Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Preparing for the third Sunday after the Epiphany - Psalm 27:1, 4-9

The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? 
The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

 Luke A. Powery and Willie Jennings write:

"The gift of direction most often comes into view as the central benefit of God's light.  God directs us through and around those things of life that would harm us or even destroy us.  God will guide us as we face the traps of our enemies and the unanticipated times of trouble.  God's delivering hand is also God's guiding hand.  Salvation encompasses sanctification.  The action of God makes possible the response of humanity.  The psalmist's heart speaks the right response to God's gracious direction: seek God.  Ask for the help that God gives.  The seeking in itself marks sanctifications form.  To be sanctified is to be one whose life follows God and goes where God directs.  A sanctified life is a life bound to God in fundamental movement toward God.  Such movement gives meaning to the ideas of being set apart to God for service.  This is the essence of the concept of holiness--a life of movement toward God, a life that follows God's direction (The Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary - Preaching Year A, page 53)."

While I love what Powery and Jennings have written, I also think that this Psalm is a calling for us to trust rather than to fear.  It is a mode of operation that all followers of God are called to---that is to wait on God, the one who is our Light and our Salvation.  To lean into God in such a way as to seek and find light, life, strength,, courage and direction from God...even in the midst of the anxiety, inhumanity, brutality and greed of our 21st century context. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Preparing for the third Sunday after the Epiphany - Isaiah 9:1-4

[a]Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

This text may be familiar to some as it was just recently utilized in some churches for Christmas Eve.  We immediately begin to hear the stories of Christmas ring in our ears...but this text bears a second look.

First, let us not take a pejorative view of this text that creates a false dichotomy between Israel and gentiles (the remaining nations).  It should be read as good news for all of God's people, for we have all been in darkness...and God is concerned about all of God's children.  God is doing a new thing in which the bonds of oppression are broken and all of God's children are able and invited to walk in this dawning light.

Second, we must recognize that this light breaking through the darkness entails both liberation and guidance.  Oppressors are freed from their darkness of oppressing and the oppressed are freed from the yolk of their oppressors.  We are led by this light from darkness to joy...guided, if you will, by the sovereign hand of the light bearer. 

Isaiah's prophetic words lay the foundation of a week long look at the light of salvation.  More importantly, however, these conversations will bear witness to Paul's call to the church in Corinth to remain united.  So I will leave you with this question to ponder as we journey towards another Sunday: what do you think Isaiah would say the connection is between light and unity?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the subject below in the comments section.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Preparing for the second Sunday afer the Epiphany - John 1:29-42

John 1:29-42
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

Can you hear that ancient voice that tells us of the one who would pave the way for Christ's coming?  Do you see how God utilized John's voice to draw others to God's self?  Do you hear how one voice testifying to God lead other voices to speak their own recognitions of God?  It is interesting that in the cacophony of voices found in the world, Jesus' word is heard among them.  Perhaps the continuation of God's words mixed with ours is the most beautiful miracle of this passage.

We read these words and know that the cycle continues.  God speaks, humans respond.  Humans speak to the presence of God, others are drawn to God.  God speaks (in the person of Jesus) to those who would testify anew, and Jesus is revealed and seen.  Then, as if that wasn't enough, God speaks again saying, "come and see" and invites his newest disciples (those who once followed John) to come even closer as Jesus reveals more deeply to them that he is the messiah.

There is an interesting reliance by Jesus on the words of those he encounters.  While the word became flesh and dwelt among humanity, humanity has a role in perpetuating that Word.  Paul will later remind us that through the hearing of the word, we come to know the Word (logos/Jesus) because faith comes in that hearing (Romans 10:17).  It might be well for us to remember that the Word and words do things.  They can enact love, mercy and grace.  Let us not take for granted, nor underestimate the power of the Word...or even the power of our own words.  Let us remember that the Word heals, delivers and saves.  Let our words rise up in testimony to the Word made flesh that we may continuously be a part of the conversation and that our words may lead others to the Word that is life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Preparing for the second Sunday after the Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge - because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

I realize that not everyone is as enamored with Paul as I am, and I admit it took me a long time to get where I am at, but I absolutely love Paul's writings.  If you haven't spent much time looking at the letters that are attributed to Paul, you might have missed some important insights:
1) Paul counts us all as saints - those set apart for God - because God claimed us and we claimed God.
2) Every one of Paul's letters opens with an affirmation of God's grace and everyone ends with God's grace.  This is simply because, according to Paul, all of our lives in Christ, at every point, depends on God's freely bestowed gift.
3) Although the varying churches that Paul writes to are probably house churches, it is important to understand that Paul saw believers everywhere belonging to the same large family regardless of local affiliation.

Specific to this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is suggesting that our individual stories are always to be viewed in the bigger story of what God is doing in and through Christ Jesus.  The beginning of our faith and the culmination of God's work are a deeply woven tapestry.  Our story i sa part of God's story and our story affects those around us.  Additionally, Paul suggests that a basic human response to the grace that has been freely given to us is thanksgiving towards God.

