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Bishop Michael Rinehart

July 9, 2017 is Pentecost 5A

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 – Isaac’s servant meets Rebekah at the well/spring, and takes her back to meet, and marry Isaac.
OR
Zechariah 9:9-12 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Psalm 45:10-17 – For the Director of Music, a wedding song. Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord… In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her. Led in with joy and gladness, they enter the palace of the king.
OR
Song of Solomon 2:8-13  – My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
OR 
Psalm 145:8-14 – The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Romans 7:15-25a – I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Repentance and comfort. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

Prayer of the Day
You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Blessed are you, Lord of | heav’n and earth;
you have revealed these | things to infants. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:25)

Many thanks to Don Carlson, for help researching these reflections.

Zechariah – Prisoners of Hope

Cyrus the Great ruled Persia from 559-530 BCE. As “King of Kings” and God’s messiah (Isaiah 45:1), he allowed those captive in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. He died shortly thereafter and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who ruled for 8 years. He was succeeded by his brother, Bardia, who only ruled for several months. He was succeeded by Darius I, who ruled from 522-486 BCE and was on the throne of Persia during the time of Zechariah (1:1).

Point? Zechariah’s time isn’t too long after Cyrus the Great. People haven’t left Babylon yet.  Nehemiah dates from the reign of Artaxerxes, 465-424 BCE; Ezra perhaps 50 years later.

And so, after much apocalyptic visioning (Zechariah 1-8; apocalyptic literature may be of Babylonian influence), there is encouragement in 9-14 (maybe later by another author) to “Return to your stronghold (Jerusalem) you prisoners of hope.”

Jerusalem will become the center of the world (14:8-9). Of course, there was more than a little rivalry as to where the “center of the world” was; the picture to the left is of the stone in Delphi that marked the “navel” of the world. But, the “Jerusalem as center of the world restoration project” never materialized; the empires of Persia, Greece, and Rome would hold sway. “Centers of the world” wax and wane.

This is perhaps why the words of Zechariah got usurped and projected onto a future messianic figure: Jesus (Some people may wonder if it’s already Palm Sunday). Prisoners living in hope of deliverance are always waiting and looking. And maybe – perhaps just maybe – although usurped and projected, the “center of the world” hope never went away?

Consider the final scene in Tolkien’s Two Towers. Trapped and under assault in the fortress of Helm’s Deep, the alliance of Middle Earth seems certainly doomed. Theoden says, “What can men do against such reckless hate? The Horn of Helm Hammerhand will sound in the deep, one last time!” The ancient horn is sounded and Theoden and Aragorn ride out “for death and glory.” Aragorn remembers the words of Gandalf, “Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.” And then, amid the hopeless darkness before the dawn, out of the blinding sunrise rides Gandalf the White, Eomer, and the Rohirrim. It is the apocalyptic battle between light and darkness; darkness is vanquished.

That’s the common vision of deliverance for many hopeless prisoners of hope. Grand. Glorious. Apocalyptic. But does it have anything to do with the triumphant and victorious king who comes “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In short, “Prisoners of hope, for what exactly – for whom exactly – are you hoping? Are you really hoping to be made the center of the world?” Which, I suppose, is our sinful propensity – incurvatus in se which should get you into Romans 7:15-25, should you want to go that route. Let us go that route – via Matthew.

Matthew

Jesus said,

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

What do we hear in Jesus’ words? Maybe something akin to this,

The Baptist came and his bed was too hard for you. The Son of Man comes and his bed’s too soft. Now tell me, in your fairy tale religious world, what vision of the kingdom will be just right for you? What are you looking for, anyway? What exactly do you want from God?

We piped for you, but you would not dance.

John came as an ascetic, and he was rejected by the religious leaders. Then, along came Jesus, who bent the rules, ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Him, they called a glutton and a drunk. You can win.

The Fourth of July weekend, there will be – whether spoken or not – the hope that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “God Bless America” will somehow work their way into the service. Rather than avoid it, I think the texts are an opportunity to address those latent apocalyptic hopes and dreams head on.

Without getting into the “under God,” pledge debate, or the, should we have “In God We Trust” on our currency? debate, consider that almost everyone – nations included – trusts in God. The real question is, “In what kind of god do you trust?”

