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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
As this Advent season draws to a close, we are invited once again to journey with Joseph and Mary, and ponder the awesome mystery of Jesus – Emmanuel, God-with-us. Like many before us, God calls us to choose to follow this Promised One, and to embrace God’s ongoing work of fulfilling promises. Matthew 1:18–25 For the writer of Matthew’s gospel, the birth of Jesus marks the end of the long wait for God’s promised Messiah. In Matthew 1:1, Jesus is proclaimed the Messiah. (Messiah is a translation of the Hebrew word for “chosen one.” In Greek this Hebrew word is translated “Christ.”) The gospel then moves immediately into a genealogy, so that readers might know that Jesus is a descendant of King David. According to ancient prophecies in Hebrew Scriptures, this connection is an important part of God’s promise to send one who will save God’s people. One of the primary themes of the gospel of Matthew is how the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fulfill the promises that God makes in the Hebrew Scriptures. These promises centre on God sending a messiah – a saviour or champion to unite God’s people and deliver them from all that oppressed them. Matthew’s gospel possibly was written in Antioch, Syria. This area was deeply influenced by the prevailing Roman and Greek cultures and their myriad of gods. Stories of miraculous interactions between humans and gods were common. Matthew underlines Jesus’ identity as not only God’s chosen one, but also as divine, by recording the special circumstances of his birth. It is God who causes Jesus to be conceived, and not Joseph. In Matthew, Joseph is never spoken of as Jesus’ father. The gospel of Matthew tells Joseph’s side of the story of Jesus’ birth. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus and, equally, God chose Joseph to care for them. Joseph had a difficult choice to make. His fiancĂ©e was pregnant. The traditional punishment, if Joseph had chosen to accuse Mary, would have been to be cast aside, even put to death. Instead Joseph chooses to protect Mary and the baby. From Joseph, we learn about choosing to ground our lives in faithful obedience and righteous action. Joseph names the child Jesus, which means “Yahweh is salvation.” The gospel proclaims that the identity of God’s chosen one is Emmanuel, “God with us.” In declaring that Jesus is Emmanuel, Matthew draws from traditions in Hebrew Scriptures about God dwelling with God’s people. This tradition is present in Isaiah 7:10–16, a dialogue between the prophet Isaiah and Ahaz the king. The king is instructed to ask God for a sign of God’s presence. Ahaz refuses, but a sign is given nonetheless. God takes the initiative and promises that a young woman will bear a son – Emmanuel, “God with us.” “Stir up your might and come to save us!” In Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19, the psalmist implores God to act, and promises that the people will choose to respond to God’s goodness with faithful worship. Paul begins the letter to the Christians in Rome by identifying himself as a messenger and servant of Jesus. In Romans 1:1–7, Paul professes faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah – God’s chosen one promised in the scriptures. Paul’s choice to live with faithfulness to Christ flows from God’s faithfulness. In Jesus, God’s reign comes among us. The lives of Joseph, Mary, Paul, and the believers in Matthew’s community and in Rome were changed in radical ways when they chose to embrace God’s promised one. As we ready ourselves to receive again this gift of Christmas, we are called to choose how we will respond. How do you experience God’s love and call in Jesus the Christ? What choices might our church be called to make?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
When God comes to save, no one gets left behind. In Isaiah, the barren places of creation gush with the waters of new life. The psalmist and Mary rejoice in God, who lifts up the vulnerable. John’s wondering of “are you the one?” finds an answer in a litany of Jesus’ saving actions. Where there appears to be no way forward, God makes a highway homeward. Isaiah 35:1–10 This passage seems directly aimed at the exiles of Judah in Babylon in the sixth century bce. Hundreds of miles of desert wilderness separated them from the land of Judah. For many, Jerusalem was only a memory passed down from the previous generation. Over time, some of the captives had come to achieve a level of comfort and even prosperity that likely made thoughts of leaving Babylon unappealing. God’s envisioned transformation of landscape – physical and spiritual – was the first step in creating the hope and even desire for returning home. So Isaiah writes of both a wilderness and a people renewed, in order to make the journey possible and engaging. The second half of verse 4 links God’s coming with “vengeance and terrible recompense.” While the words may seem out of context with the otherwise hopeful and life-affirming words of the passage, they offer hope to those who are afraid and oppressed, and call to mind Deuteronomy 32:35. There, God declares that “vengeance is mine.” The harshness of that image, however, may point to another truth. If vengeance is in God’s hands, then it is out of our hands. It is not ours to keep and then settle scores. These words can free us from vindictiveness. The beauty and power of this passage owes largely to the richness of imagery around land and water. At least four different words are used in the Hebrew to describe the arid places (wilderness, dry land, desert, thirsty ground). More words point to the remarkable variety of God’s gift of water (waters, streams, pool, springs, swamp). God brings life to parched places and parched persons. The “highway” provides a way home. The Hebrew is unclear in verses 8–9. It can be taken in a restrictive sense of some who may not travel there. Or, it can be heard as emphasizing the safety of this highway – even “fools” cannot get lost. This passage addresses the reality of God’s vision and promise. As in other prophetic works, these promises of God remain part of our lives today. God serves among us – as God served for the people of Judah – as the One who summons hope with promises of days still to come. Isaiah testifies that hope resides in the promised actions of God. We trust and we act in response, grounding what we do in God’s activity. As a result, creation’s transformation plays a large role in Isaiah’s message. Just as God brought all things into being in creation, so will God bring the new creation into life. God’s saving actions and their trans-formation of our “times” form consistent themes in the other readings. In Psalm 146:5–10, the psalmist speaks of God’s actions of justice in the present tense. Even so, the last verse looks forward to God’s future reign. In Luke 1:47–55, Mary rejoices. She celebrates what God has done for her. She also declares God’s actions of justice for those who are lowly or poor. Matthew 11:2–11 witnesses to Jesus’ identity by saying what Jesus is doing. James 5:7–10 seeks our patience as we wait for the time of God’s coming. On this third Sunday in Advent, observed by some traditions as “Rejoice Sunday,” the saving activities of God provide ample reason to rejoice. What might Kairos UCC point to as God’s saving activity towards our community : in actions past, present, and future? How, and for whom, do these texts lift up genuine cause for rejoicing today? Who might find them difficult to receive?
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Hope, like God who offers it, can be shocking. Dead stumps send out live shoots. Spirit-led leaders rule for the poor. The overturning of enmities in the natural order breaks ground for a wilderness prophet who shakes up privileged orders with calls to repentance. Isaiah 11:1–10 This passage begins and ends with references to “Jesse.” Jesse was King David’s father. The use of that name implies a reference to kings who followed David. To call that line a “stump” might have come as a shock to those who thought the Davidic line would continue. Some take the “stump” reference as a clue that this passage comes from Judah’s time of exile in Babylon during the sixth century bce. The Davidic dynasty had ended in that national disaster. Hope and judgment, warning and invitation, can be difficult to separate in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is clear, though, that hope resides in the power of God’s Spirit. Verse 2 promises that God’s Spirit will equip the “shoot” from Jesse’s stump with qualities needed for just rule. The Hebrew Scriptures often link Spirit and community leadership. God’s Spirit possessed Saul on the day of his anointing (1 Samuel 10:10). When Samuel anointed David, “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13). God’s Spirit was present in the creation of the natural order (Genesis 1:2). Now, God’s Spirit is promised in the transformation of the social order envisioned in a righteous ruler and a peaceable kingdom. Verse 3 poses a potentially confusing statement. The new leader will “not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.” The meaning is not that justice can be done by avoiding the sight and sounds of the real world. Rather, the verse affirms that leadership will not be swayed by appearances. The prophets condemned the leaders of Israel and Judah for bias toward the rich and privileged. They promised, as Isaiah does here, a new day. The mention of “equity” strongly implies that a situation of inequity existed and that this would be no more. One striking feature of this passage is its imaginative use of animal imagery. The importance of this imagery goes back to the creation and re-creation theme mentioned earlier. Dramatic change is promised. How can we trust that God has the power to effect such change? For Isaiah, God’s power in creation serves as the reason to hope in creation’s transformation. God, whose power made all things, is the God whose power can renew all things. The pairing of predator and prey in a peaceable world is a parable-like word of God’s power to renew. Imagination becomes the prophet’s means to raise that word and inspire hope. Hope and repentance form recurring themes in the other texts. Hope in Psalm 72 takes form in the expectation of a just ruler. In Matthew 3:1–12, John the Baptizer testifies to the nearness of God’s coming realm. That hope accompanies John’s call to repent. John’s repentance insists on integrity between faith and living. Such integrity is also sounded in Romans 15:4–13. Our welcome of one another is to mirror Christ’s welcome of us. Paul stresses that the stories of faith invite our hope, even as they are to shape how we conduct our lives and community. This second Sunday of Advent presents us with texts that abound, and surprise, with hope. Such hope invites turning and changing on our part. In what ways does hope remain a shocking and daring message for us; for our community? Where, and through whom, do we see God’s Spirit summoning hope and repentance in our day? How might we open ourselves to the leading that children provide in the ways of God?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Isaiah 2:1–5 The opening chapters of Isaiah address a time of crisis in Judah. The armies of Assyria posed a serious threat as its empire expanded. The northern kingdom of Israel was being threatened first. It was sent into captivity by Assyria in 722 bce. Over the next two decades, Assyria threatened Judah with the same fate. Yet another peril involved injustice within Judah. Prophets like Isaiah warned against both sets of dangers. Yet these same prophets invited hope, as Isaiah does here. The focus scripture reads almost word for word with Micah 4:1–4. Prophets often announce unexpected reversals. In verse 4, tools of death will be hammered into tools of life. Warning levied against Jerusalem (1:21) gives way to this promising word. Another surprising development has to do with the identity of the pilgrims who will stream to Mount Zion. “All nations” shall come. “Nations” translates a Hebrew word that also means “Gentiles.” The city, like its vision, is inclusive of all God’s people. God’s “holy mountain” is a key image in this passage. Jerusalem was built on a ridge. “Zion” was the name of one portion of that ridge. Zion came over time to be a synonym for the temple and Jerusalem itself. Mountains were often identified as “holy.” They were seen as places of encounter with God. In this vision, such encounter takes the form of holy instruction. Underlying this passage is a vision of God’s peace or shalom. Shalom is more than an absence of conflict. Shalom is the presence of conditions that make for life. It includes security and a state of “truce,” but goes beyond them. Shalom involves justice and sharing. Shalom assures freedom from want and an abundance of life’s gifts. A caution is in order. Prosperity and security are not always signs of God’s shalom. Plenty and comfort can create false optimism; Isaiah and other prophets confront the pride and denial that then can result. The focus scripture closes on an open-ended note. The last verse can be read as an invitation to join this journey to Mount Zion. It also can be read as a warning not to travel the paths described in the remaining verses of the chapter. Both meanings fit the prophetic call. Now is the time to follow God’s leading. Peace, goodness, and vigilance play important roles in the additional scriptures. Hope and community rely on the exercise of all three. In Psalm 122, the psalmist prays for peace and offers a benediction upon others. The psalm closes with the resolution to seek the community’s good. In Romans 13:11–14, the nearness of God’s salvation serves two roles. First, it identifies Paul’s basis for hope in God’s peace. Second, it serves as cause for our “living honourably.” That hope moves us to seek the good in our relationships with God and one another. Paul urges our wakefulness, based on knowing what time it is. On the other hand, Matthew 24:36–44 summons vigilance because we do not know the hour of God’s coming. Sunday’s lessons encourage us to join the procession that leads to God’s peace for all. Who are the prophets among us? How do their words of invitation and warning grow out of a vision of God’s peace? How might we journey through Advent as pilgrims who seek, and disciples who practice, the ways of God’s shalom?
