Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date.

You can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

You can also search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.


Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Proper 5B/Ordinary 10B/Pentecost +3, June 10, 2018


Creator God, we are fashioned, male and female, in the likeness of your glory.  Gather us around Christ, our teacher.  Grant that by doing your will we may truly become disciples, brothers and sisters of the Son.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 3:20-35

"In Mark's Gospel, Satan is always behind the opposition to Jesus regardless of who or what the vehicle may be. In this case, it is his own family and a delegation of scribes from Jerusalem."

"Getting on the Right Side of God," Alyce M. McKenzie, "Edgy Exegesis," Patheos, 2012.

"When we rush to explain away Jesus' miracles, we risk overlooking the deeper message of his liberating power."

"Jesus Christ: Exorcist," Susan R. Garrett, Beliefnet.

"Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 3:20-35, David Ewart, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We return in this weeks passage to our readings of Mark's Gospel and of course will march through them until we reach the end of this season we call ordinary time, or the Sundays after Pentecost.  We begin our seasonal reading of Mark with 15 radical verses that reorient life.
In the gospel story of Mark we locate ourselves just after Jesus has called the disciples (including the mention of the one who would betray him) and we also are in the midst of a response by the religious leaders of the day to his first teaching.  In our passage for today his relatives also react to his teaching.

The parable of the "binding of the strong man" is a teaching about the Gospel's message for freedom from that which binds us.  In Mark this teaching is powerfully dualistic; nevertheless, the image cast in the story and the teaching of Jesus is clear: we are to be granted freedom from the one who comes to bind the forces that rebel against God. 

This is wonderful news!  What seems important though is to remember that humans are bound as well. That this strong man runs our house. That this strong man, who himself is in need of binding, is a destructive force that humans cannot be free from.  In fact, we are perpetually in the grasp of this strong man. It is always easy to blame someone for our own problems and I don't mean to do this here. I am simply saying that God in Christ Jesus comes because we are not able to do this ourselves and for ourselves.  We are dependant upon God's working this out. 

The image of disciples who will turn against Jesus, the religious home that turns against their own son, and a family that turns against Jesus reminds us of how unable to be free, truly free, we are.  He reminds them (similar to the passage from last week's Gospel of John) that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and that it cannot be stopped.  Strong words are used by Jesus, but it is as if to say, "woe to anyone who dares stop the spirit."  I am reminded of Emil Brunner's thoughts in his classic text The Church Misunderstanding, where he explains the difficult spot between the church and the ecclesia - God's church.  Religion is always attempting to point towards God but it is always something that is still bound by the strong man and our nature in this world and so a mere reflection of the ecclesia.

Then Jesus teaches about a radical new reorientation of creation.  He says: "Who are my mother and my brothers?”34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  It is those upon whom the gaze of Jesus falls that become a new family, a reordered family.  The faith and religion that Jesus grew up in demanded birth into the family.  Literally a lineage of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that was tied to the mortal body.  Here Jesus is offering a vision of the family of God that is based upon the gaze of Jesus, the working of the spirit, and the discipleship of the person which makes their will open to the movement of the will of God. 

So, we are remade in Jesus brothers and sisters one to another.  We are to view ourselves through the eyes of Jesus and see in one another the Holy Spirit moving and drawing us ever closer together in a new family, an ever expanding family.  And, we are to be known as those who do God's will.  We are known as people who do not rebel against God's spirit but embrace it and are formed by it. 

I believe for Jesus, for our author Mark, and for his community this notion of communal life as a new family, which is at work doing God's will is essentially the binding force of life lived following Jesus. 

Now here is the thing...and it is an important thing of which we should be aware.  And that is, because the strong man is in us, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  That is right, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  Aristotle in his Ethics writes:

Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it: people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones. This view is supported by what happens in city states.  Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator, and those who do not carry it out fail of their object.

We immediately move from understanding the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, and Jesus' gaze upon his friends as the marks of the new family and take the last little bit of this passage out of context and we say, "If you do not do the will of God then you are not true believers."  Wow! It happened so quickly, we Aristotle-ize Jesus' teaching.

The problem is that the strong man within us understands this is the way of the world.  You do it, you become it.  It is a way of being and becoming.  That however, is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus and contrary to Paul's arguments. Righteousness is NEVER acquired by action, even the action of believing.  (Rom.1)  The reality is that the strong man is in us, we are him, and so our action and our believing flow out of our ego's desire, our self concern, for salvation.  No one may be a member of the family by doing good works or obeying the law.  One is not justified into community by being good or by doing...but by God and by God's work on the cross.  Actions flow from the love affair with God.  They flow out of being made family by God and by God's Holy Spirit. God makes us a vessel of Grace.  (Romans 3, 1 Cor. 1) 

To be named brother and sister in God's family is not something that takes place because the church says so, it takes place because of God's gaze and the Holy Spirit's blowing this way and that.  The Church recognizes this reality in sacrament but does not make it so.  God's grace and love, God's invitation to be family, is free, as free as the gaze of Jesus upon those friends gathered around him.  It free to those who do good works and those who do not.  It is free even to those who reject him out of their religious convictions.  It is free to those family members who wish he would stop causing so much trouble. It is free to those disciples who will deny and betray him and run away.  It is free.  To be made a member of the family of God is pure grace and pure love.

So we might preach and pray, come Holy Spirit, gaze upon me Jesus Christ, bind the strong man within my soul, and open my heart to your love, that your will may be done in me.

[Thanks this week to Collins book on Mark, for Marcus' book on Mark, and for Gerhard O Forde's reflections on grace and the cross from On Being A Theologian of the Cross.]

2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1

"Amidst real hardships and suffering, Paul expresses hope in God's work to redeem and to transform."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Paul's confidence rests not in the details - they don't bother him - but in the fact of God."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The self can die only if and when it loses all wonder, either this side of the grave or beyond."

"The Gift of Aging," Caroll E. Simcox. The Christian Century, 1987. Republished atReligion Online.

In this passage Paul is using Psalm 116 vs 10. This is a psalm about suffering and a near death experience. Like many people who have used the psalms for comfort Paul too draws on their wisdom to offer a sense of his struggle. He too fears he is close to death. Yet he believes that is work is still before him. He is to continue to proclaim the Gospel. He has kept his faith despite the afflictions and sufferings of his time. 

Paul is relying on the foundation that he is working towards God's future. He has hope because he believe God will be victorious. This refrain of doing the work for the sake of Christ and the sake of the Gospel is constant in Paul's writing. I only imagine this is because of his profound feeling of grace placed upon him by God. 

This is what enables him to not lose heart in the midst of his ministry. 

What is important here I think is that Paul is failing physically AND he is heading into very strong opposition. In fact as we read the whole text what we know is that the Gospel he is proclaiming is being pounced upon and defeated at many a turn - in Philippi for sure and doubts have crept in elsewhere. 

Paul though has faith, he believes in his message, he believes the Gospel will win. 

As I think about this I wonder about my own feelings when I receive criticism. Do I believe that the Gospel will win (in spite of my weakness)? Do I have faith that if I do my part and offer the vision I have inherited - believing it from the Holy Spirit - that God will correct it, mold it, shape it, reform it as needed for God's cause? 

