Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

The largest Mennonite group in the United States, Mennonite Church USA,  is trying to come to terms with limited or full inclusion of sexual minorities.  The discussion has to do with the hiring practices of Mennonite institutions, ministerial credentialing, clergy performing same-sex ceremonies, and general acceptance of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) folks.

 

Some things to consider (gleanings from various sources):

 

  1. Hate and homophobia are pervasive in American culture. School kids call each other “fags” and insult people by calling them “gay.”  Bullies of all ages beat up gay and lesbian people.  A decidedly secular fear and lack of knowledge about homosexuality shapes many of the negative Christian attitudes about our brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ.
  2. Families disown their gay and lesbian children, a key factor in the alarmingly higher rates of homelessness and suicide in these kids.
  3. Science tells us that homosexuality is not a choice; it is a biological fact. God creates (maybe ten percent) of people with diverse sexual orientations. People are born gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender.
  4. Homosexuality is not the same thing as being sexually ‘loose’ or permissive.  Heterosexuals in our community often fail to respect their own bodies and those of their partners.  Sexual integrity is a separate issue. Mennonites should continue to support a culture of sexual integrity for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, as we live in a world that teaches us to abuse others and ourselves.
  5. It is because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I believe Mennonite Church USA and institutions should accept all people – including those with a LGBTQ identity.  Many Mennonites can trace their roots 500 years back to ancestors in Switzerland who opposed the Church hierarchy and challenged all to follow the radical way of Jesus at all costs.
  6. Some church leaders, like their Anabaptist ancestors, are taking great risks to follow Jesus’ Way of Love.  When they advocate for dialogue or discussion they received hate mail, belligerent phone calls from colleagues and ostracization.  The most important part of our dialogue is the tone it sets on how we deal with differences in our community.  Can we practice the skills detailed in the Mennonite Church USA’s statement, “Disagreeing in Love,” or is our pacifism only a theological position?
  7. Mennonite teachings understand the Bible as a call to the Law of Love and to practice radical inclusion.  Mennonites learn not to water down the Bible, but to read the Bible alongside its culture and history.  Mennonite learn not to stand on a selective reading of the Bible’s convenient passages, but to more fully understand that Jesus’ teachings can help human beings live in an increasingly chaotic world.
  8. The Bible’s primary message is about acceptance, inclusion and an embrace of diversity.  Jesus spent most of his time with people that the Jewish leaders of the day called “sinners.” Jesus embraced everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done.  Jesus never practiced exclusion. He welcomed all people to the table. Jesus defended the humanity of all people, even society’s outcasts.
  9. The Biblical passages on homosexuality overwhelmingly refer to male slave owners who abusively sodomized their male slaves, often boys.  The Bible refers to male rape as sin.  Rape is always wrong.  Rape is prevalent in our culture. But rape is completely different from homosexuality. Rape is a crime of power and domination. Homosexuality is not the same as rape.  The Bible does not provide any comment on a loving relationship between two people of the same sex.
  10. Jesus does not command us to judge our neighbors or form an exclusive church for those without sin. Jesus does the opposite.  He tells us to focus on the “log in our own eyes rather than the speck of dust in our neighbor’s eye.” Jesus repeatedly warns people against judging others.  Perhaps the very arrogance of judging another is the highest form of sin, as feeling entitled to judge places us apart from God and divides the human community.
  11. Even if we read the Gospel without understanding its cultural context, Jesus mentions many different types of sinning or brokenness.  Mennonites sin in many ways. Who would dare cast the first stone against another’s sins?  If we agree with Jesus that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, why are we silent about our addiction to wealth?  There are too many Biblical passages on the sin of gluttony to mention and too many delicious Mennonite recipes for any of us to point fingers at the extra inches on our waists.  Are any of us without sin?  Or do we want to start ranking some sins as worse than others?
  12. Where is the Biblical precedent for a policy of exclusion of any type of people?  Would Jesus have turned away anyone seeking to learn how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?
  13. In the past, the Mennonite church has closed its doors to African Americans. The Church has been wrong in the past. Christians twisted Biblical passages to make it seem that slavery was acceptable.  At times, the Church has been judgmental and racist. It took the leadership of courageous Mennonite women and men to insist on the full humanity of African Americans to eventually change the church to welcome people of all colors.  In the footsteps of these women, we must stand beside our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
  14. How will the world know that the Mennonite church is a home for spiritual growth?  They will know we are Christians by our love, by our tolerance for diversity, for the way we care and respect each other even in the midst of our differences.  No one will know we are Christians by our homophobic policies of exclusion and judgment.
  15. I hope we will continue in the Anabaptist tradition of following Jesus’ radical love for and inclusion of all people, no matter the financial or institutional costs.