Friday, November 23, 2007
Reign of Christ Sunday completes the church year. The readings for Sunday give us a variety of pictures of who Jesus is – firstborn of creation, righteous king, one who suffers and yet reigns over the world, the one who comes to show us what God is like. As individuals and as the church, we are learning as we journey with God towards the full reign of Christ. Colossians 1:11–20 The author of Colossians is not certain. Many scholars place its writing at a time after Paul’s death. The letter bears Paul’s name, likely an honour to a loved teacher bestowed by the writer. This letter warns the community against false teachers and, in this passage, speaks to the meaning of what Jesus has done. Verses 15–20 appear to be a fragment of an early hymn, perhaps one familiar to the Colossians. Christ is praised here as the image of God, agent of creation, and one who has redeemed and reconciled the world. The writer calls on the Christians in Colossae to join in giving thanks to God for the gifts they receive in Christ. The letter describes Jesus the Christ as the “firstborn of all creation” (verse 15). The Nicene Creed tries to describe this in the phrase “begotten, not made.” Jesus is the image (in Greek, ikon) of the invisible God, the visible manifestation in the world of who God is. Christ makes God visible. The hymn praises Christ as the agent of creation. All things have been created through Christ, and all things hold together in Christ. These words call us back to the reading from Hebrews 13:8 on September 2: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Through Jesus the Christ, the new heaven and earth are established. Colossians 1: 20 describes how, through Jesus’ death on the cross, God makes peace with the world. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is redemption for those who follow Jesus Christ. As were the disciples in Colossae, we also are empowered to live new lives in Christ. The other texts give us a variety of images of the reign of Christ. In Jeremiah 23:1–6, the prophet tells the people that Judah’s kings, called by God to be good shepherds to the people, have betrayed them. But God will be the people’s shepherd, bringing them to safety. God will raise up a righteous king from the house of David to bring about God’s reign of justice and peace. In the writings of the prophets, this one who will come was known as the Messiah, the anointed one. God is raising up a mighty Savior who will bring salvation, forgiveness, and peace, declares the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1:68–79. This Song of Zechariah is a prophecy regarding John, the one sent by God to prepare the way and to announce the coming of the Messiah. God’s Messiah is not one who comes in triumphant conquest, but one who serves through suffering for the sake of others. Luke 23:33–43 is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus, by his death on the cross, provides a different image of kingship. In the midst of his own suffering, Jesus shows compassion and forgiveness. Jesus shows love to those held in low regard by society. It is the thief who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. His prayer is ours – “remember us when you come into your kingdom.” Our Lessons for Sunday provide us with many different images of Jesus the Christ – the one in whom all creation is directed and held together; the good shepherd; the redeemer; the one who suffers, dies, and rises again; the head of the church. These images are pictures and symbols of what we cannot express fully in words. The images speak to each one of us in different ways. Which of these pictures speaks to you most clearly? What images would you use to describe the work and importance
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, a reign of harmony and wholeness for all creation. As disciples, we are called to explore what it means to live into that vision and to help bring about a world of justice and peace. What does it mean to be open to the new thing that God is doing in our midst? Isaiah 65:17–25 Many scholars believe these verses were written after 539 BCE, when the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. The community faced difficulties. Their return was not as triumphant as they had hoped. Much had to be rebuilt as they took up their lives again. The prophet encourages them, reminding them of God’s promise of salvation – God will not remember Israel’s disobedience. The word remember in scripture means bringing a past event into the present with all the power of the original. The words of the prophet assure readers today that our sins no longer have power over us, that God brings healing and wholeness. How can we put aside painful parts of our story now finished? What from our past is important for us to remember and to carry with us? God has a dream and is bringing about a new heaven and a new earth to those who are faithful. The prophet declares that God’s people are part of that dream. In the new heaven and earth, they will live out full lives. The created world, too, will exist in harmony as it did in stories of the first creation. The serpent of Genesis 3 is cursed. We also are blessed in the ordinary routines of everyday life. God hears and answers, listens and supports. God delights and rejoices in us. God continues to create and to call us forward into the dream of a new creation of peace and harmony. Other people of faith may have different ideas of what the new vision is. How do we live in peace with one another as we explore the new world to which God calls us? Isaiah 12, written when the people of Israel were threatened by Assyria, is a hymn of praise for all that God has done. It incorporates many quotations from the psalms. The name Isaiah means “God has saved.” Surely God is my salvation, the prophet affirms. When the people trust God, they sing and shout for joy. God is in the midst of their lives. We continue to look for signs of the new creation, giving thanks that God’s comfort is real. Paul calls the early Christian community to continue to live out their faith, in contrast to those who have stopped working because they believe that Jesus would return very soon. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, Paul reminds them that he worked to earn his living while he was with them. The words of Paul also call us to continue to live our lives faithfully, finding God in the ordinariness of everyday life. Jesus warns his followers to not be too preoccupied with rumours of the end of the world. Luke 21:5–19 was written down after the destruction of the temple. In this passage, Jesus, standing in the temple courtyard, speaks of the coming destruction. Jesus tells that before the new heaven and earth come about, Christians will be persecuted for their faith. God will help them find the words to testify to their faith and will reward their endurance. God continues to create. Today, what are the signs that God is making a new heaven and earth? Our Sunday lessons move us toward the conclusion of the church year, to the Reign of Christ celebration next week and to Advent when we welcome the Promised One whose coming breaks into human history to begin God’s new day. What is our role in working to bring about a world of justice and peace for all? How do we live into this vision and help to create it?
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What does it mean to look beyond our present understanding in order to see the amazing ways in which God’s promises are being fulfilled? In Sunday's readings, Jesus, the prophet Habakkuk, the psalmist, and Paul all see beyond the obvious and welcome God’s reign. Following their example, we are invited to live in the presence of God’s promises and work toward their fulfillment. Luke 19:1–10At the beginning of Luke 19, we find Jesus passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem; at the end of this chapter is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Again, the gospel reports that Jesus is criticized for associating with those considered unclean or outside the household of faith. In this story we encounter the discipleship of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who seeks out Jesus and is then transformed by the encounter. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were not paid by the Romans, but were entitled to collect whatever amounts they chose from the populace, paying the Roman government the required amount and keeping the difference. Decried by some as collaborators, despised by others for being ritually unclean because of their routine contact with Gentiles, and hated by others because of the tax burden they forced on the community, the gospel of Luke portrays tax collectors as the ultimate outsiders. The Pharisees considered Jesus’ interactions with them as an indication that he was not a true prophet of God. Jesus extends God’s grace to Zacchaeus by being willing to engage in that most intimate of Middle Eastern customs, the sharing of a meal in a person’s home. Sharing a meal brings Zacchaeus into community with Jesus. Zacchaeus welcomes the gift of God’s grace that Jesus gives and is transformed into a disciple who is generous in serving, who becomes rich toward God. Luke challenges the first readers, and us, to consider how we place ourselves in God’s presence and welcome Jesus Christ, who first and always welcomes us. The climax of the story comes when Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham” – one of God’s chosen people. Jesus announces that God’s salvation has come to Zacchaeus. Salvation in the Bible refers to God’s desire and activity to free humankind from sin, death, and the powers of evil – liberating people to live as God created them to live. The saving work of God that Jesus described in the stories of the lost coin and sheep in chapter 15 is also evident here. There is nowhere that the reign of God will not reach. In Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:1–4, the prophet calls for the promise of God’s saving and liberating love to be written large enough for a runner to read. God’s goodness and grace will surely come. The righteous will, like the prophet standing on the rampart, continue to look for the salvation of God. God’s promises bring transformation. In Psalm 119:137–144 the psalmist proclaims that regardless of what happens, the people will know the coming of God’s promises. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed by being in Jesus’ presence. In 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12, Paul reminds his readers that their faith is growing because of God’s presence in their lives. Paul calls on the Thessalonians to give thanks to God and to be confident that as God works within them, they will be able to live the lives to which they have been called. When people place themselves in God’s presence, lives are transformed. New possibilities for life and service become visible. We have a place in this story of God’s saving work. What new and fresh perspectives on life do we gain by living in Christ? What might we do, as individuals and as the church, to welcome Jesus – and the friends Jesus brings along – into our hearts and homes?
