Friday, March 31, 2023

Lent 6A

Lent 6 Palm Sunday Palms
Philippians 2:5-11

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, because he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


The reflective, penitential season of Lent that leads us to Easter has been observed for different lengths at different times. In this twenty-first century, churches that follow the lectionary for their scripture readings generally observe Lent during the 40 days (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week.

Triduum / Three Days

In a few days we move into the services of Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter that form a single liturgy. One of my favorite activities is creating a resurrection trilogy by attending Saturday evening Easter Vigil, Sunday Sunrise, and mid-to-later morning Sunday services. I'd love to add an Easter afternoon or evening liturgy to that. Maybe I need to check out the downtown LA Cathedral?

Palm-Passion Sunday

On this last Sunday in but not of Lent, many churches start worship by reenacting Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem with palms or some variety of locally grown green branches, and continue to his arraignment, trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death. The gospels of Mark and Matthew tell us when Jesus died the temple curtain tore from from top to bottom, symbolizing the reality of the reconciliation of heaven and earth. The word for tore is one that can't be mended; in Matthew, the earth shook, rocks split open. All creation responded!

Philippians 2:5-11

Almost forever scholars have imagined Paul quoted a hymn from another source, but Gordon Fee, professor emeritus at Regent College, Vancouver says:

If it was originally a hymn of some kind, it contains nothing at all of the nature of Greek hymnody or poetry. Therefore, it must be Semitic in origin. But … It lacks the rhythm and parallelism one might expect of material that is to be sung. And in any case, it fits very poorly with the clearly hymnic material in the Psalter or in Luke 1:46-55, 68-79, or in 1 Timothy 3:16b, to name but a few clear NT examples of hymns.

Whether or not it's an original by Paul or had been circulating around Christian circles, the cruciform theology of this hymn is pivotal.

gods and God

In the Ancient Near East/ANE gods were an ordinary part of daily life. Every city, town, and village, (almost every random mound of dirt) had its own deity. People imagined those gods demanded tribute in the form of money, food, shrines, sacrifices—human or animal ones at worst. People pictured gods being full of vanity and pretension. Aside from deities of place and function, you might find yourself interacting with a half-mortal, half-divine being who was offspring of a human and of a god. In Jesus Christ, we have a savior, a redeemer who is fully human and completely divine. Nothing halfway about him!

In The Message translation of this passage from Philippians, Pastor Eugene Peterson says Jesus "set aside the privileges of deity." Those divine privileges would have been ones the fake gods people invented would claim. They were not attitudes or actions the God of the bible ever would have assumed. In other words, being in the image of the real God of Earth and Heaven, Jesus took on the real attributes of that God including love, mercy, service, grace, and forgiveness.

In contrast to human ideas about divinity, the God of the bible especially self-reveals in the cross, in Jesus of Nazareth's crucifixion—and resurrection.

Theology of the Cross

Theology of the cross is about God's own self-revelation, especially in Christ crucified. Theology of the cross is about God's frequently hidden, paradoxical both/and presence in the commonest things, people, and situations.

Theology of glory is about human ideas and imaginings of how a powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God might act. Taking this further, theology of glory sometimes is about the ways humans wish God would behave. Varieties and variations of prosperity gospel are theologies of glory.

Reformer Martin Luther reminds us to see the fullness of God's power and sovereignty, look to the Bethlehem manger – look to the Calvary cross. "The God who became small for us in Christ" … small enough to die.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Lent 5A

rough cross with bokeh background
Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know."

4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

During this season of lengthening days, Jesus and his followers draw closer to the holy city Jerusalem, closer to his trial, sentencing, and death—closer to the day of resurrection, Easter Sunday.

Throughout scripture, we find countless hints or types of resurrection from death. Less than two weeks away from the Friday called Good, the lectionary pairs the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel with the seventh and last of Jesus' signs in John's gospel, when Jesus revives dead Lazarus [John 11:1-45]. Because his physical body would die again, scholars often refer to Lazarus' resuscitation and not his resurrection. What's your opinion? In any case, on this Sunday two weeks before Easter, Ezekiel brings words of life and hope for every aspect of our current situation. It's no surprise that this passage is one of the readings for the Easter Vigil!


Like 1st Isaiah (1-39) and like Jeremiah, Ezekiel prophesied during the last days of Jerusalem before the Babylonian exile; with Jeremiah and 2nd Isaiah (40-55), Ezekiel proclaimed God's word into the exile.

Along with Jeremiah and all 66 chapters of Isaiah, Ezekiel is very much within the classical tradition of Hebrew/Israelite prophecy that brings us an inspired Word from the Lord. All three books belong to the "writing prophets" whose actual words got inscribed on scrolls. This contrasts with the former prophets whose actions we find in books like Joshua, Kings, Chronicles…

Ezekiel probably began his ministry in 592 BCE. With the first wave of exiles, Ezekiel was deported to Babylon where he preached sorrow and desperation to the Judeans (Ezekiel 1-24), and to the surrounding nations (Ezekiel 25-32). For God's people, being cut off from the Jerusalem Temple meant being as good as dead—their theology located God's presence in a special way in the Temple. Being exiled from the land felt like the negation of God's long-ago promise of turf. Yet after news of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple reached Babylon, Ezekiel began to proclaim hope, revitalization, and restoration (Ezekiel 33-48).

Today's reading comes from Ezekiel's shift from despair to hope. As we do every year, we're moving toward Jerusalem and toward Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, death—and resurrection!

Where We Live

The last time this pair of death and resurrection passages from Ezekiel and John came up in the lectionary was three years ago at the start of Covid. During the intensity and uncertainty of the global pandemic, we needed to claim hope for our future. How much has changed since then?

We're still exiled from a lot of ordinary conventional living; it's "no new normal yet"; long Covid; fallout from too many deaths, bankruptcies, business failures; no resolution for the January 6 insurrections. Russia's undeclared war of aggression against Ukraine feels never-ending. Maybe particularly in the USA and UK (but other countries, too) gun-celebrating, fear-ridden xenophobic politicians appear positioned to win upcoming elections. We still need to trust the reality of new life despite the reality of death for too many of people, structures, dreams, and even minimal expectations.

We need to know death isn't the end.

Ezekiel 37/ Resurrection

Only God can resurrect and restore people, institutions, and creation to a place and a way of being where they can thrive. "Only God," yet divine initiative and human response interweave here. God leads Ezekiel to the valley, directs his attention and inspires his words. Ezekiel obeys and speaks God's word. As a result (with no help from the bones—what could the dead do?), God gathers them together and breathes life into them.

Identical to creation's beginnings, the Word of God with the Spirit of God result in new life. These verses say prophesy/nabi seven times; spirit/ruach ten times. In verses 4 and 14, dabar is God's word-action. In your studies you may have learned dabar is simultaneously both speech and action; in Hebrew, listen is both hearing and obeying.

How about us as mortal "human ones" (Jesus of Nazareth's favorite desgination for himself) obeying God's command to assist God's promise of new life out of death's dry bones?

How does the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dead bones begin preparing us for the surprise of resurrection?

Life birthed from death: Jesus had scars in his post-resurrection appearances.

Cornel West: "We are people of hope. Why do we party on Friday night? Why do we go to church on Sunday?"

This Story Continues

You know the next chapter: after the seventy-year long exile in Babylon (at the end of which Persia defeated Babylon), the Persian king gave Ezra the Scribe permission to return to Palestine to re-establish Yahweh worship there, and also to find officers to administer the land. After he arrived back in the former land of Judah and Benjamin that included the city of Jerusalem, Ezra began that process. Home from exile. Back in the land.

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!