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.

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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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Easter 5B April 29, 2018

As a Vinegrower, O God, you have grafted us onto Christ, that we may abide as living branches joined to the true Vine.  Bestow on us the comforting presence of your Holy Spirit, so that, loving one another with a love that is sincere, we may become the first fruits of a humanity made new and bear a rich harvest whose fruits are holiness and 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 15:1-8

"There’s not a lot of agency for us in this text. God prunes us."

"Vines and Branches?" Nadia Bolz Weber, The Hardest Question, 2012.

"In the promise of an 'abiding' presence God's Easter people find not some abstract speculation about a distant or imaginary Trinity, but an invitation to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a saving and liberating presence in the midst of our day-to-day world."

Commentary, John 15:1-8, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Like the good shepherd of last week's text, this week's image of the vine is another extended metaphor, which also borrows from and adapts Old Testament imagery for Israel."

Commentary, John 15:1-8, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"I think one of the difficulties of living in our age is that we're offered a lot of things as substitutes for honest-to-goodness relationships, and while they may be pretty good at what they were designed for, they're finally not actual relationships."

"Getting Real," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

Last week the church experienced Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This week we are offered a theological reflection on God as vine grower.

God in Christ Jesus is the source of living water, he is the bread of heaven that gives life, and he is also the vine and we are his branches.

This passage comes after Jesus has prophesied his suffering, death and resurrection and has promised to return and to not leave his followers alone.  Our passage, like the good shepherd passage, is a teaching about life in God and in Christ.

The image is of God the vine grower and the gardener. Jesus is the vine and we are branches bearing fruit.  The vine is trimmed and this certainly has eschatological (end time and judgment) implications but this is not the stress nor focus of the teaching.  This image offered to us is about abiding and remaining.  The image of vine grower, vineyard/vine and branches is one about the living Word existing as the life blood of those who belong to Jesus.

Raymond Brown in volume II of his work on John's Gospel, says that this passage is about the disciples remaining in Christ.  In our current culture we talk about following Jesus and that leading to a virtuous life. However, in the abiding language of John's Gospel and in Jesus words that notion of Jesus + me = virtuous life is simply not present.  The abiding leaves a notion of being; not the more modern idea of becoming.  God is, Christ is, we are.  Virtuous life is life lived in God in Christ.  Raymond Brown points out that this is not quite the notion that Matthew's Gospel offers.  Nevertheless, this Sunday we are preaching Jesus and the living Word; we are preaching about abiding.  I don't want to get off track. So I asked myself what is this abiding?

I am reminded of St. Augustine's sermon on the Ascension, wherein he writes:
Christ, while in heaven, is also with us; and we, while on earth, are also with him.  He is with us in his godhead and his power and his love; and we, though we cannot be with him in godhead as he is with us, can be with him in our love, our love for him. 
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; and he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again.   His own words show that he was in heaven while he was here: 'No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.' 
He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body.  The words 'no one but he' are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. 
For this reason Saint Paul says: 'Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is also with Christ.
We abide in God in Christ Jesus.  Unless that is, we are abiding in something else.  The life of virtue described by John's gospel gives us a sense of what life abiding in Christ is.  Abiding/remaining in Christ is love and it is life in tune with the commandments of God.

What do we see then if we are abiding in Christ we see a life that forms a world around itself where God is central.  Not the false god's created by our ego desires, but God.  As Episcopalians we might describe this abiding life this way.  We would say (as we do in our Book of Common Prayer) that an abiding life is one where:

We trust our lives in God, and others come to know him by our life.  Nothing is put in the place of God, least of all our ego and our projections of desire.  God is respected in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions.  Life is lived out in a an ever flowing experience of worship, prayer and study.  As we abide in God we abide in our true selves and in the thin space between heaven and our soul.