Here might I rely upon God! Here might I find a bit of strength to be human and allow God to be God. Here I might find and discover that I will make mistakes and speak out of tune but that the Gospel will work and win. The work of Christ on the Cross shall be victorious. 

Humbly we pray as church leaders then:

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Proper 4B/Ordinary 9B/Pentecost +2, June 3, 2018 [Under Construction]


Creator of the planets and their courses, you created the Sabbath as one day in seven for all. Having invited us to rest, to breath, to pause; now, encourage us to rest our demands on others, listen in the place of speaking, and pause our impact upon the cosmos. You make the sabbath to universally benefit  humanity and all creation. We give thanks for this benevolent provision that enables us to to experience a life with you that is well lived in the shadow of your wing. In the name of
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Some Thoughts on Mark 2:23-3:6

"In this pair of scenes, Jesus does not assail Judaism. He does not reject the law. He does not render the sabbath obsolete. He does not even call the Pharisees blind guides or a pack of dotards. A sermon on the passage should not do those things, either."

"As best I can tell, most Christians follow eight commandments, not ten. The second commandment was dispatched at the Council of Nicea in 787, when the church decided graven images were OK. If it had pleased God to become incarnate in a person, the church reasoned, then it should not displease God for us to have images of that person. Iconoclasts have continued to rise up over the years, but few Christians regard icons, stained glass windows or Jesus T-shirts as sinful.

The fourth commandment has undergone a more gradual demise. When Jesus declared that the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath, many of his followers deduced that they were free from sabbath observance. Since the rabbis themselves had said as much ("Sabbath has been given to you; you have not been given to the sabbath"), it seems more likely that Jesus was sharpening his disciples' sense of sabbath as divine gift instead of divine burden.

This gospel is very important. It teaches us about how Jesus approaches the Law. In so doing it offers us a means by which we might interpret his teaching and approach scripture as Christians. Furthermore, it offers us some thoughts about our own words and actions about Sabbath.

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

"There is a strong link here between Paul?s longing, his almost reckless candor about himself, and his sense of freedom. He understood himself as having been made a ?slave? to Christ, and of having been set free from the bondage of sin and death. This was not abstract theologizing."

"Dying to Rise," Chapter 13 of Reframing Paul, by Mark Strom, Intervarsity Press, 2000.

"A mother once confided that until her own son developed leukemia, she had never known a seriously ill child. Her eyes were opened in the hospital to the vast and varied problems that can afflict our very young. She could only conclude either that they had all been previously hidden in some closet or her own view of the world was too narrow and protected."

"Hearts Untroubled," Diane M. Komp, Theology Today, 1988.


Some Thoughts on 1 Samuel 3:1-10

"The Lord was with Samuel, but somehow, this divine appointment does not at all diminish the totality of the human experience."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Roger Nam, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"From the very beginning, God has been fully present to everyone and everything in this world. And God is still with us because the Spirit of God still "hovers" and "resonates" over and around and in us all."

"Sacred Space," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.


Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 5:12-15

"God requires balance, rest and work. Those of us who are able to engage in both, must also never forget those who are restricted from enjoying much of either."

Commentary, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Proverbs 14:23, Robert Charles Scott, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

"Congregations are 'soul communities,' in which young and old are soul-mates, bound together as an extended family of God, who love, support, and sustain one another. They should assure that senior adults are cared for and honored as resourceful contributors to community life, wisdom-givers, exemplars of the faith, and worthy recipients of care. How do we make this biblical vision concrete in our lives?"

"Caring as Honoring," Anne E. Streaty Wimberly, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2003.

"Honorable work and restful renewal are both aspects of responsibility."

Radical Shabbat: Free Time, Free People. Rabbi Arthur Waskow. "Living the Word," in Sojourners Online, May/June 2000.


Previous Sermons On These Passages

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pentecost +1 / Trinity B May 27, 2018


Nicodemus by Henry Tanner, 1899
O God Most High, in the waters of baptism you made us your sons and daughters in Christ, your only-begotten Son.  Hear deep within us the cry of that Spirit, who calls out to you "Abba, Father,"  and grant that, obedient to your savior's commission, we may become heralds of the salvation you offer to all and go forth to make disciples of all nations. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 3:1-17

"All are included, even God's enemies. God did not come to condemn, but to save. As Martin Niemoller once put it, 'It took me a long time to realize that not only did God not hate my enemies, he didn't even hate his enemies.'"

Lectionary Blogging, Trinity B, John Petty, 2012.

"What is crucial in our proclamation is the reality of God's activity in Jesus, God's only Son, sent and given for the sake of the salvation of the world. Only through the awakening of belief through the Spirit can this be known."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Ginger Barfield,, 2015

"When we become too sure of what we know about Jesus (or indeed the Trinity on this particular Sunday), when we believe that we have grasped him at last, that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus."

Commentary, John 3:1-17, Meda Stamper,, 2012.

Let me begin by saying how much I love this story and enjoy Nicodemus.  A pharisee, a righteous liver, he comes to Jesus and sits and has a conversation with him.  The early church thought this was about entrapment.  Maybe it was.  Regardless, there is deep wisdom in this passage and important thoughts for the follower of Jesus today.

First, let us begin in the beginning.  Nicodemus says that he believes that Jesus is from God.  He literally says, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God."  But this meaning in English is better understood as "you are a teacher approved by God."  Jesus then corrects him saying, "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Often times we immediately go to the importance of this phrase in light of our one understanding of baptism.  (We will get there.)  But this is really a message to Nicodemus that Jesus is not himself just another prophet approved by God, but is directly from God, of God.

 Nicodemus does not understand and thinks Jesus is speaking about people. So he asks about being born of God.  Jesus answers in the language of the first century which held a mix of understanding that God was in you and/or that God adopted you as an individual. This language is very clear in the Pauline letters; and, I should say very important language in the Christian Faith.  Though theological in nature these notions are not applied to Jesus directly as he is one with the Father.  (Raymond Brown, John, vol 1, 138ff)

Raymond Brown argues that there is also enough language of adoption in the OT that Nicodemus as a righteous pharisee would have been able to understand that Jesus was offering a vision that the gathering at the end of times was at work in the world through Jesus' own ministry. (140)   There is a notion here that the Holy Spirit of God is begetting, if you will, new members of God's family.  In a time when birth had significant meaning to your culture, context, and religion, this is a radical all embracing notion.  Just as today for the righteous it is difficult to wrestle with God's all embracing drawing in of sinners.  This is a beautiful and mysterious thing.  We are not as human beings able to understand and fathom the depths of God fully and so this Holy Spirit begetting is strange.  Jesus says, ‘You must be born from above.’8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (vs 8, see also Eccles 11.5 "As you do not know how the spirit (wind) comes to the bones in the womb, so you do not know the work of God who does all things.")

This passage also has profound meaning for the Christian community within the context of baptism.  For the first Christians this is about God and the family of God.  It is about being born of water and spirit. It is about the ritual of Christian initiation.  It is important to note that this is completely foreign to the pharisee sitting before Jesus. Nicodemus might have understood baptism as a cleansing or ritual bathing.  Or, he could have understood this baptism or rebirth like the "proselyte" baptism of his own day where a person becoming a Jew went through a ceremony of new birth - literally a rebirthing.  Neither of these are Holy Spirit baptism. (142)  This is a hotly debated topic and can send us off into all kinds of scenarios.  Let me simply say that for the purpose of our reflection, the church has understood this as the necessary form of the sacrament of baptism in order to be reborn and that the stronger pieces of scripture to support this sacrament are found elsewhere and not here.