The Taliban believes they live life “under God.” The Sunnis and the Shiites – the Israelis and the Palestinians – everyone intones the name of God. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the leaders in Iran, both Cortez and Montezuma, the Christian crusaders that “killed Turks for Jesus,” Reverend Phelps who proclaimed that “God Hates Fags”, both George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull, the anti-abortionist who murdered a doctor because life is sacred – the list could go on and on, but all trusted or trust in their god.

No matter what the currency says, everyone says “In God We Trust.” Almost every person believes that they are “under God,” and every nation believes that they are the “one nation under God.” But the real issue is: In what god do you put your trust? And: What do you trust God to do? It’s not necessarily even about which god; it’s about what kind of god. Different views of the same God have different kinds of agendas – different kinds of “royal agendas.” The question for us is, “Is the God we have in mind in sync with the mind of Christ?” In Jesus we meet a humble and compassionate king on a donkey who challenges the royal ways of the world.

The possibility of compassion is basic to the heart of God. But the possibility of compassion is precisely what the royal wants to eradicate. Compassion is the ability and willingness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel. It is the enemy of the royal life. Royal economics is designed to keep people satisfied so that they do not notice. Royal politics is intended to block out the cries of the denied ones. Royal religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns the misery that is alive in the heart of God.
– [Quote source unknown]

These are weighty words to consider as we debate health care in this country, especially as it impacts the poorest among us.

Personal, ecclesiastical, and nationalistic incurvatus in se (being turned in upon ourselves) is what these texts address. It is “the kingdom of heaven” against the “royal agendas” of the world; agendas in which we are all entangled and complicit. What’s our agenda? Ought we be the center of the world?

Humanity used to believe that our world was the center of the universe; that everything revolved around us. Maybe, despite all our scientific knowledge, we have not come all that far. What is our hope? Who is our hope?

Romans 7

At camp we used to call this “the do-do passage.”

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

Sin is defined, as we said above, as being turned in upon ourselves. Self-centeredness, as opposed to being centered on God and neighbor, is our malady. In Romans 7, Paul describes his humanity in a way that people really hang onto: I want to do good, but I can’t. And the bad stuff I don’t want to do, I find myself doing.

…I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Paul describes what we all experience. I want to be generous, but somewhere within me, greed rises up. I want to say “no” to that bad habit, but urges arise within my flesh that I cannot seem to quell. It is as if there is spiritual warfare going on inside of me. The law is of no use. The only thing that seems to have any effect is faith in Christ, being bound up in the love of Christ.

Putting our faith in Christ, following in the footsteps of the one who lived in love of God and neighbor, stranger and enemy – this is my only hope. Paul addresses the self-centeredness of nationalism, militarism, greed, and corporate sin with the antidotes of faith, hope and love. If we think a religion of laws will get us where we need to go, we are sorely mistaken. Who will deliver us from this body of death? Only faith in Christ and the faith of Christ.

July 2, 2017 is Pentecost 4A

Genesis 22:1-14 – God tests Abraham, by calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
OR 
Jeremiah 28:5-9 – Jeremiah’s contention with the prophet Hananiah. Hananiah took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it as a sign of how God would break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s oppression and bring the captives back from Babylon. God responds: Not for 70 years!” (29:10)

Psalm 13 – For the Director of Music: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? But I trust in your unfailing love… I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
OR
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 – I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever. Blessed are those who rejoice in your name all day long… for you are their glory and strength.

Romans 6:12-23 – Do not be a slave to sin. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Matthew 10:40-42 – Hospitality – Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.

Prayer of the Day
O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a | holy nation,
in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his | marvelous light. Alleluia. (1 Peter 2:9)

Exile, Pilgrimage, and Liminal Space

Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson, who did much of the preparation for this post.

Hananiah told the people they would be delivered from their exile in Babylon; Jeremiah did not. Jeremiah said it would be several generations before they would be released. Hananiah died for his false prophecy. Then Jeremiah sent word to the captives in Babylon. Get comfortable, you’re in for a long wait:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (29:4-9)

Don Carlson once preached a sermon based on a similar text from Isaiah, quoting from Embracing the Exile by John Fortunato.