To the other we are faithful as well – treating neighbors with love as we experience God's love for us and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; those in authority are honored, and we meet their just demands.  We as Episcopalians believe that life that is abiding in Christ is one that shows forth respect for the life God gives us; work and prayers for peace are always present; malice, prejudice, or hatred is not born our hearts; and kindness is shared with all the creatures of God.

Life abiding in Christ is a life where bodily desires are not used to fulfill our ego needs but rather are lived out as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God.

We live lives that are honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for and with all people; and we use our talents and possessions as people in relationship with God.  We speak truth, and do not mislead others by our silence.

Life abiding in Christ resists temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; and rejoices in other people's gifts and graces.  We share in our fellowship together as we all abide in Christ and therefore, as St. Augustine points out, with others and with God and the saints who are in heaven.

Here is the thing though...we as humans love to put something else in the place of the vine. We like to think that sex, or money, or power, or some other something will work just as well as the True Vine. Truth is, they really don't. We know it too.

Abiding in Christ is in some very real way accepting our true nature as sinful creatures and then living in, remaining in, Christ; being Christ's own forever - as our baptismal liturgy tells us.  Accepting our chosen-ness by Christ (despite our behaviors) and abiding in love which then abides with others.  And, giving up our ego's desire for control and rather we live life that is birthed in grace.

Some Thoughts on I John 4:7-21

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."

"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"Much of the anger that erupts within the church under the banner of loving God and defending God's truth often seems to grow instead from love of self and of the power that comes from winning the argument, even at the expense of the church's unity in love."

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"'Love' is an abstraction and a quality of God's own self. 'Love' is personification and God is person. Love is some thing. God does things, sends a Son, atones for the sins of the world, and gives commands."

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

The beloved community is built around faith in God as revealed in Christ Jesus and revealed in the loving members of the community. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enliven this faith and love. It is a rebirthing into a new creation that is brought about by the Holy Spirit's work.

God who is love and is bound to us in love and through the loving work of Christ is also at the center of the beloved community. The members of the beloved community love one another because of this God who is love. God is love and we learn to love all those whom we meet within God's community. This  is a kind of outward flowing of the inner life of the Trinity. 

This out flowing of God's love is also at the transformative center of the world. Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit enables those of us in the world to find a path not only into the beloved community but into the life of the Trinity itself. 

This means that God is working on the individual as they make their journey. The work of the Christian, the member of the beloved community, is to love those as they enter our community and point the way to God. In this we have an example of and an outward illustration of love. Our love for one another, as they make their journey, is evidence then of the Holy Spirit within us. 

Many people believe their is an important "but" that goes in here. We love you "but"...Whenever we get into the "but" business what is taking place is that we are working less on our path to God and more on other people's paths. We are undermining the fraternal love we are supposed to illustrate. We are in fact not fulfilling our invitation by the Holy Spirit and in the end we are eroding God's beloved community.

The natural response to the above paragraph is fear, anxiety, and concern.  The disciple is clear if this is present then we are not believing in our inter-related nature with our brothers and sisters. Then  we are not believing in the power of the Holy Spirit to work. Then we are not believing in the power of Christ Jesus to save. 

The fact is that our intolerance for one another is an example that we are not living into the gifts of the Holy Spirit. "But" will say.

I am afraid that there is no "but" in the Gospel of Jesus.

If we are members of the beloved community, if God's Holy Spirit is with us, and if we are doing the work Christ has given us.. then we will be in the midst of love.

One cannot love his fellow human and not love God. One cannot love God and not love his fellow human.

We might add one who does not love their fellow human does honor the love of God and one who does not love God will not love their fellow human.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”    - Martin Luther King Jr.

Some Thoughts on Acts 8:26-40

"So Philip baptized him, and when that black and mutilated potentate bobbed back to the surface, he was so carried away he couldn't even speak. The sounds of his joy were like the sounds of a brook rattling over pebbles, and Philip never saw him again and never had to."

"Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. "Conversion," Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words.

"God who raised Jesus orchestrates unlikely relationships that the status quo does not otherwise permit for the transformation of marginalized individuals."