WELCOMING JESUS What does it mean to look beyond our present understanding in order to see the amazing ways in which God’s promises are being fulfilled? In this week’s readings, Jesus, the prophet Habakkuk, the psalmist, and Paul all see beyond the obvious and welcome God’s reign. Following their example, we are invited to live in the presence of God’s promises and work toward their fulfillment. Focus Scripture: Luke 19:1–10 At the beginning of Luke 19, we find Jesus passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem; at the end of this chapter is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Again, the gospel reports that Jesus is criticized for associating with those considered unclean or outside the household of faith. In this story we encounter the discipleship of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who seeks out Jesus and is then transformed by the encounter. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were not paid by the Romans, but were entitled to collect whatever amounts they chose from the populace, paying the Roman government the required amount and keeping the difference. Decried by some as collaborators, despised by others for being ritually unclean because of their routine contact with Gentiles, and hated by others because of the tax burden they forced on the community, the gospel of Luke portrays tax collectors as the ultimate outsiders. The Pharisees considered Jesus’ interactions with them as an indication that he was not a true prophet of God. Jesus extends God’s grace to Zacchaeus by being willing to engage in that most intimate of Middle Eastern customs, the sharing of a meal in a person’s home. Sharing a meal brings Zacchaeus into community with Jesus. Zacchaeus welcomes the gift of God’s grace that Jesus gives and is transformed into a disciple who is generous in serving, who becomes rich toward God. Luke challenges the first readers, and us, to consider how we place ourselves in God’s presence and welcome Jesus Christ, who first and always welcomes us. The climax of the story comes when Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham” – one of God’s chosen people. Jesus announces that God’s salvation has come to Zacchaeus. Salvation in the Bible refers to God’s desire and activity to free humankind from sin, death, and the powers of evil – liberating people to live as God created them to live. The saving work of God that Jesus described in the stories of the lost coin and sheep in chapter 15 is also evident here. There is nowhere that the reign of God will not reach. In Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:1–4, the prophet calls for the promise of God’s saving and liberating love to be written large enough for a runner to read. God’s goodness and grace will surely come. The righteous will, like the prophet standing on the rampart, continue to look for the salvation of God. God’s promises bring transformation. In Psalm 119:137–144 the psalmist proclaims that regardless of what happens, the people will know the coming of God’s promises. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed by being in Jesus’ presence. In 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12, Paul reminds his readers that their faith is growing because of God’s presence in their lives. Paul calls on the Thessalonians to give thanks to God and to be confident that as God works within them, they will be able to live the lives to which they have been called. • • • • • When people place themselves in God’s presence, lives are transformed. New possibilities for life and service become visible. We have a place in this story of God’s saving work. What new and fresh perspectives on life do we gain by living in Christ? What might we do, as individuals and as the church, to welcome Jesus – and the friends Jesus brings along – into our hearts and homes?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
God sustains humankind and all that exists with gifts of love. This premise is central in the readings today. As we place ourselves in God’s presence, we are mindful that the things we do don’t make us deserve the richness of God’s grace and mercy – these are gifts. We ground our lives in prayers of thanksgiving for such daily blessings. Luke 18:9–14 Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector extends the theme of prayer from the previous parable of the widow and the unjust judge. To Jesus’ hearers, a story that begins, “two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector,” is going to be a story of contrasts. Tax collectors were considered outsiders. They were collaborators with the Romans and, because of their frequent contact with Gentiles, were often ritually unclean and unable to participate in temple worship. The tax collector in Jesus’ story identifies himself as “a sinner.” Pharisees, on the other hand, dedicated themselves to the purity laws and temple worship. The Pharisee in the parable is convinced of his religious superiority and righteousness – right standing – with God. Jesus places the focus of the parable not on the Pharisee, but on the classic outsider, the tax collector. Here is a person who is convinced only of unworthiness. The tax collector places himself in God’s presence in the hope that, even though he is far from the centre of things both in the temple and in the community of the faithful, God will hear the anguished cry that he pours out. Jesus commends the tax collector for confessing the truth of his position before God. In this story of contrasts, the Pharisee who stands “by himself” is living a delusion. Neither he nor the tax collector, nor Jesus’ hearers, nor the readers of Luke’s gospel stand by themselves. Without God’s mercy, the tax collector and the Pharisee do not “have a prayer.” In this pair of parables at the beginning of Luke 18, Jesus lifts up the importance of prayer (verse 1) by lifting up the determination of the widow and the humility of the tax collector. In doing so, Jesus says something about the promise of persistent prayer and peril of presumptuous prayer. It is important to note that humility connotes a sense of “being grounded” rather than “being a doormat.” The root of humility is the Latin humus, “earth” or “ground.” To have humility as a disciple suggests grounding one’s life in God’s love – admitting mistakes and learning from them, being thankful instead of boastful, and serving with dignity. The prophet speaks of humankind’s dependence on God’s grace and mercy in Joel 2:23–32. It is God who provided the rain in the past and, despite lean years, it is God who will bring blessings in the future. The righteous live in recognition of their reliance on such gifts. Again in Psalm 65, the psalmist declares that it is God who sustains all life on earth. As God pours out blessings on the earth, God’s people respond in pouring out thanks and praise. In 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18, we hear Paul reflecting on ministry. Paul recognizes that, while he has kept the faith and poured his life into vocation as an apostle, it is God who gave Paul strength, who was a constant presence who rescued Paul time and again. As our lives are grounded in the loving ways of God’s reign, we are thankful and grateful to God. In humility, the tax collector expressed the truth of who he was in relation to God. God invites us to be equally truthful and to open our hearts to receive God’s gifts of grace and salvation. What does it mean to pour our hearts out to God? When God pours blessing and mercy upon us, what is our response?
Monday, October 15, 2007
God’s people are called to persistence in discipleship – persistence in prayer and meditation, proclaiming God’s word, and seeking justice. In the readings this week, the longing for justice and the coming of God’s reign are palpable. In such times, Jesus urges us to stand firm, with bold confidence that God will prevail. Luke 18:1–8 In chapter 17, the gospel of Luke reports Jesus’ response to the questions of the Pharisees concerning the timing of the coming of the God’s reign. Jesus’ parable in the focus passage is part of the response to these questions. However, it is not a story about signs and forecasts, but about the final hope of those who are held in low regard by society. The first of two parables about prayer in Luke 18, this story is Jesus’ call to disciples to “pray always and not to lose heart.” In ancient Israel, the duty of a judge was to maintain harmony in relationships and settle disputes among Israelites. Disputes involving widows and orphans were not uncommon in Israel (Psalm 82:3–4; Jeremiah 5:28–29). The law did not allow a widow to inherit her husband’s estate, which passed on to the deceased man’s sons or brothers. If these relatives did not act with justice and honour toward the widow of their father or brother, a judge was called in as the widow’s final and only hope. For those of Jesus’ hearers who were poor or without status in society, a story about a widow with no power or influence and a judge with no compassion would seem “business as usual.” They might assume justice would be denied again. However, in this story the widow’s persistence wins the day. The beautiful surprise of this story is that justice triumphs! No wonder the author of Luke interprets Jesus’ story as being about not losing heart. Whatever happens, God’s way of justice will prevail. Such hope – such certainty that God’s justice will finally come – is no easy thing. The author of Luke leaves Jesus’ question in verse 8 hanging for us to answer: will faith be found when the reign of God comes in its fullness? Those who are persistent in prayer do not lose heart as they wait and work for the coming of God’s reign. Jeremiah proclaims, “The days are surely coming” in Jeremiah 31:27–34. Regardless of how devastated and hopeless things may seem in the present, the prophet is confident to declare that there is a time coming when the people’s knowledge and experience of God will be so intimate that God’s will and desires will be imprinted in the very centre of their lives. Jeremiah’s words are a call to persistence in aligning one’s heart and one’s actions with God’s hopes for all creation. Intimate and persistent connection with God’s law, according to Psalm 119:97–104, brings wisdom and understanding. The concept of law in the Hebrew Scriptures is more than a codified set of rules. The whole story of God’s relationship with humankind is contained in this understanding of law. There is urgency in Timothy’s ministry to proclaim the message with which he has been entrusted. In 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5, the writer asserts that, for many, it will be easier to find messages that suit them than to persist in claiming the truth of God’s word. Many life experiences call for persistence. God will never be diverted from seeking to institute justice, peace, and grace everywhere. As disciples, we are called to embrace the discipline of persistence in prayer and in seeking the gifts of God’s reign for all. What is the role of the faith community in supporting persistence in individual members? What does it mean for you and your church to live with confidence that God will prevail?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
