our Christian baptismal theology into this text. First, John's baptism was a new beginning for the nation of Israel more than it was for the individual being dunked, although an individual always belongs to a greater whole. Also, when Matthew's community assembled their account, questions of Jesus' full divinity weren't yet a thing; those concerns unfolded two or three centuries later. In terms of formal doctrine, the Definition of Chalcedon that describes Jesus Christ as fully human, completely divine, dates from 451. Yet again, all four gospels refer to Jesus as divine, son of God, God with us, pre-existent Word/speech/action of God, one with the Father.

Jesus himself answered John's objections by explaining he needed to be baptized in order "to fulfill all righteousness." In scriptural terms, to be righteous means to be aligned with God, in literal right relationship, to act with justice. "Thy kingdom come" is a righteous prayer; a righteous desire sidesteps human whims for the deeper, broader connectional fulfillment that helps lead to heaven on earth.

Our Baptism

This Jesus-Savior, Emmanuel-God-with-us would save the people from their sins. Jesus' cousin John identifies him as Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. In that culture debt and sin were close to synonymous, thus all the biblical calls for and actions toward distributive justice, yet sin also was about shortcomings the Westminster Catechism describes as "lack of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." Because in some ways John's baptism of Jesus was closer to the repeatable ritual bath or mikvah than to our Trinitarian baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection, comparisons can get tricky, but let's go for it, anyway.

Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove … And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved."

Jesus sends his followers into the world to baptize and teach; somehow most people reading this blog have been baptized, taught, and agreed to follow Jesus.

A New Creation

Comparing Jesus' baptism to ours can put us into a precarious position; interpreting Jesus as Isaiah's suffering servant may not be historically warranted—although Holy Week scriptures do exactly that. But notice the insight of the lectionary committee in appointing this Second Isaiah [chapters 40-55] passage with God's announcement of Jesus' divine sonship alongside the waters of new birth:

Isaiah 42:1,9

1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

9 See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Jesus conception and birth are the start of the new creation? Yes! But Jesus' baptism opens an ongoing visible, public, manifestation or showing-forth of God's new action in recreating the world. As Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit. Did this echo the first creation as it emerged from surging disarray into boundaries, purpose, and intent? Did it replicate Israel showing up wet on the other side after crossing the Jordan into the promised land of covenanted community, agricultural bounty, and grace?

How about us? Our baptism initiates our public ministry. Jesus' ministry shows and clarifies God's love and purpose for creation. Jesus invites us to follow him into the waters, into the world…