What is important, what is amazing, is again this notion of grace given by the Holy Spirit.  The idea so very difficult for Nicodemus is that being physically born into the family of Abraham, and following the law as a good pharisee, is not what matters in the end. Rather, the radical notion that the family of Abraham is being increased by the begetting work of the Holy Spirit!  Moreover, that the begetting Holy Spirit is falling on people who do not follow the law like good Nicodemus.  That is trouble for Nicodemus indeed!  For at the end of the day I think Nicodemus like us (when we are honest) is a score keeper. He has a good score.  He is born special and separate, and he has spent a life separating himself even more through his piety.

In the dark night of our souls when we come to Jesus what are we inviting him to bless?  Our score? Our piety? Our actions?  Our work of justice? Our right living?  What are we inviting Jesus to curse?  In the dark night when we sit at Jesus' feet what does he offer us? He offers us freedom from keeping score, keeping score on others; but most importantly keeping score on ourselves. 

Next comes the important part of the passage:  "If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man."  The message here is one of the resurrected Lord.  Jesus will be raised, the Son of Man, will be raised and this will undo the power of the law over us.  Jesus' resurrection and ascension will unify man with God in a new way and in so doing will unplug our score board. He will wipe clean the slate.  In the ascension, in his return to the holy community of God (the Trinity) he does so without any human effort. He does so without having asked our permission. He does so even though he is crucified. He does so purely as a measure of grace for the righteous and the sinner alike.

I believe he offers us grace.  I believe he offers us grace to imagine the family of God as God sees it and to imagine the reality of our personal invitation to participate.  Will we follow this Jesus? This Jesus of grace? This loving Jesus?  Who is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven and unites us into the heavenly community?  Will we follow him when he says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Romans 8:12-25

"...the preacher will do well to bring up the fact that there is feminine, indeed maternal, imagery for God in the Bible also (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13). That imagery is also used to speak of God in an intimate way, not to define God by gender."

Commentary, Romans 8:12-17, Arland J. Hultgren,, 2015.

"It is interesting that Paul, writing to what was probably a predominantly male audience, would have invoked the imagery of a pain that has never been felt by males."

"Labor Pains," Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

"Even self assurance is not based on fetching the certificate of membership or recalling an even of the the past, but a sense of oneness or otherwise with the being of God the Spirit moving within our lives (8:16)."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 6, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
We continue our reading in Paul's Romans and we continue as he reminds us that our desires are not the desires of God and so we grate against God's pull upon us. We are ego centered creatures. At our worst we have very little room for anyone else.

But the life of the follower of Jesus is not hallmarked by feeding these personal desires and wishes but instead by overcoming our brokenness to work on God's work. We are to press forward dealing with our own sins and thus building up the character of God within us. In other words those things that are in us, which we do but do not wish to do, which are bad for ourselves or others are the very things that build us up into the character of Christ as we work on them. So it is that we groan we suffer we carry our cross - but we are not condemned.

We have hope. We know that while we still labor the final battle is won. We know that while we chose to labor because of God's grace that we do so out of a great sense of wanting to life a life within God's Spirit. Yet we hope. We hope on our good days and we hope on our bad days. 

This hope of God's winning victory is what pulls us forward. Knowing that death and sin have met their match and God has been victorious sealing for us eternal life allows us to continue to live as "children of God." Knowing that we are heirs, that we are given as intimate relationship with God as Jesus had himself - we are able to apply ourselves tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. 

We are freed from hopelessness. We are freed from bondage to sin and death which kept us from hope.

It is here in this reception of grace, forgiveness, and love from God that we discover hope for ourselves, hope for our lives, hope for our relationships, and hope for our church. 

So let us awake! Let us see that God has won the day. Let us see that in the end sin and death are conquered and let us chose to work on ourselves that we might ever more grow into the character of Christ. For we are one with God, we are his children, and his heirs.

Isaiah 6:1-8

"Such spilling of divine secrets amounts to a paradoxical intervention, when straightforward communication has failed, an intervention designed to goad listeners into hearing."

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8, Patricia Tull, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"The Isaiah reading anchors our vision of the Trinity with Isaiah's, set on the Lord of hosts and the throne of vast and awesome might."

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We are sent to join God in mission because we have encountered God, because we have been brought face to face with God's holiness and our brokenness, and because we have been made whole by God's grace."

"Worship that Sends," Patrick Johnson, Missional Preaching: Equipping for Witness, 2015.

John's gospel understands that Isaiah is a witness to the divinity of Christ. Isaiah is the voice crying out in the wilderness (John 1.23). Then again in 53.1 and 6.10, John uses Isaiah again to reveal that Jesus is fulfilling prophesy. (Richard Hays, Echoes of the Scripture in the Gospels, 293.)

This is all very important because what Christian biblical theologians argue is that Isaiah, when he has this vision (the one from today's lesson) he is not simply seeing God on the throne, but he is seeing the incarnation, the Christ, on the throne. Hays argues that this is John's view too and this is why it is so important for him to enlist Isaiah as a witness to God in Christ Jesus. (Hays, 289.) This a witness to the triadic nature of God and the eternal presence of the incarnation. (Hays would say Jesus...but I think that is theologically incorrect.)

This is an important reading of scripture because it is both triune and it begins to reveal how the first evangelists and followers of Jesus understood who Jesus was without a New Testament.

One of the real issues on Trinity Sunday is not so much the Trinity, but our lack of good theological and scriptural underpinning.

What I am saying here is quite important, at least to my theology and understanding of the creation. People often suggest that the Trinity is a mere mystery planted into theology because of early Christian infighting over the idea of who Jesus was and the deep desire to not appear anything other than monotheist. Secondly, we err on the side of believing that the incarnation begins with Jesus' birth - which it decidedly does not...if you are a true Trinitarian that is. And, lastly we make the mistake of believing that the only reason that Jesus comes into the world is because of sin. That is hogwash too. You see most people get a good understanding of Augustine trinitarian doctrine and don't go any further. Without doing so what we get is the heresy of modalism...another Augustine says himself: the trinity is really about describing three somethings. (Augustine, De Trinitate 7.9 (CCSL, 50A:259).

The Trinity's work is part of the very creation of the cosmos. It is present before the birth of Jesus and after. The 1 in 3 and 3 in 1 God is fully active prior to our imagining and will be long after our ingathering. There is one will causing all actions and one substance.

I think that Robert Farrar Capon puts a fun and quite theologically brilliant spin on all of this as he reminds us of the contribution of the early Scotists and Franciscan theologians - good trinitarians all. I offer you this quote from his book The Third Peacock...well worth the read. Enjoy:

In the Christian scheme of things, the ultimate act by which God runs and rescues creation is the Incarnation. Sent by the Father and conceived by the Spirit, the eternal Word is born of the Virgin Mary and, in the mystery of the indwelling, lives, dies, rises, and reigns. Unfortunately, however, we tend to look on the mystery mechanically. We view it as a fairly straight piece of repairwork which became necessary because of sin. Synopsis: The world gets out of whack; perverse and foolish oft it strays until there is none good, no, not one. Enter therefore God with incarnational tool kit. He fixes up a new Adam in Jesus and then proposes, through the mystery of baptism, to pick up all the fallen members of the old Adam and graft them into Christ. Real twister of an ending: As a result of sin, man ends up higher by redemption than he would have by creation alone.