As Jesus’ followers, we present ourselves to God and open ourselves to God’s presence with us. We encounter God’s grace and healing amid all the circumstances of our lives. As the passages for this Sunday reveal, this encounter may come in unexpected ways. We, in turn, are called to respond richly – in our relationship to God and our relationship with others. Luke 17:11–19 This story features a Samaritan, and takes place in the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans honoured the holy traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures. They were descendants of those who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but centred their faith in Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. There was a mutual and long-standing resentment between Samaritans and the Jews, whose faith was centred in Jerusalem. In one sense, Samaritans were part of Judaism in that they revered the scriptures. In another sense, however, they were outside of Judaism that was defined as the community of allegiance to Jerusalem and its authorities. As the story opens, Jesus encounters ten individuals who have leprosy. In keeping with the Law, Jesus sends them to the priest to be declared clean and whole, an action necessary for them to be accepted again into the life of the community (Leviticus 14:23). On the way, they are healed. One, a Samaritan, turns back, praising God and returning to Jesus to give thanks for the healing. Jesus affirms the faithfulness of this healed one, and declares him clean and whole. This is more than a story about being polite; it speaks of the power of encounter with God – source of all life and wholeness. It is interesting to note the way this passage from Luke is translated in the New International Version Bible. Instead of referring to the ten as “lepers” in verse 12, the reference is to ten “who had leprosy.” The gospel of Luke emphasizes seeing or recognizing. This translation asks the reader to not define these individuals by their disease, instead recognizing the full humanity of all people, even (or perhaps especially) those on the margins of society or placed outside the community. Luke invites us to consider one another as God does. A picture of God’s mercy is painted by the prophet in Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7. God’s people are given a vision of hope in the midst of exile in Babylon: they will plant and live fruitfully in the foreign land, and God will be present to guide them. They are instructed to seek the welfare of the city, thereby securing their own welfare. God seeks the welfare of humankind, no matter the circumstances. This message is echoed in Psalm 66:1–12. God will “not let our feet slip.” What could possibly discourage the faithful from praising God’s constant presence? Keep ever in mind the nature of the God we follow. This is the message of 2 Timothy 2:8–15. Jesus’ followers can weather any challenge, even those posed by false teachers, when they hold fast to the truth of the gospel as they have received it. Like one who is healed, Christians are blessed to return again and again to God, the true source of grace and mercy. We rejoice in the gifts of healing and wholeness that we receive daily from God’s hand. Though our offering of praise and thanksgiving may not always flow freely, such a response shapes our discipleship. In what ways does faith heal and sustain you? How do you and your faith community return thanks for such grace?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
We learn the faith in many different ways – from parents and friends, teachers, and the study of scripture, and from living in the Christian community. We are strengthened by hearing the faith stories of others and by passing on our own. We have a responsibility to nurture this faith and hand it on to others. It is the good treasure entrusted to us. 2 Timothy 1:1–14 Written from a prison setting, 2 Timothy is to Timothy, a young leader in the Christian community. It is a letter of encouragement and instruction to the early church. Labelled “Pastoral Letters/Epistles,” the letters to Timothy were probably not written by Paul – they speak to a church that is more structured than that of Paul’s day. Paul’s name is attached to them, giving them the authority of Paul’s teaching. With great affection the author writes, “To Timothy, my beloved child” and tells him that he is remembered daily in prayer. What a wonderful message to receive from a teacher and fellow worker! Faith is nurtured in human relationships, from generation to generation. As Timothy did, we learn the faith from parents and/or other teachers, and are sustained by the prayers of others. The faith lived in others and now lives in us; it is something alive and growing. The author reminds Timothy and the early church to rekindle the gift of God that they received in baptism, a “spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” We, too, recall the promises made at baptism and look for ways to live out our baptismal ministry every day as we grow in understanding. At baptism, the gathered community promises to support and nurture the candidates. All in the church have a responsibility to hand on to others what has been learned of the Christian faith. The letter encourages the fledgling church, reminding it that God, who saves and calls, is faithful and trustworthy in good times and bad. Paul is described as a herald (one who proclaims a message), an apostle (one who is sent), and a teacher (one who helps others to grow in the faith). The faith is that “good treasure” entrusted to Timothy and the early church – and to all of us. It is a gift of God to guard and to share, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Like the members of Timothy’s community, the ancient Hebrews also waited in hope for God’s salvation. The two readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, Lamentations 1:1–6 and Lamentations 3:19–26, are from a series of poems weeping over Israel’s fate. The leaders have been carried off into exile in Babylon; these poems are written for those left behind. The prophet weeps over Jerusalem – the “widow” who has been left desolate. The second passage adds a note of hope. God’s steadfast love will never end. God’s mercies are new every day. Psalm 137 is the lament of those in exile. How can Israel worship God away from the temple? How can Israel remain faithful in a foreign land? There they must guard the faith treasure entrusted to them. The closing verses of this psalm seem unbelievably harsh, but they reflect the pain and anger of an oppressed people. We are called to serve others in obedience to God’s teaching rather than in the hope of reward. In Luke 17:5–10, Jesus speaks to the disciples about humility and obedience. The disciples feel that they will need more faith. Jesus tells them that even a small amount of faith in God will be enough. It is God’s power that changes things. Faith is the good treasure that is its own reward. As we consider faith, the “good treasure” entrusted to us; what is the nature of this faith? How is the faith handed on from generation to generation? How can our faith lead us to hope when we find ourselves in the strange land? We give thanks for those who have led us and encouraged us in the faith.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
People of faith pray. The author of the letter to Timothy urges Christians to pray for everyone, including political leaders, so that all people may live in peace. (!) Our readings today encourage us to seek God’s reign of peace and wholeness – shalom – as we live as citizens both of our own countries and of God’s realm. 1 Timothy 2:1–7 As the decades passed after Jesus’ resurrection, the new Christian communities realized that Jesus would not return soon. They had to find ways to organize their lives for worship and service. Leaders like Paul wrote letters of teaching, explaining Jesus’ identity and work of redemption. They also wrote letters of encouragement and direction, suggesting ways in which the new churches might live according to the gospel. Paul first met Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16), and they worked closely together on several of Paul’s journeys. Timothy became leader of the Christian community at Ephesus, a church facing the challenge of false teachers. The letters to Timothy may date from a later time than the life of Paul, but they reflect Paul’s teaching and wish to pass on a lifetime of wisdom to a younger leader. In the focus passage, the author teaches about prayer, reminding Christians that there are many kinds of prayer and urging them to pray for everyone. Then comes the difficult question facing those who lived in the Roman Empire. Should a Christian pray for those in authority – for an emperor who was honoured as a god, before whose statue incense was burned and oaths taken? In a time of persecution, the author tells the community that they should pray for political leaders so that all might live in peace. This is not yielding to pagan custom, but a desire to see God’s peace (shalom) established, with justice for all people. For, the author says, God desires for all to come to the saving knowledge of the truth of the gospel. The author proclaims this message of inclusion because of belief that there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ. In verse 6, Jesus is described as “a ransom for all.” Though Christian theology has several ways of exploring what this means, a cornerstone of the faith is belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ declare God’s victory over evil and bring new life. This is the kernel of the author’s message. Like the church in Timothy’s time, Jesus’ hearers struggle to find a way to live in the world, and yet not of it. In Luke 16:1–13, Jesus tells a story of the shrewd manager. Accused of squandering his master’s money, the manager visits the debtors with a plan to repay the master and provide for his own future. Jesus commends him for finding a way to live in the current situation and speaks to the responsibility to live faithfully into the shalom of God’s reign. Lament can be a prayer for shalom when the relationship with God seems broken. In Jeremiah 8:18–9:1, the prophet laments over Judah. The people have been unfaithful to God’s commands. Leaders have been carried off into exile. Why does God not help? Psalm 79:1–9 echoes Jeremiah’s lament, weeping over the destruction of the Temple and the death of the people at the hands of the Babylonians. This is what life is like in the absence of shalom. God is a God of redemptive grace, forgiving and restoring to wholeness all who call on God’s name. This week, we consider our lives as people of prayer. What does it mean to call on God’s name, to pray in Jesus’ name? As citizens both of our own country and of God’s realm, what does it mean to pray for those in authority? As we pray for peace, how do we work for justice?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
OF GREAT VALUE The God we follow showers us with blessing each day. Through a lost sheep and a lost coin, Jesus teaches about God, who can be trusted to seek us always, pursuing us with steadfast love. God’s intention is to save. God’s people are called to live within this treasure and gift, rejoicing as the faith community grows. Luke 15:1–10 In chapter 14 of Luke, we learn that large crowds were following Jesus to hear him teach. Among them were tax collectors, Pharisees, and scribes. As chapter 15 opens, we hear grumbling among the Pharisees and the scribes: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responds to their complaint with parables. Imagine the response of the crowd who listens to these stories: Who puts 99 sheep in jeopardy to risk that one might be found? No one who is trying to run a livestock business! Who turns the whole house upside down – lighting a lamp and using precious oil – to search for a small amount of money and then, when it is found, throws a party? No one! But we might hear in these parables how God acts. God can be trusted to seek us and love us. Through these parables, we sense that the flock of sheep and the set of coins were not complete until the lost members were found. The Pharisees and the scribes perhaps understood, in keeping with many in first-century Middle Eastern cultures, that wealth and good fortune were signs of God’s blessing and that poverty was a sign of a person’s sin. Not only does Jesus upset this understanding, in the parables God first is cast in the role of a shepherd, a class of labourers held in low esteem within first-century Jewish culture. Then, even more shockingly, God is cast as a woman, the least powerful group in their culture. No wonder the gospel that Jesus proclaimed was seen as good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). In these parables we can glimpse God’s way, God’s searching love. The Pharisees and the scribes have been shocked by how Jesus seeks out those whom they perceive to be of little value. God, however, is persistent in love for all. The reign of God that Jesus proclaims is an upside-down world where one sheep is worth spending the energy normally reserved for 100, where one coin is worth domestic disruption and expenditure, and where one repentant sinner is cause for rejoicing. Jesus’ parables challenge all who listen to grow in understanding of what it means to be foolish, to be wise, to be lost, and to be found. Who will join in the celebration of God’s mercy? Even when hope is dim, God can be trusted. In the barren land described in Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28, a wasteland of the people’s own making, there is little hope. But even in such a place of desolation and among those who have sinned greatly, God – who seeks all who are lost – will be present and will not give up. The psalmist, in Psalm 14, trusts that God will restore God’s people. God will not forget those who are poor and who have been mistreated by those in power. Sin will not have the final word in God’s reign. Paul knows that he has received undeserved mercy, and gives thanks for this blessing in 1 Timothy 1:12–17. The good news for all is that, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and a woman a lost coin, God can be trusted to seek, to save, and to love. From Jesus’ teaching, we learn that God’s determination to seek us and to love us is beyond what humankind would consider wise or even rational. Jesus risked all to reach those in need of God’s saving grace. When have you felt most “lost” and most “found”? In what ways might you and your church be as relentlessly loving as God?