“Mountaintop Experience”

March 2, 2014– Transfiguration Sunday

 

Exodus 24:12-18

12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 99

The Lord reigns;
Let the peoples tremble!
He dwells between the cherubim;
Let the earth be moved!
The Lord is great in Zion,
And He is high above all the peoples.
Let them praise Your great and awesome name—
He is holy.

The King’s strength also loves justice;
You have established equity;
You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God,
And worship at His footstool—
He is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among His priests,
And Samuel was among those who called upon His name;
They called upon the Lord, and He answered them.
He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar;
They kept His testimonies and the ordinance He gave them.

You answered them, O Lord our God;
You were to them God-Who-Forgives,
Though You took vengeance on their deeds.
Exalt the Lord our God,
And worship at His holy hill;
For the Lord our God is holy.

2 Peter 1:16-21

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

 

Comments

Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the season of Epiphany, the series of weeks after Christmas when the church lingers on the significance of the appearance of Jesus on the stage of human history.  With the Transfiguration story, the church turns toward the season of Lent and Easter, a time of reflecting on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The luminosity of the transfiguration story reaches toward the vision of God as transcendent, other worldly, mysterious and dimly apprehended.

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The Matthew and Mark versions are very similar.  Luke’s version varies a bit and has Jesus praying and Moses and Elijah’s words are described as saying something about Jesus’ impending death in Jerusalem.  The transfiguration story is not in the Gospel of John.  The word “transfiguration” is used to translate the Greek word METAMORPHOO in Matthew and Mark.

The setting of the story has Jesus fully aware that his journey is toward suffering and death.  The disciples, initially feeling very good about being with Jesus and having this mountaintop experience, end up being fearful and not sure about the future.  Jesus touches them and tells them not to be afraid.  I think this is the heart of the story.

Through the ages this story has influenced Christian spirituality.  The Eastern Christian Church interpreted the story as representative of the human transformation possible in Christ.  Western Christianity tended to emphasize the cross experience of Jesus.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus opens the awareness of God’s presence in the lives of previous heroes of the faith. The mountaintop experience of Moses and the mountaintop experience of Elijah are well known narratives of Israel.

After encountering a burning bush on the mountaintop, Moses leads the transformation of a slave people toward self-determination.  After encountering God on the smoky, fiery mountaintop, Moses helps Israel find its character and vision as a people of law and justice and shalom.  Moses’ final mountaintop experience was overlooking the Promised Land before his death.

Elijah’s mountaintop experience was different.  The sheer sound of silence, or a small inner voice, guided Elijah in speaking God’s word to the powerful and to those in need.

Jesus in conversation with these figures reminds the reader of the long history of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the establishment of a covenant community and the sometimes irksome habit of God calling and raising up prophets to remind everyone of this intersection of divine and human activity and the ongoing dream of humankind’s transformation.

A few years ago a prophet appeared in the life of this nation and offered these words:

I have a dream…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King Junior was a modern prophet who helped this nation move toward a more expansive view of humanity.  The “I Have a Dream” speech was a mountaintop experience for many of that generation and continues to inspire.  King was giving a speech to 250,000 people who had marched to WashingtonD.C. to demonstrate for civil rights.  As King was speaking Mahalia Jackson called out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”  And he did.

What is the expansive vision we need today?

  • Care of creation?
  • Narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor?
  • Including sexual minorities fully in the church and society?