Fortunato believes that times of exile are threatening to faith because they expose what he calls The Great Myth under which many people live out their faith. When the realities of life attack “great myth,” faith is attacked too. Here’s what he says:

The uneasiness of our human condition presses upon us. The anxiety just sits down there in the pit of our stomachs. We want it to go away, but how? 

We try to make it go away by telling ourselves, “We are in control; we are not helpless.” Then we take the anxiety we have denied and project it out into the world, where we create a myth for ourselves to shore up our self-deception and an elaborate myth it is.

We create a world of systems that we can manipulate and control to hide from ourselves the fact that we really control nothing.

We spend our lives nurturing our systems and making them work for us: economic systems, social systems, government systems, family systems, communication systems, defense systems, and medical systems.

The systems give us promotions to grub for, benefits to grab, ladders to climb, power to be gotten, and security to be secured. And then we take out insurance on the whole thing: health insurance, life insurance, and deposit insurance. We have pacts, treaties, service policies, and guarantees. There are backup systems, second teams, and alternate plans. All in an effort to nail down our security and reinforce our myth of being in control.

The great myth demands some basic beliefs. First, there is the belief that we are in control. Other beliefs of the myth are: I am the center of the universe. I will be happy and blessed if I live right. Life is rational and reasonable. Evil is always punished. And, with Jesus in my heart, all is right with the world.

The myth demands that we put on blinders. We aren’t allowed to look at reality that life is a mixed bag over which we have little or no control and that the universe can be a very indifferent place to live. Justice does not always triumph, and evil is not always punished. Life is not always fair and nor does it always make sense. God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven.

With our myth smashed and ourselves exposed, what do we usually do? Some angrily ask, “Why did this have to happen?” To which there is no sure answer, and even if was an answer, it wouldn’t change things. Some people try to insist that they have no fears, pains, or frustrations; while others decide to suffer through their exile – resigned, angry, resentful, and fearful every step of the way. Fortunato, however, suggests an alternative.

Since avoiding it, fighting it, or suffering through it don’t seem to be very helpful ways of dealing with one’s exile, there seems to be only one way left to go: deeper! 

Exile isn’t negotiable so it might as well be embraced. Affirm it with your whole heart and soul! It may not make sense. It may not seem fair or just. But, if embraced, it may become a God-given invitation to growth. It may be turned into a blessing in disguise. It might just be an opportunity.

There is no way out of our exiles; there is only the way through – embracing life as it is, forsaking our myths of power, and simply letting God guide us through the wilderness.

Hananiah was myth-spinning, telling people what they wanted to hear. God – and Jeremiah – would have none of it. “Settle in,” he said. “Embrace your exile and see what God will make of you in the midst of it all.” There is profound spiritual truth and Godly hope in that!

This might be a word for the many of us who struggle through chronic problems that won’t simply melt away. Those facing addiction. Those facing cancer. Those life changes that won’t magically improve. While God wishes no evil on us, we nevertheless find ourselves in the wilderness. It can be a learning experience.

Romans 6:12-23 – Paul’s letter to the Romans – as do many of his letters – deals with the conflicts that are going on in the churches (house churches) in Rome. (Picture is of Santa Marie Church, oldest titular church in the Trastevere section of Rome.) Crossan breaks the letter out this way:

  • Chapters 1-8 = unity of Gentiles and Jews
  • Chapters 9-11 = unity of Jews and Christians
  • Chapters 12-16 = unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians

While scholars recognize that Romans is Paul’s most thorough theological work, they also remind us that Paul was not writing his summa theologica. He was writing to real people, facing particular issues in a specific context; people that were really wrestling with what the Gospel meant for how they ought do life together. It may be helpful to get the letter out of a 16th century polemics and read it with the 1st century context in mind.

It may help to clarify some words:

  • Sin (not sins) = The sway of the empire and the normalizing influence of the world to bend and shape life according to power, privilege, and segregation.
  • Righteousness (justice) = Is about distribution, not retribution.
  • Justification (being made just) = is about real life transformation, not imputation.
  • Life in Christ (always life together) = is about participation with Christ, not substitution.