Thursday, September 06, 2007
What does it mean to be the church? Jesus and Paul call us to embrace both the cost and promise of living in a faith community shaped and transformed by the gospel. Because God is already present in every situation, we can work with confidence through the challenges we face, helping one another to live as faithful disciples. Philemon 1–21 Paul wrote many letters of encouragement and advice to the small communities of Christians throughout the Mediterranean world. But this letter is different. It is a personal business letter, written primarily to Philemon, though the letter mentions other Christians who meet at Philemon’s home. Paul, writing from prison, has a request for Philemon. In prison Paul has met Philemon’s slave, Onesimus. Perhaps Onesimus is in prison as a runaway. Perhaps Philemon has sent this slave to minister to Paul in prison. However this slave happens to be in prison, through Paul’s teaching Onesimus has become a Christian. Onesimus (meaning “useful”) once seemed useless to Philemon, but now is beneficial to Paul and to the community. Paul is sending Onesimus back, asking Philemon to forgive him and to receive him as a brother in Christ. Paul gently reminds Philemon that he owes Paul a debt, and suggests obliquely that Philemon might even consider freeing this slave. Slavery was customary in New Testament times, and Jesus tells stories of servants and masters. But here we see how the gospel message from its earliest times is beginning to disrupt and transform accepted social structures. The early Christian communities had to face some challenges. Is it right to own slaves? What happens when the slave of a Christian becomes a Christian, too? Paul’s word to them and to us is that, slave or free, we are all children of God. We are brothers and sisters in the faith, and equal in worth. What does it mean to be the church, a community so transformed in Christ? Paul’s words set a standard of behaviour, reminding disciples to be inclusive, hospitable, and forgiving. Disciples are called to exceed the demands of the law in hospitality. Belonging to the Christian community will cost Philemon something, but obedience to the gospel brings a new and different freedom for him and for Onesimus. Accustomed structures and customs are being transformed by Christ, and disciples are freed to respond to God’s call. The crowds described in Luke 14:25–33 follow Jesus because many think he is on a victory march to Jerusalem to reveal himself as Messiah, God’s anointed saviour. But Jesus tells them the high cost of discipleship. Following Jesus means giving up possessions. It means putting first things first and giving as much attention to the gospel message as to business or politics. Jeremiah speaks God’s transforming message not only in words, but in dramatic actions. In Jeremiah 18:1–11, the prophet visits the potter’s house and tells of God as the potter, reworking the clay (Israel) when the vessel is spoiled. Israel is called to repent and change. As Onesimus and Philemon are transformed by the gospel, as the disciples are set free to serve, so Israel is being shaped and changed by obedience to God. Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18 celebrates the way in which God has formed and shaped us in a wonderful way, even from before our birth. Inside each of us there is great potential, and God is at work in us before we recognize it. There is both cost and promise in following Jesus. As we continue on our spiritual journy, God is present in our lives, shaping and transforming us. Through us, transformation comes to all those communities of which we are part.
Friday, August 31, 2007
As we enter the second half of the Season after Pentecost, we continue to explore what it means to be the church. We live within the faith community, called to show mutual love and hospitality to all, for God excludes no one. We are mentors for one another as we learn what it means to follow God’s ways. Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16The early church suffered persecution in the Roman Empire, some of it severe. The book of Hebrews encourages Christians living in difficult times. Hebrews does not follow the form of traditional letters in New Testament times. It is more likely a long sermon, written by an unknown author between CE 60 and 95 to a Christian community of both Jews and Gentiles. In the focus verses, the author of Hebrews summarizes key messages for the fledgling Christian community. What does it mean to be the church? How should Christians behave in difficult times? Show love for other members of the Christian family and show love to strangers and guests. Remember those suffering in prison. Be faithful in marriage. Keep free from the love of money. Be content. Do good to others and share. In Christian communities today, we continue to open ourselves in mutual love to give and to receive. In showing hospitality to strangers, we cannot tell what effects our acts of kindness may have. Years later we may hear, “Thanks for your encouraging words and your help when I needed them.” We also may receive surprising gifts from strangers when we are open to them. The message of Hebrews continues to encourage us to remember those who are mentors to us, teaching the faith by word and example. We, in our turn, are guides to others. Above all, the writer of Hebrews calls early Christians, and us, to celebrate that Jesus Christ is a sure and constant presence, supporting us in adversity, encouraging and guiding us at all times. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We affirm this by praising God and by looking after each other, doing good, and sharing what we have. Jesus also is our mentor in the ways of faithful living. In Luke 14:1, 7–14, Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s home. In Luke, the writer shows Jesus as friendly with the Pharisees, supporting the Pharisees’ view of the Resurrection of the righteous. Jesus tells a story about a banquet to call his disciples to welcome all, including those who live outside the traditions and beliefs of the community. The passage in Hebrews spells out in more detail how this hospitality is lived in the Christian community. Today the lectionary begins a series of readings from Jeremiah. The prophet began his work about 627 BCE, in the last years of the independence of Judah. He is speaking to those who are about to be carried off into exile in Babylon. In Jeremiah 2:4–13, the prophet speaks God’s accusation of Israel for breaking the covenant. God has done so much for the people, but the people have given up God’s way and gone after unprofitable things. Jeremiah’s message is strengthened by Psalm 81:1, 10–16. The psalmist declares that God has brought Israel out of Egypt, but the people have forsaken God’s ways. The words of the psalmist affirm that God will be our mentor, guiding us if only we would listen. How do we work out what it means to live as disciples in everyday life? Today’s readings offer a number of examples to consider as we follow Christ’s leading in our community life. We have received the challenge to reach out with hospitality and to mentor one another in the faith. It may be comfortable to extend guiding love and hospitality to those within our own families and churches, but what does it mean to offer such a welcome to newcomers and strangers?
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Note: This is my last posting for awhile. I'm taking the summer off. See you in September. In the readings this week, we encounter God’s generosity in pouring out gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and healing. Such grace-filled hospitality inspires response, and we take up our role as faithful disciples, pouring out kindness and justice, and empowering the ministry of others, as we have opportunity. Luke 7:36—8:3 We can only speculate how the unnamed woman in this story came to know the grace-filled gift of forgiveness that Jesus poured out on her. The gospel does not include an account of any previous encounters with this woman, specifically. We are witnesses, however, to the hospitality that she extends to Jesus, pouring out her love, literally, through the gift of the costly ointment. According to the custom of the day, the dinner guests in this story would have been reclining at tables in a courtyard of Simon’s home. They would have removed their footwear upon entering the house. The woman, who invites herself into the scene and begins to kiss and cleanse Jesus’ feet, could have entered the courtyard from the street. The story focuses on the hospitality that she extends to Jesus – hospitality that Simon, even as host, does not. The scene sets up an implied challenge to Jesus’ identity: Simon wonders how a prophet would not know “what kind of woman” she is. When it appears that Jesus responds to this unspoken challenge, the point is made that he is indeed a prophet. Insofar as prophets are those who recognize faithfulness, Jesus recognizes the faith of this woman. When Jesus uses the example of two debtors being relieved of their debts, he contrasts the behaviour of Simon with the behaviour of the woman in how they respond to God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus explains the woman’s actions as a response of gratitude. Only the gospel of Luke comments on the grace-filled hospitality of the three women named in 8:1–3. It is thought that Mary Magdalene (who is not the unnamed woman of the previous story), Johanna, and Susanna received healing from Jesus, and were part of the group of women who travelled with Jesus and the other disciples. These women offered financial support as well, empowering the ministry of the gospel. Having an abundance of material goods does not prompt Ahab and Jezebel to acts of hospitality toward Naboth, as told in the story from 1 Kings 21:1–10, (11–14), 15–21a. Just as the woman in the passage from Luke responds out of faith, Naboth also responds faithfully. By refusing to give up his land, Naboth is upholding the covenant between the Hebrew people and God that is embodied in the land. The psalmist, like Naboth, seems threatened by deceitful plots and lies. Just as Naboth’s understanding of the goodness of God gives him courage to defy the king, the writer of Psalm 5:1–8 takes courage in the steadfast love of God. Like the unnamed woman in the passage from Luke, Paul also experiences God’s grace-filled hospitality poured out upon his own life. Paul, who had experienced political power as a Pharisee, relates in Galatians 2:15–21 his discovery of the power of vulnerability and love that those who have faith share with Jesus. We encounter God’s grace-filled hospitality in our lives, amazed at God’s generous outpouring of forgiveness, salvation, and healing. We respond through our own efforts at hospitality, so that we may welcome and forgive others, thus extending the gift of God’s grace and empowering ministry. In what ways do you extend grace-filled hospitality to those whom Christ places in your midst?
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
As we enter this Season after Pentecost, we encounter again the God who creates and delights in us, loves us, frees us, and calls us into discipleship. On Trinity Sunday, the texts invite us to explore images of God: Creator, Wisdom, Saviour, Spirit who guides into all truth. As we explore who God is, we rejoice in God’s world and work with God to care for creation. Psalm 8 When the psalmist looks at the created world, there is amazement. How majestic God is! God’s glory is seen in all that God has made. We human beings, even the youngest, respond to such wonders with praise for God’s goodness and loving care. God is our strong support. The middle section of the psalm celebrates humankind. The psalmist is amazed that God is mindful of us. Though insignificant in size compared to the majesty of the skies, we are just a little lower than God and "crowned with glory and honour" – an attribute usually given to God. We are made in God’s image, and this psalm celebrates our special place in the world God has made What does it mean to be "crowned with honour"? Verses 6 to 8 spell this out. We are given dominion over the created world. Does "dominion" mean having control over the earth to abuse it at will? We do need the harvest of land and sea in order to live. Yet often we abuse our position and act in ways harmful to the environment and to others with whom we share this planet. "Dominion" is not domination. God trusts us to look after the world and calls us to be partners in caring for creation. How can we be mindful of creation as God is mindful of us? Another story of creation is told in Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31. It describes Wisdom, a female figure – the first to be created by God and God’s partner when all things were made. Some readings of the text describe Wisdom as "like a master worker," helping God with the work of creation. Some say "like a little child," delighting in the human race, the crown of God’s creation. Wisdom claps her hands with joy, a wonderful image of the playfulness present in creating such a varied and amazing world. Also sounding the theme of God’s amazing love for us, in Romans 5:1–15 Paul reminds us that we are justified by faith. Through Jesus Christ, obedient to God even to death, we have access to God’s grace and peace with God. Christians in Rome faced severe persecution. Paul encourages them to hang on to their belief in God’s loving care. Some have misused this passage to suggest that suffering is necessary in order to produce hope. Rather, Paul is lifting up the assurance of God’s own presence with us in the midst of the world’s tribulations. We celebrate the faith and hope that God’s love pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is glorified by God’s Spirit, and that glory comes to us as God’s children. In John 16:12–15, Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit to guide us into truth. The Spirit helps us understand who Jesus is. The Spirit is our mentor, teaching us to take up our role as disciples. Sunday's lessons are a series of snapshots revealing something of who God is. The theme of glory recurs through these images – God’s glory, the glory and honour that crown humankind, and the glory of God that we share in Christ. God delights in us and in the created world; yet, we are limited by our humanity and cannot know God fully. Where do we catch glimpses of God’s greatness? How do we become partners with God in care for creation? In care for others? How is the Spirit guiding us as we learn what it means to be a disciple?