Commentary, Acts 8:26-40, Mitzi J. Smith, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"A friend of mine gives away bumper stickers of a favorite phrase of his: 'Keep Church Weird.' By that my friend means church—or any gathering recognizing God’s lovely, strange people—is a place where we might break out of our ordinary expected un-weird culture and be, well, weird."

"Castrating Our Customs," Rev. Adam J. Copeland, Day 1, 2012.

Now this is a great passage. It only comes up once every three years so it is the time to preach it. You will get "abiding" passages from John a bit more.

This is a great passage that gets heisted by the church. So, let us look at the pure structure of the story, again, for the first time.

First, it is a missional story. Why? Because Philip is sent out. He goes where God tells him to go. Sometimes people say, "What does missional mean anyway?" And, people like to try and make a church congregation's work inside the building missional. Well, that isn't what it means and you can't be missional if you stay inside the church. Missional means to go outside the church, to go outside the boundaries of religious norms, to go. This is a missional story so don't preach about work Christians need to do inside the church. This is a story that is about going out.

So, Philip goes out. He heads into the wilderness, outside of the Jersusalem. This is important! He doesn't just go out and then travel along to his friend's home. He is invited by God to go to the very place where robbers and evil and the devil dwell. Go out to that road that does down. It goes down from the holy place to the lowly place. That place you don't think anything good can come out of...that place that you don't walk alone...that place that you have heard stories about. Philip gets up and goes. Literally, "he got up and went."

As he comes along the road he meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Don't get tripped over this business about him being a court official just yet. Lets parse this bit out... He is Ethiopian. He was a foreigner and a Jew. He was reading the scriptures and the text said he came to worship. Travel to Jerusalem for religious reasons was more common than trade. But, he was on his way because of Candace the queen and he was the treasurer. He is on his way home and stopped by the side of the road.

So here we are with a few types of importance regarding our conversation. Philip is sent to meet someone who is not a follower of Jesus, who is from another country. And, the spirit sends Philip to join "it". This is important too. Because while he was a treasurer and a jew and a member of the court...he was not considered a part of the community. Why? Because they could have no heir and therefore had no loyalties. They made good servants, slaves, and advisors because of this. So, the Ethiopian eunuch is more of an "it" than a "he". Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the bible and you may very well not have known that at all. In fact they are mentioned in both Esther and Isaiah...and maybe others though those are debated.

Now before we go much further, you need to know that the religion of the day understood this about eunuchs...they were not welcome in the kingdom - even if they worshipped God! Deuteronomy 23.1. "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord."

So, what people reading the passage may think is that the Eunuch is reading from Isaiah and because we are in the Easter season he is reading about the suffering servant which we have been steeped in over the last few weeks. We see in fact that he is reading from the part about how the sheep will take on the suffering without a word.
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
But, there is another passage from chapter 56:3-5 of Isaiah, which goes like this:
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
Here is what seems very important...remember Deuteronomy... Isaiah's vision is radical. It is one that says, look these people are not part of the kingdom, but when God comes a new kingdom is going to be created. Creation will be reformed and this reign of God will be catholic - universal. That all people will worship God, that it will embrace the whole of the cosmos and world. As part of that prophesy Isaiah says that even Eunuchs will inherit the kingdom. 

It is a story about moving from being outside the community to being received into the community of God's reign. 

Philip goes up and asks if he understands. They get into a conversation. Not one where Philip tells him how it is but one of equal footing. It is one where Philip guides him. We helps him understand that through the suffering upon the cross, Jesus has in fact brought about enough grace, that all people, including eunuchs, will inherit the kingdom of God. Through the work of Jesus Isaiah's prophesy has come true.

Now, they are going along the road. This is very important. Philip did not go out and get the eunuch and bring him back to Jerusalem and put him in a classroom and instruct him. He is guiding him and listening and talking. And, he is walking with him in the wilderness. They are going together in the same direction. So often we think that missional is about going out and getting them to come in here and walk with us. This passage reminds us that missional is about going out and walking with others in their life, upon their road, heading in the same direction as they are.