However venerable that interpretation is, though, it is not the only one. As long ago as the Middle Ages, the Scotist school of Franciscan theologians suggested another. They raised the question of whether the Incarnation would have occurred apart from sen; and they answered it, Yes. In other words, they saw the action of God in Christ, not as an incidental patching of the fabric of creation, but as part of its very texture. For our purposes—in this context of a world run by desire for God—that opens up the possibility that the Word in Jesus was not so much doing bits of busy work to jimmy things into line as he was being his own fetching self right there in the midst of creation.
And there you have the bridge from a mechanical to a personal analogy to the divine help. When we say that a friend “helped” us, two meanings are possible. In the case where our need was for a Band-Aid, a gallon of gas or a push on a cold morning, we have in mind mechanical help; help for times when help was at least possible. But when nothing can be helped, when the dead are irretrievably dead and the beloved lost for good, what do we mean by telling Harry how much help he was to us in our need? He did nothing; he rescued no one from the pit, he brought no one back from the ends of the earth. Still, we are glad of him; we protest that without him we would never have made it. Yet we know perfectly well we could have gotten through it just by breathing in and out. That means, therefore, that what we thank him for is precisely personal help. It was his presence, not the things that he did, that made the difference.

So with God, perhaps. Might not Incarnation be his response, not to the incidental irregularity of sin, but to the unhelpable presence of badness in creation? Perhaps in a world where, for admittedly inscrutable reasons, victimization is the reverse of the coin of being, his help consists of his presence in all victims. At any rate, when he finally does show up in Jesus, that is how it seems to work. His much-heralded coming to put all things to rights ends badly. When the invisible hand that holds the stars finally does its triumphant restoring thing, it does nothing at all but hang there and bleed. That may well be help; but it is not the Band-Aid creation expected on the basis of mechanical analogies. The only way it makes any sense is when it is seen as personal: When we are helpless, there he is. He doesn’t start your stalled car for you; he comes and sits with you in the snowbank. You can object that he should have made a world in which cars don’t stall; but you can’t complain he doesn’t stick by his customers.
So, back to Isaiah. Now, did Isaiah catch a glimpse of God in Christ, the Incarnation, sitting upon the thrown? A man with arms and legs? A pre-Jesus. I doubt it but I do not know. But I believe that Isaiah understood clearly that the God who gave him the sight of such a vision was the God who had created the cosmos and would in the end gather us in. It is God, the Lord, who is present at our coming in and our going out. It is this God who, in the wreck of Israel and the end of King Uzziah's rule, is present. Everything can be in the dumps but the Lord sits upon his throne and sits by our side. 

And, it is this certainty of presence that Isaiah bears witness to, that the first disciples experienced both before and after the resurrection, and it is this certainty of presence that John the evangelist records in his Gospel.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Day of Pentecost, Year B, May 20, 2018


Today, O God, you bring to fulfillment the paschal mystery of Jesus your Son.  Pour forth your Holy Spirit on the church that it may be a living Pentecost throughout history and to the very ends of the earth.  Gather all nations and peoples as one to believe, to hope and to love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 15:26-16:15

"...the Spirit gives power to the community of believers not to identify themselves as abandoned or forsaken, but rather as empowered and sent to bear witness to the world that in the events of the Son God's love has indeed been made real and present for all the world. "

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), James Boyce, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The temptation when preaching Pentecost is to make the sermon a witness to something that happened."

Commentary, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (Pentecost B), Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"Jesus is not left behind that we might soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion. John promises no such flights and is silent about future miracles. The task of the disciples and disciples after them is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. Transitional events are minimised. What matters is life and love."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Jesus begins his teaching several passages before our reading today when he speaks to the disciples about the fact that because of Jesus' own intimate relationship with God he is going to suffer and die; and if they follow him they will certainly suffer and be persecuted as well.  They will be persecuted because the notion that the individual may have a personal experience of God was anathema to the people in religious power of his day and it is anathema to people in religious power today.  In point of fact (and as Bonhoeffer once put it) the grace and mercy received in personal relationship with the Godhead through Christ is the non-religious faith of Jesus.  Direct connection, unorganized, non approved, and unsanctioned, relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit is a threatening to institutional threat. For this reason, and for the reason that Jesus is a friend of sinners, he and all who follow him will suffer and many will die.

Jesus then offers to those who are listening, his closest followers, a message that the Holy Spirit will remain with them and that they will not be disconnected either from Christ Jesus or from God himself.  In fact the very nature of a personal relationship of grace, thereby unmediated by the world and its religion, will in point of fact prove the reality of his words.

This grace of the Holy Spirit is given by God alone. It cannot be earned.  This Holy Spirit comfort will put at ease all those who bear witness to it because it requires nothing of approval from the world.  Jesus in his words here is clear that living in the Holy Spirit is a way of life devoid of worldly approval and religious authority. 

One of the reasons that I love the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is that we are (when at our best) trying to live into the challenge of God's Holy Spirit.  We are trying to see it moving in the world.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our piety.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our lawlessness.  We attempt to be conscious of the Holy Spirit's presence in the midst of our context.  At our best our mission and ministry is not limited to our church campuses but is meeting the Holy Spirit in the world; both as it sends us out and as it transforms us through our experience of the Gospel in the world.

This Sunday we will, in many ways, mislead our people into believing that Pentecost is the birth of the church.  I want to suggest that at its best the Holy Spirit we may wish to remember is a Holy Spirit that offered relationship beyond the confines of our church with the sinners of the world.  That it reminds us within the church of our smugness and too often self-satisfaction which builds up barriers rather than offering an embrace.  May we on this Sunday, this Pentecost Sunday, be reminded not of God's having birthed a perfect community but of God having invited his people to leave the temple and synagogues in favor of a faith (a personal relationship) that leads the faithful followers of Jesus out into the street to meet the people where they live and in the market place. 

May we on this Sunday rediscover a missionary Holy Spirit that is articulating in the culture of the world (its images, music, economy, and culture) God's grace. And, like the disciples who on Pentecost were given the tongues of the culture which surrounded them, let us pray to be giving tongues to name and call out the Gospel as we find it in the world around us.

Romans 8:22-27

"This seems to be the thrust behind the Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words: a sign that the Spirit is present in our midst, even when no words are exchanged. That presence can make it possible for us to endure."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost B), Audrey West, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"As children of God and joint heirs with Christ indwelled by his Spirit, we are one with creation in suffering, longing, and hope."

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"It is our vocation to allow Christ to use our hearts. It is our vocation to come to maturity in Christ who is our Truth. We do so by attending to the Christ present in the truth of one another."

"Listening with the Ear of the Heart," Frank T. Griswold, Cross Currents, 1998-99.