So my question for today is quite simple:  Have you thanked God today?  Take some time and do that now and if you feel moved to do so, share some of the things you are grateful to God for in the comments section below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Preparing for the second Sunday after Epiphany - Psalm 40:1-11

Psalm 40:1-11 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. 6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. 8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." 9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly. 11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.

David speaks; God hears.  God acts; David sings.  David testifies; David asks for more mercy.  And so the story goes.  The children of God speak, God listens and acts.  The children of God sing songs and praise God.  They bear witness to the mighty acts that God has done in their midst and in telling their stories, they see a little more clearly what it is that God desires for them.  Then, as if they were afraid that there would never be enough or that their portion has run out, they cry for God's mercy, love and protection once again.  A familiar pattern that we have seen throughout the ages.

Take, for instance, the Hebrews - their stories of oppression, golden calves, angst about meat and water - every one of their teaching moments could quite possibly be defined by the above pattern.  Yay, we are free from Egypt!  God give us meat, for at least in Egypt we ate meat!  God thank you for your deliverance and the parting of the Red Sea.  God, we can't wait on Moses to come down with rules so we will just make a few of our own...how do you like our cow?

Luke A. Powery and Willie Jennings says it this way:

"The sounds of praise reveal God our creator.  They are never inconsequential words.  They expose the character of God as faithful and caring, always suitable for anthropomorphic gesture: God leans over with a hand cupping the ear, listening to his creatures.  And then God speaks yet again, and then the hearer is compelled to speak.  The hearer-turned-speaker is a vital part of an epiphany, the revealing (Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary - Year A, pg 48)."

So I'm just wondering this morning, what is being revealed to you about God and God's faithfulness as we participate thousands of years later in this hearer-turned-speaker type of revealing that occurs when we praise God and testify to his acts in our midst?

I would love it if you would share your stories and comments in the appropriate section below.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Preparing for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1-7 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor." 4 But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God." 5 And now the LORD says-- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength-- 6 he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." 7 This is what the LORD says-- the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel-- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

I want you to remember this this week:  We are not forgotten!  From the servant Isaiah to the church in Corinth to the world around us today, we are not forgotten!

We are going to be discussing The Good News of Faithfulness next Sunday...so I want us to reflect for a moment first on God's desire.  In the text before us today, God speaks of how he has called his servant even before he was born.  God will make his glory and splendor to shine through Isaiah.  The call goes so far back, that it may well have been conceived in the immersion of the calling of God to humanity.  Before birth, God's desire to speak to us, to gather us, and to redeem us was all bound up in this servant's life.  It is a beautiful picture not only for Israel, but for teh gentiles as well (that's many of you and I).

There is a significant beauty about God's ongoing divine self-revelation that is note worthy.  God's desires are so strong to be in relationship with us, that every outpouring of this self-revelatory content always issues a form of deliverance by inviting us, the hearers, to a place of deep intimacy with God.

Do you recall how God has worked this divine self-revelation before?  Through covenant with Abraham, through a renewing of that covenant with Noah, and through Moses by rescuing the Hebrews from Egypt; every single time gathering his people and inviting them into a deep place of intimacy.

I/we/you have not been forgotten.  Take some time this week to reflect upon the deep calling God has placed upon your life: the calling that invites you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God, the calling that is so filled with God's desire that it serves to gather others to God, the calling that God has already begun to work in you and through you.  Meditate on that calling.  If you can't locate that calling in your life, pray for discernment that God might reveal to you God's desire for you life.

For those that have identified that "before you were even born" kind of calling in your life, I would invite you to share in the comments below so that others may see the good news of God's faithfulness as God continues to work through God's people.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Preparing for the Baptism of our Lord Sunday - Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.  16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

I want to share with you a couple of snippets of thought taken from Luke A. Powery and Willie Jennings.  First they state that, "Jesus is baptized.  His baptism occasions his anointing by the Spirit, which establishes the baptism of Jesus Christ as the source of our baptism.  His baptism draws our lives into the great journey of his life, the purpose of his work, and the power of its effects on the cosmos."  A little further they comment that, "God's servants are marked through anointing."  Finally, I would point out that they state,"Anointing is bound to the purpose of transformation (Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary - Preaching Year A, pg. 43)."

At some point I want to discuss the water rituals of Judaism as I am sure there are some significant pieces of information for us to process with regards to why John was even baptizing in the first place...but that is not a question that this particular Sunday will focus on.  It might also be interesting to do a comparison of how Jesus participated in a cleansing ritual and from it was birthed our varied understandings of baptism today versus the way that he participated in the Passover meal and instituted Holy Communion.  I think that delving deeply into the roots of what many hold to be sacramental would bear worthwhile fruit.  Instead, I want to simply ask you as you prepare for Sunday worship, focus the rest of the week on this text out of the Gospel of Matthew and through the lens of the Powery and Jennings' statements above, remember your baptism!

How was your baptism the occasion for your anointing?

How do you feel the mark of a servant in your life and ministry?

How has that anointing changed you?

I would love to see responses in the comment section below how you might answer these questions...you don't have to answer them now; perhaps answering them after the sermon on Sunday would be best.  Maybe you could answer them now, and go back and review your answers on Sunday after service to see if they've changed.  Either way, blessings to you as we continue this journey together!