Some Christian spiritualties, if not all of them, have emphasized the role of prayer in Jesus’ transfiguration.  Jesus and the disciples going to an isolated setting is interpreted to mean they spent time in prayer and meditation.  The disciplines of prayer and meditation as a ways of raising awareness of the divine presence and mystery have motivated many to work at disciplined ways of finding the presence of God.  Controlled breathing, chanting, meditating on words and phrases, observing extended times of silence, fasting, and praying have been pathways to mountaintop experiences for many through the ages.  As we struggle to stay afloat in the deluge of the information age and navigate the complexities of the 21st century, we often long for the focus and simplicity of a quiet place and a method to journey into God’s presence.

The disciples thought they had found that place.  “Wow! This is good, Jesus.  We’ll stay right here.  We will build new institutions to commemorate and perpetuate this mountaintop experience.”  As they are speaking and carrying on and planning, they are interrupted by divine speech.  “This is my beloved with whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to him.”

Almost the same words were heard at Jesus Baptism and the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days of testing.

This time, God’s voice declares, “Listen to him.” Then there is a series of exorcisms, confrontations with the authorities, healings, teachings and parables by Jesus as he continues his ministry among the people and continues the journey toward Jerusalem and his death.  This the Jesus we listen to.

We are not a people called to linger long on mountaintop experiences.  If we listen to Jesus, we will be a people who are transformed as we engage in the work of creating a world as God intended it to be.

 

Maybe the ultimate transformation is the movement from loving our idea and image of God to loving our neighbors in all their variety of colors, social class, physical appearance, gender, sexual orientation and circumstances.

“No other foundation…”

February 23, 2014 –– Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Lectionary Scriptures:

Leviticus 19:1-18

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 3You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the LORD your God. 5When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the LORD, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. 6It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. 7If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. 8All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the LORD; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40

ה He (5th letter of the hebrew alphabet)

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
37 Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.[a]
38 Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
39 Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.
11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
16Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 5:38-48
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Comments
In 1996 the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church (Old Mennonite) published a commemorative fraktur for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Menno Simons. At the bottom of the fraktur, printed on the sturdy stones, is the Bible verse from First Corinthians 3:11:
11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ

This Bible verse was said to be Menno Simons’ favorite. The Mennonites were named after Menno Simons. He was one of the early Anabaptist leaders in Europe who survived persecution and lived long enough to have his name associated with the Anabaptist movement, sometimes referred to as the radical wing of the Great Reformation. Menno was born in 1496 and died peacefully in 1561. He became a Catholic priest in the Netherlands at the age of 28 and over the next dozen years or so he wrestled with the corruption of the church, the interpretation of the scriptures, and the social and nationalism movements of his day. His commitment to the reforms of the peaceful Anabaptist movement solidified when his brother, Peter Simons, was killed by authorities. Peter was part of a group who took over a monastery and attempted to hold it by force. Menno did not agree with using violence to bring about reform and changes but he sympathized with need to reform the church.
Author Phyllis Tickle believes the church is going through another period of upheaval similar to the Great Reformation of the 1500’s. In her book The Great Emergence (Baker, 2008) she notes that significant changes tend to come every five hundred or so years, including the coming of Christ in the first century, approximately 500 years after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The temple was replaced by a different form of Judaism more centered in synagogue and scripture. The Jesus movement reinterpreted that understanding and the Christian church emerged. With the decline of the Roman Empire the church consolidated under Gregory the Great in the fifth and sixth centuries. Tickle argues that the pattern continues with the Great Schism of the 11th century which generated the Catholic and Orthodox streams, and the Reformation of the 16th century which generated many tributaries. From this historical trend, Tickle deduces that, here in the 2000s, we’re poised for another such seismic change. She calls it The Great Emergence.
What is at stake in these times of upheaval has been the question of authority. Where does the buck stop? Our denomination, the new Mennonite Church USA is engaged with that question with the latest round of discussions and actions related to how we deal with sexual minorities in the church. Some are convinced that the authority of the scripture says one thing. Some are convinced that the authority of scripture says something else. Some say the authority of the church documents are what we agree to follow. Others say, no, they are not those kind of documents. Where does the buck stop on this topic?
In some ways, the texts for this Sunday are foundational assertions. The Deuteronomy texts invoke the commandments given to Moses as authoritative. Psalm 119 affirms and celebrates the following of the law. The New Testament texts, of course, turn to Jesus the Christ as the foundation of faith.