Textweek Resources for this week's New Testament Lesson

Every creature, all of creation, is groaning under the work which is theirs to bring about God's plan in tension with the course that the present time has already set. Followers of Jesus, and the world itself are bearing witness to God's intentions for us. Our inner selves beats against our bodies/mind's desires. We have received grace yet our flesh is waiting its redemption. We are already adopted as Christ's yet we continue in the world and brace ourselves against its trends and winds.

Here is an interesting turn. Paul offers us the reality that the action of saving has already taken place. We see this in the work of Jesus. Yes, salvation is something that lies before us. But here Paul is quite clear - its evidence is behind us. Just like the fullness of our redemption and salvation awaits us, we still experience it here and now. We are drawn towards our being. We are becoming our truest selves.

We know the changes that have occurred in our lives because of our coming to faith. We see the movement of God and God's work on our behalf. We believe, we have faith, that this work is truly meant for us. Yes we see the cross, understand the cross, believe - in our seeing - that the cross is meant for me, for us. But we have faith that this working of salvation out in us is moving us towards God's intended purpose for our lives. This is something not seen but understood. The witness of the Gospel text, the witness of Jesus' own life in Paul's time, these tell us that what took place, what was seen by others and experienced by others, is meant for us as well. So faith brings hope and endurance.

The Holy Spirit bears witness to us that this is true. If we depend upon our Lord and we are open to his aid, through the Holy Spirit, so we receive mutual aid. We are part of the family of God now and so we, like all others, receive the Holy Spirit's support - even when we do not know what we need. Perhaps, it is important to go back her to our beginning. Our purpose lies in the work of God in creation - this life is not meant for our own ends but for the one who created us. We are groaning against the shifts and changes but God is moving us. We have faith that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. So it is that God's Spirit is with us, moving us, nudging us, guiding us, praying with us, and bringing us to our ultimate purpose.

On this Pentecost Sunday this reminds me that the work of the church, the community of Christians, is not the support of the church itself. The work of the Church and community is the work of God. In the same way the Holy Spirit is working God's purposes out in us and in our church. This is not the same thing as believing that what we experience as the particular flavor of church we have is the end of God's chosen expression. No, the Holy Spirit is moving. We are groaning even now under the stress and strain of a church which seeks to be what God called it to be on the one hand and what we want it to be on the other.

The church has already been saved we might say. We know this is true if we look back at the work of God in Christ Jesus. But that work is being lived out even as we speak.  We have faith that our efforts will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we seek to be faithful missionaries of God's reconciling work. We know that God is moving us, even if the steps of how we become who God invites us to be are unclear. We are groaning too. Oh dear Lord how we groan. But we believe, we have faith, that God is moving us. And, that God is not moving us for our own enjoyment, wealth, worldly satisfaction as a church. No. God is moving us towards God's enjoyment, which profits God's mission, and results in a heavenly kingdom. Where the church does not resemble the kingdom of heaven there we must open ourselves up to the Spirit's guidance.

Acts 2:1-21

"Despite the theological attractiveness of seeing Pentecost as the reversal of Babel, there is little from the ancient historical and religious context to suggest that Luke or his audience would have made such a connection."

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost A), Mikeal C. Parsons, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

Sources for this Sunday's First Reading

Luke interprets the events of Pentecost through the eyes of the covenant with Abram. This is an essential ingredient to the story of the Gospel and the mission of the community. Here we see the promise to Abram unfold in reality. All of the work of the Gospel and Jesus' reaching out to the sheep of other folds becomes clear as many are adopted into the family of God through the mission and ministry of the first followers. 

The event itself is worthy of the Old Testament with noise and fire and a great tremendous inbreaking of God into the realm of men. The work of Jesus and his life has moved to the cross, tomb, and into resurrection and now the fruit is to be harvested.

It is the coming of the Holy Spirit. This itself is the fulfillment of God's promise. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to share the Good News of Salvation to every people through every language, and in every context. Here the diverse vision of God is seen in the gathering of people from all over the known world to receive the first words the Holy Spirit speaks to the world. 

This will be fulfilled in the work of every story of the book of Acts and is shall be the banner call of the men and women who take up the ministry of Christ. 

The Holy Spirit is sending the followers of Jesus out into the world, to speak the peace of Christ, and to serve and care for God's people. The Holy Spirit working in these followers are to be the hands and feet of the God in the world. They are to baptize and proclaim a new age.

Sermons Preached On These Passages:

May 24, 2015 Sermon preached on Pentecost at Trinity Episcopal Church in Midtown Houston Texas, Pentecost, 2015

Jun 20, 2009 Pentecost Sunday, year B, Holy Trinity, Dickensen, Tx.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Easter 7B (or Ascension Transfered) May 13, 2018

Jesus collage made up of people's faces.

You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.  Clothe us now with power from on high that we may proclaim the good news to the world, confirming our message by the sign of our love for one another, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 17:6-19

"Another form of denial is to relegate the idea of unity to a very abstract level, where it counts for the oneness all Christians have in worshipping the one God and one Jesus, but is not allowed to affect how people work together and live together."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Perhaps the most significant of the themes is in the prominent language of 'giving' which in nine occurrences runs throughout and characterizes the theology of this passage (as in the 75 times in the gospel as a whole) in terms of a mutual extravaganza of giving."

Commentary, John 17:6-19, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

In the first part of this chapter (which runs from 1-8) Jesus asks for glory. That in his ministry glory will be given to God. That the weight of his ministry will bear fruit and draw people into the beauty which is God. In the next section (which begins with our reading this Sunday) Jesus speaks of his work as revealing vessel of God's grace. Then Jesus prays and offers hope to his disciples.

His disciples are already divided. They are divided over an against one another for leadership. They are divided about their support of Jesus; not all will deny him. They are divided by the desire of a kingly rule on the throne of David. They are divided on how the teachings of Jesus are to be interpreted. They are divided already as he prays for them. To this divided group of misfit followers Jesus offers a blessing of unity. Then he consecrates them for the mission of God. This unity is the bond provided by the Holy Spirit and it is called truth.

The truth is the truth of God and the truth of God in Christ Jesus.

We are of the same nature as the disciples. No matter how hard we work at our Christianity two things remain true: 1) That our sinful nature is not changed; we do not become less sinful by our own action. 2) Our salvation is completely dependent upon God in Christ Jesus; there is nothing in this world that we can do that will bring us closer to God's saving action.

God in Christ Jesus is friend to his disciples and he is friend to sinners; and we Christians are sinners.

Why does God bless us with unity? Because left to our own devices we would make some other standard our unifying principle. Our proclamation of the truth that God loves us and redeems us is to be the (THE PRIMARY) principle which unifies his followers. This is the truth.

As Anglican theologian and New Testament scholar E. J. Bicknell wrote in his hallmark book on the thirty-nine articles: the church and community of friends predates the Christian scriptures and it was belief in a man (rather than in a book) that offered the greatest impetus for mission. (p. 127, exposition on the sufficiency of scripture) We are unified in our Anglican Church because of our dogged principle of God in Christ Jesus and our understanding that we are saved by grace alone.

We are unified by the blessing of God in Christ Jesus and his life lived and crucified on our behalf. We are unified by his blessing of us in the Holy Spirit's guidance into the truth of this message. All else, all else, radiates from these central tenants of the Christian faith.