There are at least two places in Romans where Paul’s understanding and intent comes full bloom:

Do not be conformed [2nd person plural] to this world [age], but be transformed by the renewing of your minds [understanding, your way of thinking about things], so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect [τέλειον; what makes for things to reach their intended goal].  (12:2)

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (15:5-7)

The second lesson will be from Romans for quite a number of weeks (see Summer Epistles at a Glance – Romans 6-14). You may want to consider preaching from Romans this summer. If so, it will be helpful to get into this letter and – setting Luther’s spiritual and existential crisis aside for the moment – get back into the world of Paul.

Matthew 10:40-42 – The gospel is a continuation from last week’s reading – 10:24-39.  Concerning that reading, my friend and colleague, Pr. Jim Giannantonio, lifted up some comments from Warren Carter’s Matthew and the Margins. Carter writes,

On another level, Jesus’ words are a call to choose a way of life of marginalization, to identify with the nobodies like slaves, and with those some understood to be cursed by God. It is to identify with those who resist the empire’s control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. It is to identify with a sign of the empire’s violent and humiliating attempt to dispose of those who threatened or challenged its interests. To so identify is not to endorse the symbol but to reframe its violence. As the end of the gospel indicates, it is to identify with a sign that ironically indicates the empire’s limits. The empire will do its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death, thwarting the empire’s efforts. And Jesus will return to establish God’s empire over all, including Rome (24:27-31 ). To not respond positively to such a call is to not be a disciple (not worthy of me; see 10:37).

Carter, Warren (2013-11-20). Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Bible and Liberation) (Kindle Locations 7534-7541). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

If, following the call of Jesus, we try to overturn or live contrary to the “normalizing influence of the world” (see above), we will run into a sword, not peace. And so, we are back to the justice/righteousness and participation/transformation dynamic that we had in Romans.

Two other thoughts:

First, Jesus said, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Instead of just thinking about that in personal or individual terms, I think it’s helpful for congregations to consider what it might mean for them and the life of the congregation. It seems to me that many congregations are really struggling to save themselves, find themselves. It is a fool’s quest.

A congregation wants to grow and move from being a pastoral model to a program model congregation. That’s good; living things should grow – grow in many ways. But if you want to grow in order to save your congregation, you will ultimately fail. If, however, you want to grow and change for the sake of the community around you – for the sake of the Christ and the gospel – that is (to use Paul’s words from Romans) “good and acceptable and perfect.”

A second thought: Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” I am giving a quick read to Thom and Joni Schultz’ book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. In it they lift up four excuses people give and how the church can counter them. (I personally believe it’s not quite this simple, but it also has some traction and is well worth the read). Here’s their chart:

Schultz, Thom; Schultz, Joani (2013-10-01). Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible: 1 (Kindle Location 1126). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

As congregations: Can we practice radical hospitality? Can we offer a cup of water in the name of Christ? Can we have fearless conversation? Can we demonstrate genuine humility? Can we live with divine anticipation; not knowing what God will do with our exile or anyone else’s, but trusting that God will bring life out of death?

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes God who sent me.” Jesus identifies “welcome” as a value of the reign of God. Is it a value for our faith communities? We have identified welcome and hospitality as a top priority for the next few years in our synod:

Our synod and its congregations will embody radical hospitality.

Our goals and objectives under this core conviction are to equip our faith communities to practice over-the-top hospitality externally, in the community, and internally, within those faith communities. One way to think about hospitality is creating safe communities. Is our neighborhood safe for newcomers? Immigrants? Is our congregation safe for newcomers? Immigrants? By “safe” we mean not just physically safe, but places where people are free to be who they are and live out their faith without being verbally attacked or pummeled by a host of verbal and nonverbal microaggressions. Creating truly safe communities is going to take a lot of work, but it emanates from the gospel itself: “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.”

We need only turn to the welcome we ourselves have received in Christ, to understand the depth of love to which we ourselves are invited. We are embraced with this love that will not let us go and invited to extend that love to the world:

…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

June 18, 2017 is Pentecost 2A

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) – The Lord appears to Abraham by the oaks at Mamre. Sarah laughed.
OR
Exodus 19:2-8a –  If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – I love the Lord because he heard my voice. The nares of death encompassed me. I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
OR
Psalm 100 – Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

Romans 5:1-8 – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…
Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, (9-23) – Jesus sends the 12. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

2017 Summer-Gospels-at-a-Glance, Matthew 10-18
13 Sundays, June 18 to September 10, 2017

June 18 Matthew 9:35-10:8. Mission. Jesus sends the 12. Harvest plentiful. Laborers few.
June 25 Matthew 10:24-39. Commitment. Not peace. Sword. Find life by losing it.