This is when the eunuch asks Philip to baptize him. And, he does so. And, then he continues his journey and Philip is then taken away to Azatus. He goes to the next place. He goes - being sent by the Holy Spirit. 

This is the final piece of what seems important. This baptism (like all the others) clearly does not end with the eunuch entering a community of faith. Let me say that again. The baptism is not about, and does not result in, the eunuch entering a community of faith. Instead, it results in the eunuch being sent. He goes - being sent by the Holy Spirit. 

This is the first individual baptism described post Easter and it is interesting that it makes no mention of it being an entrance into any community. Rather, it is a pure acceptance of God's gift through the crucifixion and a part of being sent out to share the good news. One is baptized into the catholic community of Christ - as a sign of what has already taken place on Golgotha. It includes of course the promise that one also receives with sure and certain hope what happened on Easter morning.

This is a great passage to preach...but don't heist it for the institutional church. 

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

May 8, 2015, Sermon on Easter 5B 2015 at St Davids Austin and Trinity Marble Falls

Friday, April 6, 2018

Easter 4B April 22, 2018


Creator God, you make the resplendent glory of the Risen One shine with new radiance on the world, whenever our human weakness is healed and restored.  Gather all your scattered children into one flock following Christ, our Good Shepherd, so that all may taste the joy you bestow on those who are the children of God. 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 10:11-18

"This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ -- to remind each other of God's promises and speak Jesus' message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other."

 "Abundant Life," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"Jesus’ sheep are drawn into the unity of love and mutuality of knowledge between the Father and Son."
Commentary, John 10:11-18, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"Who are those whose trusted voices showed you what it is to listen for and reflect the Shepherd's Voice? What messages did they offer which stay with you still?"

"Listening for the Shepherd's Voice," Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2015.

"Then Jesus said, "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep;' and you get the feeling that this time Peter didn't miss the point. From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again."

"Feed My Sheep," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

This week we have the Good Shepherd from John's gospel.

It comes as part of an overall scriptural unit.  Chapter 10: 1-21.  Most New Testament scholars break our reading up into two sections. The first section is made up of verses 11-16 where in the reader discovers the nature of the shepherd.  The second section is made up of verses 17-18 wherein we read about the specific work of this Good Shepherd.

Jesus is the model of the good shepherd because he is willing to die for his sheep - this is a unique johannine theology amongst the gospellers.  This model is a shepherd who cares for all the sheep and for their very lives. This shepherd is willing to lay down his life for all; and all means all.

The hired hand and the wolf prey on the sheep. They care only for themselves.  They steal and consume the sheep.  What is interesting here is the parallel drawn by scholars to those religious leaders who betray their flock.  Certainly, in the early tradition there is a notion of being sent among wolves.  In Acts Paul reminds church leaders they are to feed their sheep.

I think that the next section is important as a defining boundary for the care and tending of sheep.  The shepherd here does not only know his work, but also knows his sheep intimately.  He knows all his sheep my name.  They recognize the shepherd's voice.  And, there are sheep who are being added to the fold (the gentile mission).  Therefore the shepherd knows his sheep and knows sheep who are to be gathered in.

This tradition falls in the long line of prophetic witness wherein the leaders of Israel have been seen as shepherds of their flock.

As I read through a number of texts on this passage (including my own preaching) I am ever mindful that the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep; and that God takes up his life for him when his work is done.  Resurrection, new life, transformed life, comes to the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep - those in his fold and those without.

Today we live in an age where we protect ourselves at all cost. We do this by projecting out into the world our own desires. We disguise this protection by gathering around us like minded people.  So we get our cause (political, religious, social) and we gather with people who have the same interest in maintaining ego protection on any given topic.