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Spirited Voices Throughout the Easter season, the readings have led us in an exploration of the acts of the Spirit in the early church. These faith ancestors responded to God’s powerful presence in lives committed to mutual ministry. Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate the breath and fire of the Spirit that lives and moves and acts among God’s people. Acts 2:1–21 The events of the day of Pentecost are both surprising and expected. Expected by the reader because throughout the gospel of Luke – the first volume of the two-volume work that includes Acts – the Holy Spirit intervenes supernaturally on major occasions (Luke 1:35, 3:22). Expected, also, because the reader and the disciples know that the coming of the Spirit is promised, even from the very beginning of the gospel (Luke 3:16). Yet, the coming of the Spirit in this time and place also is surprising. Gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost, bystanders are amazed to hear a multitude of languages being spoken by Galileans, who are notorious for being monolingual. If the disciples need convincing (see 1:6) that their mission is to have a scope beyond their group and nation, this surely provides it. The book of Acts tells us that Peter stands and speaks, referring to authorities that the crowd of Jews and Jewish converts know and trust. By referring to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, Peter lets the crowd know that this giving of the Spirit is the action of God, not a freakish event. Peter relates not only to the traditions of his hearers but also to their recent experiences. Jesus, of whom they had experience, was empowered by this same God (see verses 22–24). With this speech or sermon the disciples begin a public ministry that will continue to be energized by the Spirit’s indwelling and fuelled by the Spirit’s power. It is this public ministry and this Spirit that are still the heart and soul of our church today. As Peter does in his sermon, the psalmist in Psalm 104:24–34, 35b identifies and praises God as the creator and sustainer of all that is. Nothing happens that is not known to God or is outside of God’s power. All things, even the sea, which seems so chaotic, are within God’s realm. Perhaps those who heard the disciples speak in a multitude of languages on Pentecost might have recalled the story of Babel in Genesis 11:1–9, the account of an ambitious people who attempted to overcome boundaries set in place by God. Divine judgment in response to their effort to “make a name for ourselves” included a confusion of human languages. As a leader in the early church community that was sparked by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Paul describes the ongoing presence of the Spirit in Romans 8:14–17. By the Spirit each one becomes part of God’s family and is sustained by the Spirit in all situations, including suffering. In John 14:8–17, (25–27), a portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples prior to his death, Jesus describes the role of the Holy Spirit as “his presence in his absence.” Just as the Spirit gave Jesus’ followers gathered at Pentecost the power to speak in many languages, so the Spirit – described here as “advocate” and “spirit of truth” – will give the disciples the means to bear witness to Jesus. Pentecost Sunday celebrates the animating and sustaining presence of God’s Spirit within the church. Perhaps it is for this reason that Pentecost is often celebrated as the “birthday of the Christian church.” The Spirit gives the church its mission and the power to undertake it. As you look into the future, what mission is the Spirit giving to you and your church?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Opportunities for unexpected ministry arise when faith confronts powers that oppress. When can we not walk away from situations of pressing need? Where does God call us to bring freedom and compassion? To live in Christ challenges us to engage in mission. To dwell in the Spirit renews us with waters of life. We trust God’s power to deliver. Acts 16:16–34. The practice of holding property and sharing goods in common marked the early church’s identity, as reported in the early chapters of Acts. This “community of goods” was exercised for the common good of all (Acts 4:32–34). In today’s focus passage, the “owners” of a young woman misuse her for the sake of personal gain. A confrontation unfolds between powers that exploit human life and those that bring deliverance. In an occurrence similar to the exorcisms by Jesus, the “spirit” in the girl speaks the truth about those through whom God works. Enacting the gospel’s liberation can be costly. The owners of this girl do not bring Paul and Silas to court out of theological disagreement. Their source of income has been cut off. In reprisal, they charge the pair on two counts. They are Jews (true). They advocate anti-Roman customs (false). Flogging and imprisonment result. The details of “innermost cell” and feet fastened in stocks paint a scene where escape seems impossible. Yet even before the earthquake physically looses their bonds, Paul and Silas act in freedom. They sing. They pray. The mission the magistrates intended to stop keeps its focus and adapts to its new locale. Prisoners listen. The gospel is proclaimed. Release comes to the captives and to the captor. For what shakes as much as, or more than, the ground is the certainty of the jailer. His question of “what must I do” calls to mind the same question that crowds asked of John the Baptizer (Luke 3:10) and then Peter on Pentecost (2:37). Compassion takes form when Paul and Silas respond to the jailer, rather than flee from his custody. The text ends with a marvellous picture of mutual ministry. The jailer takes Paul and Silas into his home and washes their wounds. Paul and Silas baptize the jailer and his household. They welcome former adversaries into the community. The night ends with a meal. Table fellowship is a key mark of Christian community in Acts. Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9–16) had broken the boundaries of such fellowship. Paul, Silas, and the jailer enact its grace. The themes of life in Christ and reconciliation with God connect several of our passages. John 17:20–26 relates the prayer of Jesus for disciples of all time. What binds us together across time and place is the gift of unity with God in Christ. Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21 asserts that life is a gift as dependable as the One who guarantees it. We are all invited to receive this gift. God’s power to deliver provides the assurance that we may trust in God’s promises. Psalm 97 joins the promise of “rescue” with the assurance of justice. We are delivered to newness of life, not more of the same. Revelation affirms that God will come to “repay” according to one’s works. Reversals like those experienced by the slave girl, as well as by Paul and Silas and the jailer, narrate how God’s “repayment” includes rescue and justice. Abuses and violations of human worth still occur and may catch us off guard. Opportunities to witness and serve still arise unscheduled. The Spirit beckons our ministry in all situations.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Currents of God’s Spirit carry us in directions we may not have chosen and to margins where we may not have gone. Lydia welcomes the gospel’s message and its messenger by a river. Her baptism christens mutuality of ministry. Waters of life wash through all the readings today: inviting love, making persons whole, and imparting holy presence. Acts 16:9–15. In the verses preceding the focus scripture, the Spirit twice changed Paul’s planned itinerary. His intent to head east now encounters this vision to head west. This text provides another turning point in Acts. It is the first of several passages where the narrative shifts in voice from “they” to “we.” The author becomes an unnamed travel companion of Paul. Paul sails from Troas, a port city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to Neapolis of Macedonia (modern-day Greece). The boundary of Europe has been crossed. Other boundaries soon fall as well. Paul and his entourage go outside the gate of Philippi on the Sabbath to a place where women gather for prayer by the river. Paul sits and speaks with them. In that era, such an act constituted a breach of religious tradition. Men did not speak with women who were strangers. The affront parallels Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Among the women is one named Lydia, most likely a Gentile. The passage indicates she is from Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth, a luxury item for the wealthy. This detail hints she is a woman of means who moves in privileged circles in her business. The omission of any reference to a man and to “her household” further suggests her independence. By giving her name, the author of Acts indicates Lydia played a major role in the Philippian mission. Acts weaves its story with the theme of openness to and opening by God’s Spirit. The Spirit opened Paul to a new geographical direction. Now, the Spirit opens Lydia’s heart to the gospel’s proclamation. Lydia and her household are welcomed into the Christian community through baptism. Lydia extends hospitality in return. She urges Paul and his companions to be guests at her home. The final verse of this chapter reveals that Lydia’s hospitality and leadership extends to hosting the new Christian church in Philippi. The movement of Lydia’s story, not to mention some of its language, is suggestive of the Emmaus Road episode (Luke 24:13–35), where the extending of hospitality prepares for discerning the risen Christ. Waters serve as a common backdrop in our readings. Lydia experiences and extends welcome by a river. Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5 speaks of the river of life that flows in the midst of Jerusalem. Those waters bring new life and fruitfulness. John 5:1–9 relates Jesus’ healing of an invalid by a pool. His cry for help, like that of the man in Paul’s vision, finds life-changing response. Inclusion and hospitality are also key themes in these passages. Psalm 67 celebrates God’s saving power “among all nations.” God’s praise is invited from “all peoples.” In John 14:23–29, Jesus promises that God is “making a home” among those who love. It is part of a passage that opened with the promise of a house with many dwelling places. The enduring nature of God’s welcome finds testimony in Revelation, where the gates of the city will never be shut. By the river, Paul welcomes Lydia into the church. Lydia then welcomes the church into her home. The ministry of Jesus Christ is mutual. When have you experienced God’s Spirit leading you into community with people who are different from you? What did you learn in that? In what ways does the example of Lydia encourage your own practice of hospitality – to those around you and to God’s Spirit?