When they gathered around Jesus and asked him what must we do to perform the works of God, Jesus answered, "that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:29)

So I wonder preachers, as you look out upon the faithful sinners gathered for a small measure of grace this Sunday...what do you think their unifying principle is? What in fact, dear ones, is your own unifying principle?

Some thoughts on I John 5:9-15

"If word count is any measure, the central issue in the assigned text is testimony (Greek =marturia, 'witness'), and specifically the validity and content of God's testimony about God's Son."

Commentary, 1 John 5:9-13, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The epistle wants to insist that the relationship between God and Jesus is entirely personal and entirely grown up. And the epistle wants to insist that the relationship between Jesus and those who believe is entirely personal and grown up, too."

Commentary, 1 John 5:9-13, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Before we moralise, we need to understand that the author is preoccupied with conflict within the community and is not sitting back (or reaching out) to reflect on the plight of all peoples."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Textweek Resources for this week's New Testament Lesson

As humans we are always after replacing God with ourselves. Our hope seems to deny the work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. We wish to pretend as if God did not reach out to us through his one way outpouring of self and love - for to do so might command us to love differently. The second manner in which we attempt to deny this work is to pretend that not only God's external action is not relevant or real but neither is God's internal work upon our soul. This is the way in which our author begins this passage in the letter of John. We bear witness, through the Holy Spirit, of God's work when we are witnesses externally offering testimony to the work of God in Christ Jesus and the work internally on our souls. This is evident in our transformation from selfishness to other focused.

With eyes of faith we open ourselves up to God's act of love and we open ourselves up to others. We also know that this unity with God and with others extends into life following death. This is faith but it is also a "sure and certain hope." Our passage in this life is a symbol or sign of the life to come. 

The key issue is that we as church have all too often wounded others religiously. We have used fear and purity to gain access to their lives. This is not true faith but instead a tainting of the faith that is in us. God has loved us and God has unified us bring us to himself. God invites us to live in the community of love - which is the author's goal. And, God has desired of us a life lived out of an understanding of our own salvation and which mimics Christ's life in its relationships with others. We are given this Holy Spirit that we might be bound together despite of our differences. So let us not live lives of lies which deny the work of God and seek instead to place God within our religious box for the sake of human powers and authorities. Here we should find true religion, one that is all too often not in us.

Some thoughts on Acts 1:15-26

"Whether by lot, interview, or committee vote, the way forward that offers the surest prospect of new life after betrayal focuses on listening and discerning through extended communal prayer, finding people of rich experience and deep integrity, and ending with some sign that this next person is called by God -- however a given community makes that determination."

Commentary, Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Frank L. Crouch, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"The point of this text, as well as with many other texts in Acts, such as the selection of deacons and the acceptance of gentiles is that the community is given the capacity of discernment to chart its course and that there isn’t any way to guarantee the success of it’s life together other than these given means."

"The Politics of Acts 1:15-17; 21-26," Timothy F. Simpson, Political Theology, 2012.

Where are we in the story? We have been jumping around the book of Acts a bit like the Holy Spirit and Philip. This reading finds us back at the beginning. We are at that juncture between the resurrection and appearance stories of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts.

Jesus is risen, he has promised the Holy Spirit, the disciples continue to meet and devote themselves to prayer. But there is more.

Judas is dead. And, they must elect someone else to take his place. We discover (after the discourse about the field where Judas died) that there have been others traveling with Jesus and the disciples. Of course we knew this but we forget. Peter tells them they must chose one of them to join the ranks of the 12. Moreover, it appears important that the person be a "witness" to the things that have happened.

The passage says they cast lots to fill the position:
Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
This is how the Matthias is chosen to replace Jesus.

What is interesting though is the qualification to be one of the twelve. It is pretty simple: they must be a witness to Jesus' resurrection.

As we think or ponder leadership and vocation of the baptized here the minimum requirement - that those we invite must be a witness. They must be willing to go as a witness of Jesus and his resurrection.

In our very complex world we have layered a lot onto this very simple key ingredient. Sometimes, I think we may actually diminish the qualification of being a witness believing that structure and organization will better serve the gospel.

Ascension Day Transferred


You have glorified your Christ, O God, exalting to your right hand the Son who emptied himself for us in obedience unto death on the cross, and thus have exalted all of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.  Clothe us now with power from on high, and send us forth as witnesses to the Messiah's resurrection from the dead, that, together with us, all the nations of the world may draw near with confidence to the throne of mercy. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 24:44-53

"Incarnate Love, Crucified Love, Risen Love, now on the wing for heaven, waiting only those odorous gales which were to waft Him to the skies, goes away in benedictions, that in the character of Glorified, Enthroned Love, He might continue His benedictions, but in yet higher form, until He come again!"

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).

"The mission of the church here is nothing less than to go into the world as God?s people, and proclaim a subversive, transforming message about a suffering God who calls anyone without discrimination to respond."

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Easter C7), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Leading up to the passage chosen for Ascension day Luke is telling a very clear story.  Jesus prophesied a coming reign of God.  The empty tomb shows that the prophet king was telling the truth. The old prophesies made by the greater and lesser prophets of Israel telling about the suffering servant who will come to remake a new Israel are true.  This is proved in the resurrection appearances.  Jesus himself in life and post resurrection offering a new vision of life lived in the kingdom.  He opens their minds to see what they did not see before.  The disciples are eyewitnesses to the new reality and they are to ministers interpreting and retelling the story.(Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 405) 

The disciples will not be left alone.  God is sending the Holy Spirit.  It cannot come and be fully in the world until he departs.  Moses and Elijah who offered a vision of this new reign of God and have been part of the Gospel story throughout are reminders that the power of God is always passed on to the successor.  (LTJ, Luke, 406)  In these last paragraphs of the Gospel of Luke we see clearly that instead of anointing one with the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the disciples as a group are to receive the Holy Spirit and pass it on.

These last verses of Luke's Gospel are pregnant with the clarity that we are the inheritors of the good news of salvation.  We are to be the inheritors of the vision of a different reign of God. We are the inheritors of God's mission to the poor.We are the inheritors of God's prophetic voice which passes along to others what we have received.  

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:15-23

"The final phrases of a Jewish-styled opening berakah prayer of blessing join in this text to a Christocentric thanksgiving in 'prayer report' form."

Commentary, Ephesians 1:11-23, Sally A. Brown, All Saints C, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"What meaning is communicated by the language of prayer not otherwise made available?"

Commentary, Ephesians 1:15-23 (Christ the King A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Most of our prayers are taken up with ourselves or with those nearest and dearest to us. Needs of others occupy a small place in our prayer life. Paul’s prayers are included by the Holy Spirit as a corporate part of the epistle."

"The Calling and Design of the Church: A Study in Ephesians," by Lehman Strauss at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

Christ has been raised and now is elevated. This particular passage comes after the developed theme of the church as Christ's body.  The elevation of Christ emphasizes the themes from Revelation that God has dominion over all and that the church is participating even now the new kingdom.  Christ is even now pouring himself into the new emerging Christian community. Together we are even now being drawn towards the fulfillment of God's desire to gather us in.  We may in fact live in the not yet like Paul's own little faithful community; but hope is present int he victory o f Christ raising and his elevation into heaven.

