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.