July 2 Mt. 10:40-42 Hospitality. Whoever gives a cup of water in my name…
July 9 Mt. 11:16-19, 25-30 Repentance and Comfort. Come to me all weary…
July 16 Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23 Parable of the Sower. Birds, rocks, thorns, good soil.
July 23 Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43 Parable of Wheat and Tares. Let them grow together.
July 30 Mt. 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables of Mustard Seed, Yeast, Treasure, Pearls, Net.

August 6 Mt. 14:13-21 Jesus Feeds the 5,000. Send the crowds away…
August 13 Mt. 14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Sea. Command me to come to you…
August 20 Mt. 15:[10-20] 21-28 (Blind Guides.) Jesus heals the Canaanite Woman.
August 27 Mt. 16:13-20 Peter Confesses Jesus. On this rock I will build my church.

Sept 3 Mt. 16:21-28 Jesus rebukes Peter. If you would follow me, take up your cross.
Sept 10 Mt. 18:15-20 Jesus teaches on Conflict. If a member sins against you…

Summer-Epistles-at-a-Glance, Romans 6-14
14 Sundays, June 18, to September 17, 2017

June 18 Rom. 5:1-8 Justified. Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.
June 25 Rom. 6:1b-11 Baptized. Baptized into Christ’s death, we rise with him.

July 2 Rom. 6:12-23 Freedom. Shall we sin now that we are not under the law? No.
July 9 Rom. 7:15-25a Sin. Paul’s dilemma: The good I want to do, I don’t do.
July 16 Rom. 8:1-11 Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life.
July 23 Rom. 8:12-25 Glory. cannot be compared to suffering now.
July 30 Rom. 8:26-39 Confidence: Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

August 6 Rom. 9:1-5 The Jews: Paul grieves his people have rejected Christ. But theirs are adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises, patriarchs and Messiah.
August 13 Rom. 10:5-15 The Jews: Justified by Faith just like the Greeks. But who can believe without hearing? So blessed is the proclaimer.
August 20 Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32 The Jews: God has not rejected his people. God has imprisoned all in disobedience, in order that all might have mercy.
August 27 Rom. 12:1-8 Gifts: One body; many members. Conform not. Be transformed.

Sept 3 Rom.12:9-21 Life in the Body. Love one another. Live in harmony. Never seek vengeance.
Sept 10 Rom. 13:8-14 Love in the Body. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love one another.
Sept 17 Rom. 14:1-12 Conflict in the Body. Don’t quarrel. Welcome one another. Don’t pass judgment on one another. Tolerate differences in piety.

Hebrew Lessons-at-a-Glance
A sprint through the second half of Genesis.

June 18 Genesis 18:1-15 God appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. Sarah laughs.
June 25 Genesis 21:8-21 Hagar and Ishmael sent away.

July 2
Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham tested by God.
July 9 Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 Isaac and Rebekah. “So he put a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arm.” (I just love that passage.) “Then Isaac took her into his mother’s tent… and she became his wife… And he loved her.”
July 16 
Genesis 25:19-34 Jacob swindles Esau’s birthright, with red stew.
July 23 Genesis 28:10-19a Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, at Bethel
July 30 Genesis 29:15-28 Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel.

August 6 Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with God/the angel
August 13
 Genesis 37 Joseph’s dreams and his brothers’ plot. “Here comes this dreamer. Let us kill him and throw him into a pit… and see what will become of his dreams.”
August 20 Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

 

Mission

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

– W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

As you know, Matthew is divided into five sections, like the Penteteuch. Each section has a narrative and discourse. Matthew 10 is Jesus’ Mission Discourse. 9:35 to the end of chapter 9 is a transition to this discourse according to David Garland (Reading Matthew).