The Apostle Paul declares to the church that they are the dwelling place of God. We have used this image in a more individualistic way to feel guilty about using our bodies in self-destructive ways – smoking, excessive eating, drinking, sexual excess and the variety of other ways we indulge our bodies in harmful ways. We have this idea that God’s temple should be a place of purity, holiness and moderation. Whether Paul is talking about our individual bodies or about the church, the community of Christ-followers, there is still a sense of intimacy with God’s Spirit that is conveyed. We are in union with God, a central truth of the Christian faith. This union leads to unconditional love and Paul’s words about that kind of love are expressed eloquently a few chapters later in his letter to the Corinthian church - “If I do not have love, I am nothing.”
The text from Matthew’s Gospel offers the teaching of Jesus on the everyday implications of living in union with God and expressing love for all, including enemies.
Walking in the way of Jesus, in union with God, led by God’s Spirit and driven by divine love, is a demanding standard for our individual lives and for the church. Is it the cornerstone of our faith?

“An Upright Heart”

February 16, 2014 –– Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8 (3)
1Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,
3who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
4You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
5O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
6Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Matthew 5:21-37
21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

COMMENTARY

The Deuteronomy text emphasizes choosing life, God’s way, as the people settle in a land with settled ways. Those settled ways demand allegiance and loyalty, perhaps even worship. The freedom of desert ways is often forgotten in the markets and thoroughfares of the empire’s systems. The ways of empire violate human dignity and nature’s ability to maintain equilibrium. When we are weighed down with empire living and its systems of oppression we find it find it difficult to manage shorelines, power grids, food security and wetlands. Our fears and concerns consume us and we forget the simplicity of communing with God.

Psalm 119 celebrates the vision of living in communion with God and remaining focused on Godly living. I often find the psalms to be hymns of confidence and yearning. “I will praise you with an upright heart…do not utterly forsake me.”

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth counsels the congregation to stay focused on allegiance to God and not to be distracted by church politics and personalities. The agricultural metaphors help us think systemically. It is more productive to think of our spiritual journey and the life of the church in organic ways. The last sentence essentially is saying that we, as Christ-followers, have a synergistic relationship with God’s activity in the world.

Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount where, as usual, he digs deeply into human motivation. Reconciled, restored human relationships is top priority. Retribution is not an option. Violence is out of the question. The adversarial court system is not the way to settle disputes. Not seeing women as human beings is a severe dysfunction. Women are not property, they are covenant partners. Relational covenants are to be taken very seriously. It should be troubling for men to hear Jesus’ words addressed only to men. We are called to keep our word without having to swear an oath or put our hand on a Bible.

“Let it shine”

Lectionary Texts

February 9, 2014 –– Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

 

Psalm 112

1Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.

2Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.

4They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

5It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

6For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

7They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

8Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

9They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

10The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

 

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

2When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

 

Matthew 5:13-20

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

 

“Let it shine”

 

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

If you learned this song as a child you were being taught that your life, your actions, and your character as a Christian were beacons of hope and forces for good in the world.  Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 likens the influence his disciples of Jesus in the world with the effects of light shining in darkness and the effect of sprinkling salt on food, in other words, life-giving, positive effects.

In the other texts for the day, there is also affirmation of upright behavior.  Let’s make a list of this good behavior named in Psalm 112:

  • Fear the Lord.
  • Delight in God’s commandments.
  • Be gracious, merciful, and righteous.
  • Be generous, give to the poor.
  • Lend to others.
  • Conduct the affairs of your life with justice.
  • Do not be afraid of evil tidings.
  • Have a firm, steady heart.
  • Be secure in the Lord.

 

The last line of the Psalm catches my attention – The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Good behavior and right actions are a witness to the wicked.  How I conduct my life matters.  I am not so sure that my behavior and my actions automatically dissipate the destructive influence of the wicked.  I have to understand my choices in life over the long haul.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ was crucified.  His good actions and behavior did not eliminate the wicked. 