Some Thoughts on Acts 1:1-11

"As you can see, Ascension Day, especially for us Protestants, is a hard sell, or perhaps better, well past its sell-by date."

"Speculators or Witnesses?" John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2012.

"The second coming, or Parousia, brings the ultimate closure to the story of the kingdom and the gospel. But that is not to be the focus of the disciples? attention. Instead, Jesus shifts the emphasis from speculation about the future to demonstration and transformation of the present. God?s promise to revitalize Israel is not a matter of when (v. 7), but how (v. 8)."

Commentary, Acts 1:4-8, Gina M. Stewart, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

"You and I are the place of the promise of the kingdom now. Yet ultimately the kingdom is God?s reign, God?s effort, God?s gift. We are not asked to usurp God, but to share his purpose and by his Spirit become his action in the world."

"'Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' (Acts 1:6)," William Loader, Being the Church Then and Now: Issues from the Acts of the Apostles.

This passage is used in both the feast of the Ascension (A, B, and C years) and on Easter 7A. It is the prologue to the book of Acts. In it Luke begins by writing to Theophilus and making it clear that the first books was about “all that Jesus did”. The second book though is about all that is done by God through the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. This is a book about mission and how the first followers of Jesus chose to respond to the events of Jerusalem and Galilee. That the teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus forever changed the friends of Jesus.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to the followers of Jesus in many forms. Jesus was ever more real and present after his resurrection than he was, in some ways, before his resurrection. And, that his promise was to be with them to the end of the ages, by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke understands this work as the great restoration of the kingdom of Israel. This was not a political kingdom or a coup of the existing reigning powers and authorities. Instead, Luke appears to grasp the great expansion of the kingdom from primarily an inheritance for the faithful family of Abraham to include all sorts and kinds of people. He has a vision, God’s vision, that he mission work is to offer the reign of God to all people in every land and of every nation. Here we see an expansion, and glorious multiplication of invitation from the cross which echoes after the resurrection throughout the whole of creation to all humanity.

Luke does this through a weaving together of the past and an expansion of the present for the sake of the future.

Jesus like Elijah is to be taken up into heaven. Luke has cast him as Elijah but with a global prophecy.

Luke also builds this first chapter to echo the first chapters of his Gospel wherein the Angel promises that the reign of God, through Jesus, will be restored. “He will reign of the house of Jacob,” and, “His kingdom will have no end,” says the Angel. So the restoration is to begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit after the ascension. What was foreshadowed in the Gospel will not be unveiled or unraveled in the Book of Acts.

Richard Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, writes, “…the witness bearing of Jesus’ disciples that the nations are to receive the light of revelation that Isaiah promised…” foreshadowed by Simeon and the whole of the Gospel narrative. (272)

We are of course always reading backwards from our perspective. But Luke is careful to interpret the Old Testament prophecies, especially Isaiah, as always having meant that this light, this restored kingdom of Israel, is one that includes the gentiles.

The task here for the missional preacher is to think carefully about who we are speaking to in and what the invitation to us is. It would be normal for us to read back in that in fact we are the Gentiles and Luke’s prophecy and the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit has been successful for here we are. Yet Luke’s missiological premise and our responsibility cannot be shirked so easily. The question for the sermon hearer and church goer is: who are our gentiles today?

It is my contention that we now hold the place of the religious in the Gospels or the disciples. We are the ones now responsible for answering the Holy Spirit’s invitation. The mission that once was to the “gentiles” is still held out to this church. It is an invitation to bear the light to all those who still live in darkness. And, to do so as disciples and bearers of that light. We were once far off, we were once the gentile, but no longer. Today we are the ones who shall be part of helping God in Christ Jesus restore the reign of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whether we read this passage on the last day of Easter or on the Ascension, hear Luke’s invitation to tell the story of the risen and ascended Lord to the world.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Easter 6B May 6,2018

The "Love the One You Are With" Gospel

Your love, O God, is revealed among us in the gift of your Son Jesus, who laid down his life and bestows on us the joy of abiding in your love.  Baptized into Christ we pray that through the witness we bear you will bring forth fruit that will last and teach us, God of love, how to love one another.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 15:9-17

"The love of the Father towards the Son, and of the Son towards us, and of us toward God and our neighbour, are joined together with an inseparable knot: and there is nothing more sweet and pleasant than it is."

From the Geneva Notes by John Calvin.

"Not that God's choosing us is a panacea, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. Rather, knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us gives us the courage to face the challenges and renews our strength to do something about them."

"On Being Chosen," David Lose, the Meantime, 2015.

"We preachers would do well to recall that the Greek words for 'grace' and 'joy' share the same root. Joy may very well be a feeling of grace, the emotion of grace, even the response to grace. "

"Choose Joy," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Let me simply begin by saying that this passage in John's Gospel messes us up!  Jesus' words to his disciples are clear: "God loves me, I love you, you abide in my love, you keep my commandments.  The commandment is to love others.  I have loved you and I lay down my life for you."  Then tying in last week's lesson about fruit - we tie up this unit nicely.

This messes us up because we deserve love, we want love, and so we skip down to the part that tells us how to get it. We see the word commandment and we see that we are to love others. Then we figure this doesn't mean everyone. So we are good. As in the song by Stephen Stills: Love the one your with.  And, that means we are good in God's eyes. We are good, we obey the commandment when we love the ones like us, whom we are with, that cause no ripples in our world view, and create no conflict in our life.  Love the one you are with. 

This translation of the "love commandment" into the "love the one you are with Gospel" undermines and rewrites (it revises) Jesus' teaching. 

But let us think for a moment about the world in which this Gospel takes place.  It was a world where the righteous were understood by the faith and teachings of Jesus' contemporaries to be people who are closer to God.  In other words like the young man who comes to Jesus and has obeyed all the commandments.  He is automatically assumed to be close to Jesus; we find out he has a little more to understand. 

And this is part of the problem we live in a world where we understand capitalism. If I am righteous and follow the commandments I will receive God's love. It is an exchange policy. 

The hiccup in this line of thinking is that we believe we can be righteous and earn God's love.  The problem isn't the economy but the fact that Jesus spends most of his time with sinners and not the righteous.

All people are created with an "irreducible need" for love and belonging.  We are "biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. " (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 26)

The particular message of Jesus is that God loves sinners.  God loves sinners. These fishermen and followers of Jesus, the tax collectors, the women and men along the way were sinners. He ate with sinners. He hung out in the homes of sinners. He even died with sinners.  God loves sinners.  This is a radical message in Jesus' time.  Because it means that God is with the unrighteous. Jesus says, "I have come to find the lost sheep of Israel."  After prophesying that Jerusalem kills the prophets, Jesus says, "How long have I wanted to gather you in."  Jesus and Jesus' love is meant for the sinner.  This was a radical notion and many scholars believe that it was this breaking of clear righteous law that got Jesus killed.