Jesus has compassion on the people, because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This image of the shepherdless sheep is often used in the Hebrew Bible to connoted a lack of effective leadership in a dire national situation. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Sometimes it feels that way today. People are as spiritually hungry as ever, but finding churches that will engage that spiritual hunger, as opposed to doing what has always been done, is a challenge.

Jesus travels the countryside, moving from village to village, house to house, teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the coming of God’s reign, and tending to the sick. He walks into leper colonies, and tells a paralytic to get up and walk, forgiving his sins. The religious leaders find this idolatrous.

The good news here is that God sends healing. God cares about those who are suffering, and sends prophets to address that suffering.

This is essence of Jesus’ ministry: teaching, proclaiming and healing. Should it not be at the very heart of our ministries as well? Is it not possible that you are one of the people God is sending into the world for others’ healing?

Jesus is not content to carry on this ministry by himself. Like every great leader, he is equipping others to carry on the work. He is recruiting and training a team, multiplying his ministry.

In Matthew 10 we learn the names of the disciples. We begin with Peter and end with Judas, as Stanley Hauerwas points out in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Matthew. They are people of little faith, and both will betray Jesus in one way or another, but Jesus chooses and sends these flawed folks out anyway. Among those disciples are fishermen and a tax collector.

All too often, our people feel unworthy to be God’s instruments. It is important for the preacher to point out how terribly flawed the major characters of the Bible are. Both Moses and Paul are murderers. This is not to condone their behavior, but to point out that God can redeem any life. If God can use them, God can use you too, probably already has, and will continue to do so in the future.

Here is Jesus’ commission to the twelve: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” This is our mission as well. Proclaim the kingdom come near. When we catch glimpses of God’s reign in this world, point it out, because we miss it, even when it is right in front of our faces. Then care for the sick, the dead and the possessed. That’s all.

For now, they are only sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” not to Samaritans or Gentiles. The time for that will come at the end of Matthew’s gospel and even sooner. The number twelve is no accident. Hauerwas points out it keeps Jesus’ disciples in continuity with the twelve tribes of Israel.

This is a great passage to read as a lectio divina/dwelling in the Word. It is interesting to allow people to ruminate on Jesus’ detailed instructions to the disciples. If you do a Bible study, ask people which instructions jump out at them. What might these mean to us today?

  • As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
  • Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,cast out demons.
  • You received without payment; give without payment.
  • Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts
  • no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff
  • for laborers deserve their food.
  • Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.
  • As you enter the house, greet it.If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  
  • If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Give without receiving. Take no money. No bag. No extra tunic or sandals. Travel light. Good advice in general. Even though the text may end at verse 8, I would continue on through at least verse 15.

Mission is the order of the day. It may be a good time to revisit the question of why the congregation exists. What’ is God’s mission in the world? What is the mission of the gospel? The mission of the church? The mission of this congregation? How are we going to engage it together? What is this congregation’s strategy for listening, discerning and carrying out God’s purposes in this time and place? How are we going to do it this year?

Preach the mission. Jesus did.

 

Juneteenth

Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth (June 19) commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. The holiday originated in Galveston. For more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations, but it is recognized as a state holiday in 35 states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas, which was almost entirely under Confederate control. People did not know they were free, because the slave owners did not necessarily tell anyone. Texas was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation, and though slavery was very prevalent in East Texas, it was not as common in the Western areas of Texas, particularly the Hill Country, where most German-Americans were opposed to slavery.

June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities’ increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings – including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
—Galatians 3

Juneteenth, A Texas Celebration

Juneteenth was a new thing to me when I moved to Texas. Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth (June 19) commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865.

The holiday originated here in Galveston. For more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations, but It is recognized as a state holiday in 35 states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas, which was almost entirely under Confederate control. People did not know they were free, because the slave owners did not necessarily tell anyone. Texas was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation, and though slavery was very prevalent in East Texas, it was not as common in the Western areas of Texas, particularly the Hill Country, where most German-Americans were opposed to slavery.

Ashton Villa (24th and Broadway in Galveston)

June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere…

A reenactment of that proclamation is held periodically. Here is a video of one: 


Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities’ increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings – including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

2017 marks the 152nd Juneteenth celebration. 

Houston Juneteenth celebrations

Galveston Juneteenth celebrations. 