However, the life and teachings and sacrifice of Christ did create a light and salt movement that continues to inspire and motivate many toward compassion toward others.  That movement is inspired by God’s Spirit and is the witness of those who have entered the kingdom of God.

 

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

February 2, 2014 – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 15
1 Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Micah 6:1-8
Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The texts for February 2, 2014 are ethical exhortations.

The psalmist gives the relational recipe for an upright life:
• Do what is right.
• Speak the truth.
• Do not slander.
• Respect your friends.
• Respect your neighbors.
• Be upset at wickedness.
• Stand up for goodness.
• Respect faith.
• Stand by your word.
• Do not charge interest.
• Do not take a bribe.

The prophet Micah boils it down to:
• Remember the faith story.
• Do justice.
• Love kindness.
• Walk humbly with God.

The well-known beatitudes of Matthew 5 list the characteristics of being blessed by God. As a contrast I paired the beatitude with a cultural value often seen as positive:
• Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the confident achievers.
• Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the self-fulfilled.
• Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the assertive and powerful.
• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are the pragmatists.
• Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who follow the letter of the law.
• Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who wear masks.
• Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the warriors.
• Blessed are the persecuted. Blessed are those who avoid risks.

The Apostle Paul declares the crucifixion of Christ as the ultimate ethical action that revealed God’s wisdom. What is the wisdom of the cross?
• Capital punishment exposes the true nature of those who carry it out. Retribution is the goal, not restoration or reconciliation. Those in control are not interested in holistic resolution.
• Capital punishment creates great injustice. The innocent are put to death. The guilty can never repent.
• The crucifixion of Christ was a nonviolent response on the part of Jesus. It serves as a model for Christians in how we go about participating in God’s reconciling work in the world. We do not take up arms and attempt to bring about peace with God through coercive or violent means. The salvation of humankind will not come about by justified violence, but rather by a willingness to endure suffering and trials.

“They left the boat”

2014Jan26 – Third Sunday after Epiphany

 Psalm 27

1The 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?

2When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh

        — my adversaries and foes

             — they shall stumble and fall.

3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will set me high on a rock.

6Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

be gracious to me and answer me!

8“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

Your face, Lord, do I seek.

9Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger,

you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

10If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

11Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,

for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

 

 

Isaiah 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

       those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 

                 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;

                they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,  

                     as people exult when dividing plunder.

                    4For the yoke of their burden, and the

                    bar across their shoulders, the

                        rod of their oppressor,

                            you have broken

                                 as on the day of Midian.

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

 

Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

 

Reflection

I wonder if it was a big deal for these fisherman – Simon, Peter, James, John – to suddenly leave their fishing occupation and follow Jesus?  The daily routine of packing a lunch, gathering the nets, pushing out into the water, tossing and gathering the nets, and taking the catch to market must have been a familiar ritual.  What caused them to suddenly leave their traditional work and activities and follow Jesus?  Something must have compelled them to choose that journey.

What compels us? What is the revelation that causes us to leave our boats of tradition, habit and comfort and embark on a journey into a new way of being?

 

The Psalmist declares “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”  This assertion of faith and trust is a stepping stone to a way of life that is lived in confidence of ultimate security and well-being.  No matter what comes along, I can trust God’s steadfast love.  This bedrock faith will not crumble and collapse.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Israel to trust God, even as neighboring kingdoms and empires threatened the borders.  The mention of Midian revives the story memory of Gideon and a handful of soldiers overcoming the mighty Midian army.  It is like the David and Goliath story.

The gospel account describes Jesus announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom. A conventional understanding of earthly kingdoms would have the kingdom announced with a lot more fanfare and force.  Not so God’s kingdom.  It conquers and reigns with different means.  Proclamation and deeds of healing and mercy are the signs of the arrival and presence of God’s kingdom and the messianic king Jesus.  

The Apostle Paul, ever practical, reminds the church to keep its focus on the good news of God’s kingdom as proclaimed and lived in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.  Giving one’s loyalty or allegiance to another Christ-follower, even though it be Chloe, Paul, Apollo, or Cephas, misses the mark. 

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