Paul Zahl reminded me in a recent podcats (PZ's Podcast available on Itunes) that one reason why when people accomplish what they set out to do on any given agenda and they usually feel unfulfilled is because they set out based upon ego protection and not based upon their own true nature's need for salvation, grace and mercy.  They set out to change the world because they were sure everyone else was wrong not because their own heart needed transformation.

The shepherd is in need of resurrection when a life is laid down; this mimics the Good Shepherd's own death and resurrection.  The individual who truly lays down their life and loses it will in the end find it.  But it is real life that is lost, a costly ego death, that must be allowed to take place.

This means more frequently a non-heroes death and/or the failure of perfection. 

What does it really mean to be one of the good shepherds, serving the One Good Shepherd?  It will mean being shepherd to all.  A leader must lead and be a shepherd for all the sheep.  All the sheep include: those who agree and those who disagree; those who love you and those who hate you; those who are pleased with your action and those who are pounding down the doors of your fortified ego castle; and the unseen sheep not in our fold.

There more though theologically bubbling beneath the surface. Theologian and NT Scholar Robert Farrar Capon writes "his death is the operative device by which the reconciling judgment of God works - that the crucifixion is God's last word on the subject of sin, the final sentence that will make the world one flock under one gracious shepherd." (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p 376) The authorities, religious and political, have been trying to put this back in their box of control ever since the cross and resurrection.

So as I prepare to preach this week I have a lot of questions running through my mind.  None of these questions have much to do with the loving shepherd finding me in the darkness and carrying  me off to the sheepfold.  Rather, the questions I am asking are based upon that redemption already underway:  What part of myself must die in order for me to be shepherd (in the mold of the Good Shepherd) for all the sheep?  How shall I lay down my life for them?  Am I willing to die a hundred thousand deaths (not as vanquishing hero) but as a lonely herdsman in the midst of a valley of wolves and thieves? 

Ah yes, perhaps that is the real work after all.  You and I if we brave this sacred journey we should be prepared for the silence, the lack of followers, a shameful death, the end God's hand snatching us from the grave.  It is the silent waiting of the dead in which God's love, grace and mercy resides.  That is the meaning of life as a good shepherd; would that we had a church full of such men and women!

Some Thoughts on 1 John 3:16-24

"Unfortunately, there have been trends and crosscurrents of debate and division that have led to a problematic bifurcation that can easily become distorted into a 'faith vs. works' mentality."

Commentary, 1 John 3:16-24, Nijay Gupta, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"The whole idea behind this week's reading from 1 John, and indeed the entire book, is that in the sacrificial love of Christ we see and experience God; in doing so we are compelled to live out that love in word and deed."

"What's the Catch?" Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

"The writer clearly envisages a relationship with God where people are not diminished but encouraged to stand on their own two feet with confidence."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

So it has been a while since we have been in the letters of John. I remember that these come out of the johannine community and that some scholars believe the author of this particular letter may in fact have been the redactor of John's original notes and manuscripts. That really is neither here nor there. Needless to say, it is a more general type of writing than other letters - especially Paul's. These appear to have been intended to be read aloud to communities in general. Early evidence shows that a number of other congregations had the letter. 

The goal of the message? Well, to deal with different ideas that did not coincide with those held by the leadership of the Johannine community - it is meant to combat heresy. There is a bit of heresy in the letter errs on the side of a kind of Manichaeism whereby the spiritual world is good and the world of matter is bad. or fallen. This of course would be ruled quite out of order in the third century. But that was too late to keep it out of bible and after all it adds a little flavor.

We start off well. A reminder that the community saw itself as part of the arc of the community of shalom working to undermine the sibling rivalry that infected the world by Cain's act of jealousy. We are to love one another. That is very clear. 

But interestingly we discover that here in the text we begin already to see that this is the rule for the brother and sister in the community and maybe not those outside of it. It is a kind of reversal of the good Samaritan story. It allows for neighbor to be rerooted into  community from Jesus' original message that neighboring is part of those who follow him do to those who are outside their own community. The text has it right: for a Christian to hate is equivalent to murder. Jesus is clear on this. But, Jesus is clear about not distinguishing this action between those inside and outside the community.