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

—Galatians 

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother…

—Philemon 15-16

June 25, 2017 is Pentecost 3A

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
OR
Genesis 21:8-21 – Abraham and Sarah cast off Hagar, the slave woman and her child.

Psalm 86:1-10 – Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. In the day of trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
OR
Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 – Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress-make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.

Romans 6:1b-11 – Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Matthew 10:24-39 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. …and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson for preparing these reflections on the texts:

We now move into the long green time after Pentecost that has traditionally been called Ordinary Time. It’s always good to somehow break up the time; which, aside from a few festival Sundays, will be with us until November 16th. I have often changed the liturgy setting three times during the season. And perhaps some kind of – or several – sermon series could be based on the gospel readings [see above].

In Matthew, both John and Jesus come proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew is all about Jesus – the new Moses – teaching what discipleship and life in the kingdom of heaven is all about.  As we heard in the gospel for Holy Trinity, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

I think a series of sermons that help people think about the “now and not yet” kingdom of heaven would be useful. What do our people understand the reign of God to be? How do they as individuals and a congregation participate in it? What are the kingdom’s challenges and the assurances? Jesus’ message in Matthew was about the kingdom of heaven. Question: “Do we sometimes run the risk of truncating Jesus’ message about the kingdom into a message about Jesus?”

It’s not insignificant that when you Google images for “Kingdom of Heaven” the first pages are filled with stills from the 2005 movie of the same name, directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” and “Blackhawk Down” fame. This movie is equally combative with the crusaders being the protagonists and the Muslims being the antagonists as they fight over which “vision” of the kingdom will prevail. Yes, it’s just a movie, but I think that there is precisely this understanding of the kingdom among some Christians. U.S. Americans believe unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, that the reign of God, God’s justice will be brought about only by violence (others, of course, project the whole thing into an afterlife). We would do well to remember the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. It brings to mind the line from a hymn which serves as a counterpoint, “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

Even if you don’t do a “sermon series” per se, a red thread of the “kingdom of heaven” running through sermons this summer –would be wise – and not a subtle thread at that!

Jeremiah

Throughout the summer there will be two options for the old testament text. One is a text that provides backdrop for the Gospel reading. The other is part of the continuous reading through for the Hebrew Scriptures.

One of the assigned texts is a sample of Jeremiah’s complaints. He doesn’t want to bring the word against Pashhur because he suffers for it when he does. And yet, God has a hold on him, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

Like the prophet Jonah, a part of him wants to get away – far away.  And yet, when he tries, “…then within me there is something life a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary holding it in, and I cannot.”

What an apt reflection of God’s call in and for the kingdom of heaven! It’s just like when Matthew ends his gospel with his ascension and great commission account, which we had last week for Holy Trinity: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” The Greek for “but some doubted” is οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν; “edistasan” – they “two stood”; shifted from on stance to another; were conflicted; perhaps “ambivalent”.

That’s the way it is when we encounter and are touched by the kingdom of heaven. Part of us wants to embrace it; part of us wants to run away. The kingdom of heaven generates within each of us the ultimate “approach avoidance conflict,“ which brings us to the gospel reading.

Ask your people: “What’s burning fire is shut up with your bones?”

Matthew 

“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! … Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. … and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Now there’s a recruitment campaign for discipleship!  And the words probably reflect what that was going in within synagogues and families as the tension increased between those that worshipped and followed Jesus as Messiah and those that waited for another. In many ways – as they would later learn – “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) is a rose with thorns on its stem.

Some will hear this text as a call to violence, but read in context with all of Jesus other saying it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking euphemistically about the struggle that people will have if they choose to engage the kingdom. Jesus scolds Peter for cutting off the soldier’s ear. He says those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus raises no army and advocates no violence for the kingdom. He simply recognizes what will be lived out in the crucifixion: proclaiming the gospel will stir stuff up.

Still, in the midst of Jesus’ ominous words also comes this assurance, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

There you have it: the approach avoidance conflict that is the kingdom of heaven. That’s where we live. If we are going to start an ongoing sermonic focus on the kingdom of heaven, we should be upfront and honest about our “two footed ambivalence.” The kingdom of heaven, because of who we are and because of our bondage to sin, is both appealing and appalling.

So…

“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.” 

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