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Spirit breaks open the community of Christ to move in new ways. How and where we set boundaries in Christian community is always subject to the gracious nature of God’s love. The texts this week witness to a new vision for God’s people and of all creation. Where the Spirit leads, the church is called to follow in love. Acts 11:1–18 The story of Acts has steadily moved in the direction of the church becoming more inclusive. The crowds gathered on Pentecost have been a prelude to the welcome of Samaritan believers, the Ethiopian official, and now the “God-fearing,” gentile Cornelius and his household. Peter reports to the Jerusalem elders that this is the work of the Spirit. Criticism of Peter gives way to praise of God. The dietary codes set out in Leviticus 14 had defined what could and could not be eaten by followers of Judaism. In verse 6, Peter describes the animals he saw in his vision, coupled with the command to “kill and eat.” The animals listed by Peter are not all “unclean.” The point of the vision is that there is no distinction made between those that are “clean” and those that are not. Peter’s naming of these animals parallels lists in Genesis 1:24 and 1:26. Those summaries of God’s creatures are followed closely by the declaration of God’s assessing all that had been made as “very good.” That goodness of all creation is also a key element of this passage in Acts. “Profane” is the centrepiece of Peter’s initial objection to the vision. It is a word of various meanings. Peter uses it in the sense of something that is not holy. The more general meaning of the Greek word used here, koinos, is “common.” This same word is the root for koinonia. Koinonia, as it is used in Acts and the epistles, serves as a synonym for Christian community. Koinonia refers to the “common life,” shared by those who follow the way of Jesus. Peter thought there was something wrong with things that are “common,” yet our life within the Body of Christ is “common.” Peter here appears before the Jerusalem believers, some of whom have taken exception to the mission to the Gentiles. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that witnesses to Jesus find themselves questioned. Earlier, it had been by the Sanhedrin. Here and in Acts 15, it is by a council of Christian leaders. Later, it will be by local magistrates and Roman officials. Whatever the context, one central issue remains the same. How will those in authority balance commitment to tradition with openness to hearing a new word? Psalm 148 and Revelation 21:1–6 share the theme of new ways of seeing and praising God. In the psalm, all creation has a part in God’s praise. Even unclean things, as in Peter’s vision, are given voice and place. The author of Revelation celebrates God’s working of a new creation. New heaven and new earth invite fresh perspective and bring hope. Love as the touchstone of God’s nature and activity stands at the core of John 13:31–35. God has embraced us in such love through Christ. As a result, we find ourselves commanded to love others. Revelation 21:4 gives witness to such love. In tenderness, God’s love wipes away our tears. In power, God’s love destroys death. Such love returns us to Acts, where all find a place in community by the grace of God’s love. God has done, and still does, new things in our midst. God seeks individuals and communities willing to risk new ways of seeing and receiving. How can we open ourselves to welcome the still emerging and unfolding story of God’s gracious actions in our time? In what new ways might Jesus’ command to love take shape for us at Kairos?
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Holy work takes shape in ministry with those in our communities and outside our circles. Holy work is shown by words and actions that wipe away tears, restore life, and testify to God’s love. Holy work unfolds when we open our lives to the Spirit and follow God’s leading. Holy work is done by those who see need and respond in Jesus’ example. Acts 9:36–43 The author of Acts, who probably also wrote Luke, identifies Tabitha with a title given to no other person in the New Testament: mathetria, the feminine form of the Greek word for “disciple.” Tabitha is one of many women in Luke-Acts who play significant roles, including leadership: Elizabeth and Mary; the women who minister to Jesus; the women who keep vigil at the cross; now Tabitha; later Lydia and Priscilla. Tabitha’s ministry among the widows of her community is evident in this text. Acts does not tell us whether Tabitha was herself a widow. The emphasis is on her work among them. And it is holy work. Hebrew and Christian scriptures alike declare God’s desire for widows to be treated with kindness and justice. The frequency of these urgings suggests that such mandates were not always heeded. Widows remained vulnerable. What does Tabitha do? She clothes them. In the example of Jesus, her compassion is hands-on. The narrator blends words and memories from Jesus’ ministry into this story. The raising of Tabitha strongly resembles Jesus’ raising of a little girl in Mark 5:35–41. The parallel is striking between the words of Peter (“Tabitha, get up”) and Jesus (“talitha cum,” Aramaic for “little girl, get up”). Also, Peter’s “showing” Tabitha to be alive uses the same word as in Acts 1:3: “[Jesus] presented himself alive.” Peter, too, engages in holy work, following the example of Jesus. Tabitha’s story illustrates the unfolding theme in Acts of pushing boundaries wider and wider. Persecution dispersed the church beyond Jerusalem and its vicinity (Acts 8:1). The baptisms of the Ethiopian official (8:38) and Saul (9:18) nudged the church’s practice of inclusion another step. Tabitha’s town, Joppa, had been the setting for Jonah’s call to minister to the hated Assyrians. In Acts, Peter makes a similar leap of faith in ministry among Gentiles (10:1ff). And Tabitha? Tabitha ministers with women routinely overlooked. In so doing, she weaves a community who grieves her death, celebrates her gifts, and witnesses her restoration to life. As Tabitha clothed and cared for her community, the psalmist in Psalm 23 speaks of God’s shepherding that restores human life. The verbs reveal the nature of God’s work: makes to lie down, leads, comforts, prepares, anoints. Revelation 7:9–17 offers the witness of those whose praise of God grows directly out of God’s saving action. In John 10:22–30, Jesus reveals that his works testify to his identity. As Tabitha’s character is revealed in her ministry with the widows, so Jesus’ actions reveal him. Some traditions observe this day as Good Shepherd Sunday. Psalm 23 has direct thematic connections with that observance. John 10:22–30 is set in an entire chapter that explores Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Consider Tabitha’s story. In what ways might her ministry provide another perspective into this observance and our own ministries of “shepherding”? Holy work gets done when a need is seen and then met. Tabitha and Peter emulate Jesus not only in words, but in actions as well. What might Tabitha teach us about ministry that is at once both ordinary and boundary-breaking? What might others “show” as evidence of your ministry in their midst?
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
We encounter Christ in dramatic turnings and quiet unfoldings that change us. The texts for this week tell stories of restoration that emerge from brokenness. They also speak the ancient confession of Jesus as kurios (“Lord”). The Risen Christ stands over and above all rival claims to our allegiance. The Spirit commissions us to this witness. Acts 9:1–6, (7–20) Earlier in Acts, those who gathered to witness the stoning of Stephen “laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). Saul approves of the killing, and then takes a leading role in “ravaging” the church (8:1–3). This persecution scatters the community. The focus scripture opens with Saul seeking out the dispersed followers of “The Way.” “The Way” is an expression for the Christian community in Acts. In Hebrew Scriptures, the “way” was an expression for living in conformity with the Torah. Acts’ adoption of this title suggests that its audience continued to regard itself as a part of the Jewish community. This first of three narratives of Saul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (22:3–16; 26:4–23) contains three core details. This encounter begins with a flash of light that puts Saul on the ground. There is a voice that calls Saul by name and directs him what to do next. And there is the ensuing loss of Saul’s sight. Sometimes overlooked in the drama of Saul’s experience of call is the story of the call of Ananias. It, too, is a story of transformation. Like the rest of the dispersed Christian community, Ananias had good cause to mistrust Saul. Saul had done “much evil” to the church. Yet, on the Damascus road, Saul had been “turned.” So now Ananias is challenged to a turning of his own. Ananias is to go to Saul and bring healing to this former enemy. This is an encounter with Christ, whose call to reconciliation remains as timely for the church today as it was for Ananias. The Spirit brings restoration to Saul through both the word (“Brother Saul”) and touch of Ananias. The narrative ends with Saul’s proclamation of Jesus. Both Saul and Ananias have had encounters with Christ that transform them and their communities. As noted by Rob Wall in The New Interpreter’s Bible (vol. X, p. 150): “The primary purpose of visionary episodes in Acts is not to convert non-believers…but to commission prophets to missionary tasks.” God calls us into new life, whose freshness flows from restoration and toward mission. Psalm 30 celebrates the God who turns mourning into dancing, weeping into joy. In Revelation 5:11–14, the community worships the Lamb, once slaughtered, but now standing beside the throne of God. Peter, in John 21:1–19, reverses his threefold denial of Jesus (John 18:15–27) by threefold affirmation of love for Jesus. Peter’s restoration comes through encounter with Christ. Sunday’s texts depict encounter with God in many ways. Saul’s story comes in a dramatic turning, while Ananias’ story is in quiet persuasion. The psalmist speaks out of a near-death experience that results in healing and praise. In John, encounter comes in recognition on the lake, and then in a conversation after a meal. The faithful in Revelation encounter God in worship. Encountering Christ calls, restores, and commissions Christian community. The forms those encounters take vary widely, but they all lead to renewal. For they remind us in whose presence we live and in whose name we serve. In what ways, and through what persons, have you encountered Jesus? What trust is required for you to risk changing, especially in your places of brokenness, so that God’s Spirit may work renewal and restoration?