The text goes on to say that Jesus was an example of this having laid down his life for us. This is the kind of love we are all to have for others. The idea is an active love towards the other. If we are truly God's followers in Jesus Christ, then we will act for the other and on behalf of the other. 

It is only this abiding love outwardly shared that reveals within whose community we are belonging. When we abide in Christ and he in us we are loving and not refusing help to others.

What is very difficult about this passage for Westerners is that they see people as individuals then relationships. This text is written in a moral universe where the community is first and the individual is of second consideration. 

What happens when we don't parse this out...(see Jonathan Haidt's work) we miss the fact that we are constantly reorienting the text into a Western version localized on the individual first and their own set of rights and privileges vs. the good of the community which seems to be at both the johannine core (even if it is Manichean and internally focused) or Jesus' own teaching about neighboring.

Some Thoughts on Acts 4:5-12

"The establishing, negotiating, and naming of power and acts of power is inherently political and very often religious."

Commentary, Acts 4:5-12, Mitzi J. Smith, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"How can good come out of corrupt, callous institutions? Answer: because God remains faithful. Good comes because God refuses to let human rejection have the last word."

Commentary, Acts 4:5-12, F. Scott Spencer, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"If only the Common Lectionary had gone on just one more verse! Stopping shy of verse 13 deprives us from seeing one of the great passages of the Bible. Because it is there that the ruling authorities ”who are seeking to hush up the apostles” find themselves powerfully impressed that the people doing all these things are, all things being equal, hicks and unlettered rubes."

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Scott Hoezee, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015.

Oremus Online Text 

The truth about preaching this Sunday is that most everyone will gravitate to the Good Shepherd text. Why not? It is a great text and you can preach on it a lot and never get to half the good stuff that is in there. Another reason for doing so is to avoid this text altogether. Why? Well because unless you are going to make it about something else it requires that we hear the story as religious leaders and not try and scape goat the past leaders.

So lets take a look and see what we might hear for ourselves that would be important in this missionary age.

Whenever there is really interesting, creative and mission work going on that doesn't look like what we think of as "church" then religious leaders tend to shut it down. We will kill it either by ensuring it gets no funding, support, or attention or we kill by actually telling people to "stop". This is true at the episcopate level but it is also true at the local congregational level.

This is what happens in the passage. The Gospel is being preached, people are being fed, and the Holy Spirit is moving BUT these people have not been properly trained, they are acting strange, and they are doing things that make us look bad - like we don't care about the poor.

They round them up and ask, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Of course the response isn't particularly helpful to the religious leaders cause. Peter says, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." Ooops. Mic drop. Bad news for the religious leaders.

Peter then goes on to remind them (and us) that religious leadership, powers, and authorities are threatened by the Holy Spirit, and God's continuous breaking open of the boundaries of relgion. It has been true throughout the arc of the Old and New Testaments. Jesus was no different. He was in fact one of a long line of people who God sent and was rejected. This has been true since the time of Jesus too. Religion and its authority doesn't like it when people color outside the lines. Peter reminds them, and us,  "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”

Then, Peter drops the real anti-religion bomb. He says, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." 

This is big news because it means that God doesn't need religion to save people. God doesn't need religion to save God. God is perhaps a bit suspicious of how religious institutions go about their work. 

I think the issue for people who inhabit congregations and dioceses and who are stuck within a model of religion based upon the Constantinian era, and haven't figured out it is over,  have a real problem with the Gospel for this very reason. Religion doesn't do well when it comes up agains the real God in Christ Jesus who left us with a message that undoes the powers of this world - including the religious powers of this world.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

No Childhood Good Shepherd Here

Sermon preached at Resurrection and St Michaels churches in Austin on Easter 4b 2015.

Preached at St. Albans and Good Shepherd, Austin, 2011.