What is worse is that this love for the sinner is agape love.  Some of you reading this might remember a small footnote from seminary or your philosophy class about the eros and agape.  The systematic professor who is still considered (in my opinion) to have accomplished a work of seminal importance on this subject is Anders Nygren.  In it there are a few bullets regarding God's agape love which are very troubling indeed - to the righteous!
  1. Agape is spontaneous and uncaused
  2. Agape is indifferent to human merit
  3. Agape is creative
  4. Agape is the entrance to philoi - fellowship - with God (Nygren, Agape and Eros, vol 1, 48ff)
For the righteous this is problematic.  You can't earn it and it is given to sinners.  No matter how hard you try you still can't get it and it is given to sinners who don't try at all.  It is creative and changes life for the sinner who receives it; did I mention they didn't do anything and God was giving this away free!  And, in receiving it do sinners become part of the family of God the friends of God.  Philoi is the word translated as friends in our text this Sunday.  So, agape invites all the sinners to the righteous one's party and that is REALLY uncool.

So here is what happens now.  What we do is that we now say, "Bishop Andy, You are right! I am a sinner. I am the worst sinner EVER!"  We immediately move quickly to the other side and try and create a new economy to earn God's love. We throw a pity party for our sin sick soul and we say "Hurrah!" we are saved by God's agape love because we are a really bad person.  In doing this we actually reverse the notion and begin to move ourselves into a place of earning the love again -- Causing God's love because we are sinful and gloating in the fact that we are more loved than the righteous. 

Then Jesus flips the table again.  He tells us the sun rises on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  It turns out when we read the scripture (all of it) that God loves the righteous too. 

The reality that is difficult to live into is the fact that we are not either sinner or righteous. We are constantly moving between the two.  We are constantly creating God in our image and trying to make God work for us.  As soon as we are too righteous it is good to be reminded that we are really just sinners, and when we are too sinful it is good to be reminded of the work of righteousness. 

...And, God's love is constant. God's love is un-caused. God's love is never earned. Yet somehow, in being chosen (like the disciples) we experience this love; the sinner and righteous alike.  We experience unearned, unmerited, and undeserved love.  Evidently the kingdom of heaven, God's family, the family of friends, are made up loved sinners and the righteous alike. 

Christian community, and especially when it opens itself up to outsiders, has to contend with the incredible leveling of God's agape love where in the sinner and the righteous are chosen alike.  The commandment to love is not for the sake of earning love, but rather for the living in love.  The love commandment then is what helps the sinner and the righteous live together. 

The love commandment reminds us that our brothers and sisters, the sinner and the righteous do not cause God's love, and therefore are to be loved by us as God loves.  We are to treat one another as though (as Paul says) there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God - nor separate our neighbor from God's love.

The love commandment reminds us that we didn't do anything to earn God's love and that is called grace.  Therefore, we are to give grace to others who are struggling along life's road trying to find a little bit of love.

The love commandment reminds us that we were invited into community which has been created by God so that we may safely struggle with our fellow human beings in a life lived between complete depravity and righteous living.

The love commandment reminds us we are bound to one another, not out of our action our out, but out of God's agape love.  We are united in our Christian fellowship, our friendship, not by what I do or do not do, but rather by what God does; which is love.  After all, it is God's nature to love.
 "The Gospel, like its blessed Master, is always crucified between two thieves -- legalist of all sorts on the one hand and Antinomians on the other; the former robbing the Saviour of the glory of his work for us, and the other robbing him of the glory of his work within us." - James Henley Thornwell

Some Thoughts on  I John 5:1-6

"Truly Christian faith conquers the world not by military might or doctrinal arguments or coercion, but by love."

Commentary, 1 John 5;1-6, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"In Jesus, God came to walk in our shoes, to experience the fullness of our suffering, our struggles, and even our loneliness. God did this to make it clear that we are not worthless, rejected, unloved people. Rather we are all of us and every single one of us the focus of God's unconditional and irrevocable love."

"Defining Truth," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2015.

What we believe is that all those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ are adopted into the family of God. And, likewise they love not only God but fellow believers. As in last week's lesson what the author believes is that this love is a sign of the inner love we have for God. If we hate our fellow believers and work towards their end then we are indeed not living in God. 

We also know that we are not to take this for granted and that loving God and loving our fellow Christian is sacrificial and requires of us the giving up of our own self interest and good. This is the kind of agape love that the author is speaking about. 

This is what the author is speaking about when he talks about how baptism and the crucifixion are linked. We are indeed daily dying to one another as we seek to live out our god like relationship. In other words, we are to die sacrificially for the other. This is not a burden but instead a privilege. 

What a different kind of way of doing evangelism is this. We are not to go out and require of others to come and serve us or bend to our ego and rule. Instead we are to convert them, bring them into the family, chiefly by giving up ourselves to them. 

Is it no wonder that our churches shrink the more we chose not to give up ourselves for our neighborhoods and cities? The more we turn inward and away from the other the less like God we actually become.

Some Thoughts on Acts 10:44-48

"The question each church and denomination must answer is, will we have the courage, like Peter, to reject traditional distinctions made on the basis of religion or culture in favor of welcoming everyone into God's family?"

Commentary, Acts 10:44-48, Coleman Baker, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"While much is made of multiculturalism and racial diversity, the problem of classcism within churches—the discrimination against the lower class at the expense of the upper and middle class—continues to plague American congregations of all cultures."

"The Politics of Acts 10:44-48," Aaron Howard, Political Theology, 2012.

"God is saying to all who live beyond the barrier of separation from God: I have come to life in Jesus Christ and in the presence of the Holy Spirit to break down all that separates you from me."

Commentary, Acts 10:44-48, Richard Jensen, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

One of the beauties of reading through the Acts passages this Easter cycle is that they reveal the multiple ways of understanding baptism. 

Think about it for a moment. We already had the great preaching on the day of Pentecost. In this passage there is preaching, people are moved, baptized by the Holy Spirit and continue in community. We also read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. He asks to be baptized and then continues on his way. He is the primary mover and the story is disconnected with community.

In our story today people are already filled with the Holy Spirit and then are baptized. They are completely outside the community and in fact are considered sinners because of their lifestyle. Cornelius the Centurion is a story of how the community of Jesus followers opened themselves up to receiving people different from themselves. 

Mission places the ecclesia, the friends of Jesus, into direct contact with God's people. This contact challenges the community itself to be transformed.

As modern day Christians we have one way of thinking about baptism. People come into our community (we don't go out); they go through training or preparation (a catechetical model used briefly in the church); and then they can be baptized in a public service. This is not at all the models of baptism present in the scripture. In fact all of them share a few characteristics. They are spontaneous. They take place outside a temple/synagogue/church. They take place in the midst of people's lives. These models look something like the following:
Model One - Jesus and John  1. Preaching/teaching
2. Baptism and Holy Spirit are received
3. People go back to their daily lives
Model Two - Pentecost 1. Preaching/teaching
2. Baptism and Holy Spirit are given
3. People continue in community
Model Three - Ethiopian Eunuch1. The Holy Spirit Moves
2. Baptism
3. People continue their life without attachment to community 
Model Four - Gentiles/Cornelius1. The Holy Spirit Moves during teaching and relationship
2. Baptism is done
3. People considered beyond salvation are incorporated and become part of the community 
Model Five - Samaria1. People are living in community
2. People are baptized
3. The Apostles come and lay hands on them and give them the Holy Spirit

Sermons Preached On These Passages

Mother's Day Is Complicated

May 12, 2015 Sermon preached at Palmer Episcopal Church Easter 6b 2015