We encounter Christ in dramatic turnings and quiet unfoldings that change us. The texts for this week tell stories of restoration that emerge from brokenness. They also speak the ancient confession of Jesus as kurios (“Lord”). The Risen Christ stands over and above all rival claims to our allegiance. The Spirit commissions us to this witness. Acts 9:1–6, (7–20) Earlier in Acts, those who gathered to witness the stoning of Stephen “laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). Saul approves of the killing, and then takes a leading role in “ravaging” the church (8:1–3). This persecution scatters the community. The focus scripture opens with Saul seeking out the dispersed followers of “The Way.” “The Way” is an expression for the Christian community in Acts. In Hebrew Scriptures, the “way” was an expression for living in conformity with the Torah. Acts’ adoption of this title suggests that its audience continued to regard itself as a part of the Jewish community. This first of three narratives of Saul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (22:3–16; 26:4–23) contains three core details. This encounter begins with a flash of light that puts Saul on the ground. There is a voice that calls Saul by name and directs him what to do next. And there is the ensuing loss of Saul’s sight. Sometimes overlooked in the drama of Saul’s experience of call is the story of the call of Ananias. It, too, is a story of transformation. Like the rest of the dispersed Christian community, Ananias had good cause to mistrust Saul. Saul had done “much evil” to the church. Yet, on the Damascus road, Saul had been “turned.” So now Ananias is challenged to a turning of his own. Ananias is to go to Saul and bring healing to this former enemy. This is an encounter with Christ, whose call to reconciliation remains as timely for the church today as it was for Ananias. The Spirit brings restoration to Saul through both the word (“Brother Saul”) and touch of Ananias. The narrative ends with Saul’s proclamation of Jesus. Both Saul and Ananias have had encounters with Christ that transform them and their communities. As noted by Rob Wall in The New Interpreter’s Bible (vol. X, p. 150): “The primary purpose of visionary episodes in Acts is not to convert non-believers…but to commission prophets to missionary tasks.” God calls us into new life, whose freshness flows from restoration and toward mission. Psalm 30 celebrates the God who turns mourning into dancing, weeping into joy. In Revelation 5:11–14, the community worships the Lamb, once slaughtered, but now standing beside the throne of God. Peter, in John 21:1–19, reverses his threefold denial of Jesus (John 18:15–27) by threefold affirmation of love for Jesus. Peter’s restoration comes through encounter with Christ. Sunday’s texts depict encounter with God in many ways. Saul’s story comes in a dramatic turning, while Ananias’ story is in quiet persuasion. The psalmist speaks out of a near-death experience that results in healing and praise. In John, encounter comes in recognition on the lake, and then in a conversation after a meal. The faithful in Revelation encounter God in worship. Encountering Christ calls, restores, and commissions Christian community. The forms those encounters take vary widely, but they all lead to renewal. For they remind us in whose presence we live and in whose name we serve. In what ways, and through what persons, have you encountered Jesus? What trust is required for you to risk changing, especially in your places of brokenness, so that God’s Spirit may work renewal and restoration?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The story of God at work in the world continues to unfold. The Spirit works through persons and communities whose words and deeds bear witness to the God who raised Jesus to life. Through that witness, God calls us to accountability and forgiveness. God still speaks, inviting all to receive the Spirit and follow God’s way. Acts 5:27–32 The book of Acts “bridges” the gospels and the New Testament letters, or epistles. Acts moves from stories of Jesus to the stories of Jesus’ community. Acts and Luke share special connections. Tradition attributes the author of Luke as the author of Acts also. But it is more than that. A gospel that began with an edict from Rome (Luke 2:1) comes full circle with the concluding testimony to Paul’s arrival in Rome (Acts 28:14ff). This unfolding story does not come without conflict. The confrontation in the focus scripture began in an earlier edict banning witness to Jesus (Acts 4:18). However, the book of Acts is as much about the acts of the Spirit as about the acts of the apostles, and edicts will not stifle the Spirit. This text too often has been made into an anti-Semitic rant, with tragic results. The problem here is not Judaism. Peter bears witness to Jesus’ raising by the “God of our ancestors.” The church affirms its Jewish roots. The problem is inflexible religious institutions and leaders who will not allow themselves or others to move with the freedom of God’s Spirit. This text calls such institutions and leadership to accountability, in Peter’s time and in our own. Peter’s answer to the Council echoes words and phrases of his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14–36). Peter defends the apostles’ witness on the basis of “obeying” God. The word translated as obey is peitharecho. It literally means “to follow or do first.” Obedience does not blind itself to reason. Obedience is a matter of priority. Faithful obedience puts first things first. “We are witnesses” reveals a central truth to the whole of Acts. Witness involves community. Witness takes shape in the community’s words, as it does here. Witness also takes shape in the totality of the community’s life together. Earlier passages in Acts tell of community in the sharing of goods, table fellowship, prayer, and attending to teaching. All that the Christian community does – then and now – forms our witness to what and Whom we “put first.” Today’s other readings share in affirming that “God will be God.” Psalm 118:14–29 speaks of God using a stone rejected by builders. God will be God in how and through whom God chooses to work. Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Revelation 1:4–8 declares God to be Alpha and Omega, encompassing all. The litany of Psalm 150 renders praise to God that is universal both in setting and instrument. God will be God wherever life is found. In John 20:19–31 as well as Revelation 1:4–8, God is revealed through brokenness. The faith of Thomas and the wounds of Jesus run close together. The “piercing” of Jesus in Revelation addresses a community who knows suffering first-hand. The fracture in Acts between apostles and temple leaders is another intersection of brokenness and witness. These texts witness that God will be God in the midst in such experiences. We continue to encounter the God who will be God in our lives and our world. In the midst of our own unfolding experiences of God, the church remains a community called by the Spirit to witness. When is it a challenge to “put first things first” in terms of your faith and convictions? What might people in your community learn of the “God who will be God” from the witness of your life and the life of your church?
Sunday, April 01, 2007
The Easter story is at the center of Christian faith. Our lives orbit the mystery of Jesus alive and the tomb empty like the earth around the sun. In the Resurrection, the God of new things transforms reality and offers hope and life to all. Luke 24:1–12 or John 20:1–18 “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6). The Resurrection happens without any eyewitnesses. Stories of Jesus’ re-appearance to his disciples soon follow, but early on that first Easter morning there is only an empty tomb and angelic messengers to report the news. The Resurrection is an incredible event – not just in the popular sense of spectacular, but also in the sense of “not credible” or “not to be believed.” Though firmly asserting that Jesus is risen, Luke shows that the Resurrection can not be fully comprehended by human minds and hearts. The women at the tomb are perplexed and even frightened. They then describe to the apostles what they have experienced. Their report is received as an “idle tale” and not believed. The Greek word translated here as idle does not mean “chit-chat,” but rather “nonsense.” Why? Is it because humans try to make sense of new facts by fitting them into old frames of reference? Some things may require new frames. The empty tomb is God’s new frame and cannot be compared to other experiences. The Easter message is not just about a change in Jesus, but also about a change in all faithful followers. To live as an Easter people is to live with mystery and to allow that mystery to transform us. In the alternate gospel reading for today, John 20:1–18, there are three witnesses to the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the one whom Jesus loved” (v. 2). Although the story begins with Mary offering a plausible explanation for what has happened, it ends in mystery. The witnesses cannot explain the empty tomb or the folded burial cloth; they can only experience it and believe in God’s power. A condensed version of the Easter account can be found in Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34–43. Though Peter and the other apostles were not eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, they experienced the resurrected Christ and were able to share the power of this event with others. In this sense we are all able to be witnesses to the Resurrection as we proclaim the good news. The hope we experience in God’s transforming work is given expression by the prophet in Isaiah 65:17–25. This magnificent vision of a new heaven and a new earth is a glimpse of a world transformed by God. As we wonder at the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb but did not seal Jesus’ fate, so the psalmist marvels that “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24, according to Jewish liturgical tradition, is one of the psalms sung at the Passover meal. It celebrates victory at the hand of God. That victory had seemed so unlikely! Only God could do this. As we ponder the Resurrection, we sense a similar victory. What else can we do but rejoice? In 1 Corinthians 15:19–26, Paul pushes the meaning of Easter beyond life and death to a vision of God being over all. Paul offers a context for understanding the power of the Resurrection to restore the world to wholeness in God by seeing Jesus as the countermeasure to Adam. Celebrating Easter is about changing our frame of reference from the expected to the incredible. God is present in what seems to be absence. In what ways have you sensed or experienced the joy of Easter?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
As we entered the Season of Lent, we considered God’s abundant love and steadfast promise and how these shape our lives. As we enter this Holy Week and encounter again the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and final days on earth, we call out for God’s abundant mercy and give thanks for God’s faithfulness in our lives. Luke 19:28–40 (and Luke 22:14—23:56)“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” The psalmist’s words in Psalm 118:26, part of the Liturgy of the Palms, set the scene for our entrance into the events of Holy Week. Today on Palm Sunday we, too, shout our praises. Later, Jesus will move beyond the jubilant crowds toward the true revelation of his identity and purpose on the cross. And we will follow, quieting our voices as we enter into the passion of our God. The writer of Luke tells us that the throngs of disciples are shouting triumphantly because of the deeds of power they have witnessed. Jesus has told them, however, that the ultimate revelation of his identity will be through betrayal, death, and resurrection (9:22). This shift begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey, recalling the messianic promise: “Your king comes to you...humble and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Kings in Jesus’ day served by ruling, but Jesus is one who rules by serving, even to the point of suffering and death. During the Last Supper, Jesus reminds the disciples that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:26). The writer of Luke intends readers to understand that the events of this week are part of God’s plan and that Jesus understands how he is to be engaged in the fulfillment of that plan (Luke 18:31, 22:37). This plan will not be thwarted. If the disciples stop their proclamation, then even the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40). God’s plan does not end with Jesus’ resurrection. As we will see through the readings for the Easter season, the book of Acts – the second volume of the two-volume work that is Luke-Acts – takes up God’s plan in the life of the church. Throughout Holy Week are warnings and hints about the struggle that there will be in the lives of the faithful (Luke 22:28–33, 23:28–31). Jesus’ conduct while under trial becomes a model for all faithful followers in their trials. The promise of Jesus’ resurrection becomes a promise for the church. We learn more about life as a servant in Isaiah 50:4–9a. The servant figure in this passage may be an unknown individual or a personification of the whole nation. Though treated harshly and unfairly, the servant trusts in God’s vindication. Christian tradition has found a resonance between the servant’s experience and Jesus’ suffering as he faced the cross. The verses of Psalm 31:9–16 are the lament of a faithful servant. This heartfelt cry to God is painful and vivid. Yet, the psalmist trusts God. At times, the only prayer humanly possible is “You are my God.” Jesus’ death is not a loss of hope. Philippians 2:5–11 declares, in the words of an early Christian hymn, that “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” By quoting this hymn, Paul connects us to the way that the faithful followers in the early church understood the events of Holy Week. Paul urges the Philippians to imitate Jesus. Though “equal with God,” Jesus “emptied himself” by taking the form of a servant. There are cries of anguish, trust, thanks, and hope as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem. God hears them all! Faithful servants today experience Holy Week though many traditions and rituals. Which Holy Week traditions are most meaningful to you? If you could begin a new tradition for Holy Week, what would it be?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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