Proper 6, Year A: Matthew 9:35-10:8: The Disciples Sent Out

Jesus spreading his teaching to people

Jesus spreading his teaching to people – source: iStockphoto.com/artisticco

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 6, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew from Track 2.

Today’s reading begins with Jesus doing his work, traveling around, teaching, preaching, and healing people. I especially like this part:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So many of us today need that compassion. We are harassed and helpless, looking for leadership, sometimes following the wrong people instead of Christ.

Jesus sends out his twelve disciples with some pretty strict instructions and a pretty demanding set of tasks:

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.

They are also sent only to the Jewish towns to minister to their own people at this point. As we know from the story of the Ascension, they will eventually be sent out to the whole world, but for now they are only reaching out to gather in their own people and save and minister to them.

These instructions could also be useful for Christians today. Start in your own backyard and later move on to serving the whole world. And make your focus healing and caring for people, as well as proclaiming the good news. There’s no need to get bogged down in anything else. If you start to get bogged down, it’s time shake the dirt off your sandals and move right along and keep sharing the love of Christ.

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Trinity Sunday, Year A: Celebrate the Mystery: Matthew 28:16-20

iStock-470588848

Holy Trinity – Source: iStockphoto.com/Bernardojbp

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Trinity Sunday, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This is a very short story. The disciples go to Galilee to meet Jesus at a mountain. They worship him there but some still have their doubts (they’re only human). Jesus tells them (I just can’t bring myself to paraphrase this):

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This command from Jesus is known as the Great Commission—he is instructing the church to go on and share the Gospel with the whole world and teach others how to follow Jesus. Notice this is Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the Trinity that is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The wording in the great Commission, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is the same wording we use in creeds and at baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals. The Trinity is a mystery and a paradox—beyond our understanding, but we know God as three in one—God the Father and Creator; God the Son our Redeemer and Teacher; and the Holy Spirit, our Guide and Comforter.

We may not fully grasp the concept of the Trinity, but we can love and embrace the mystery on this day of celebration.

Day of Pentecost, Year A: Happy Birthday to the Church: Acts 2:1-21

Venice - Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian

Venice – Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian – Source: iStockphoto.com/sedmak

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

This week I think I will again explore the story in the book of Acts rather than sticking to the Gospel as I often prefer to do. They are both referring to Pentecost (here’s a nice little succinct link about Pentecost if you want to know more), which is celebrated this Sunday.  The John passage is about when Jesus comes to his disciples after his resurrection and promises them the Holy Spirit will come to them.

The Acts passage is a bit more of a story to tell, though it can still be a bit confusing at first. It’s actually a bit of an exciting story with roaring winds and tongues of fire and miracles. On the day of Pentecost, (which was a Jewish holy day) all Jesus’ followers were gathered in one place, probably to celebrate the day because they were still all Jewish and all following Jewish customs as well as following Jesus. (This was after Jesus had been taken up to Heaven and the apostles had chosen a replacement for Judas, who had betrayed Jesus. The replacement’s name was Matthias, just so you know.) While they were in this house together, a violent wind blew down from heaven and filled the house. Then they saw tongues of fire settle on each of them. Try to visualize this miracle; like little bright flames like you see on a candle above their heads.  That was a visible sign of the miracle that followed. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.

It seems that they went outside among the crowds of people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost and began to speak to them, and the people were amazed that they all heard their own languages from these Galileans. And picture the apostles; they were not all a bunch of rabbis or well-educated men. They were fishermen and the like, for the most part. So this bunch of working class dudes come out and are all speaking in languages everyone can understand, though the crowds are from all over the place and speak many different languages. They asked one another, “What does this mean?” And this part is a little funny—some of them think they’re drunk. I suppose that would explain this group of people coming out and speaking all at once but not the fact that everyone can understand in his or her own language.

Then Peter speaks up and addresses the crowds and tells them, they’re not drunk, it’s only 9 in the morning! (Look at Peter, remember this is after Jesus reinstated him by saying “Feed my sheep”.  This is him as a leader of the new church, strong and fearless, never denying his Christ again!)  He quotes them a scripture from the book of Joel, a promise that God would pour out his Spirit and his servants will prophesy and there will be wonders. The point is he basically goes on from there to tell them all about Jesus and his teachings and called on them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

One important point is that Pentecost is seen as the birth of the church. Before they were all kind of hanging out; Jesus had died, risen, and then ascended into heaven again, and they were just sort of waiting and praying. Then after the miracle of Pentecost happens and Peter makes his great sermon, they go on to have more miracles and spread the word of God and the love of Jesus everywhere. Pentecost was the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them and the church really began. Now the church is not just one little group, not just our local church, but a worldwide family. We can carry the love of God out from our own churches into the larger world as they did on that day.

Easter 7, Year A: Acts 1:6-14: Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends – Source: iStockphoto.com/KimsCreativeHub. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

In the Acts story, we learn about Christ’s ascension.  It’s a lovely way to end the Easter season and lead up to Pentecost next week.

The apostles were together with Jesus and they asked him if it was now time for him to give the people of Israel a kingdom again.  Jesus told them only the Father knew dates and times and it wasn’t for them to know, but then he promised them the Holy Spirit would come and give them power and that they would carry his message around the world.

Then after he said that, he was lifted up into the sky. As they watched, he went into a cloud and they couldn’t see him anymore.  I think this is a beautiful image of him the risen Lord now rising away from them.  While they stared at the now empty sky, two men in white suddenly appeared and said, “Men from Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? You saw Jesus carried away from you into heaven. He will come back in the same way you saw him go.” They can’t spend life staring at the sky but need to get on with things (I know some people who are so obsessed with Jesus’ return that it seems they are always looking into the sky instead of getting on with things).

The story goes on to say that they went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and were all together with other followers, constantly praying.

As I said above, I think it’s helpful this week to close out the Easter season—review what happened on Good Friday and then on Easter, review the stories of how Jesus visited people for 40 days before ascending to Heaven.  Then next week is Pentecost, when he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his followers and the Spirit continues with us today.  Though he is in Heaven, Jesus is with us all the time and the Holy Spirit guides us (as it says in our creed).

 

Easter 6, Year A: Acts 17:22-31: To an Unknown God

Areopagus Hill

Areopagus Hill – Source: iStockphoto.com/milangonda

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the reading from the book of Acts.

In this story, Paul was in Athens standing in front of the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis. (see the pic above). It was also the site of a governmental body (the Council of the Areopagus), which tried serious crimes like homicide, but apparently met for other matters as well. Earlier in the chapter it reads, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” I admire their curiosity. Apparently, they were curious about what Paul had been arguing about all over town and brought him to the Areopagus to find out.

Paul noted there that the Athenians had erected an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God,” like they were really covering their bases in case they didn’t know about all the gods. Paul uses this as a clever segue with the words, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” to introduce them to God and the story of Jesus.

Paul was probably a very educated man, from all accounts. He was a Jew, but also a Roman citizen, which allowed him some freedoms and privileges other Jews in the Roman empire lacked. You can see him using his education in this sermon at the Areopagus as he quotes Greek poets:

[H]e is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

He is explaining God as omnipresent creator and disdaining the practice of creating gods formed by human hands. I love the idea of the “unknown god” and the mystery of God who is so beyond understanding. I also love Paul’s passion here. He yearns to bring people to know the God he knows. He is dismayed by the evidence of their many idols, but not condemnatory. He instead reaches out to them to tell them about Jesus and his resurrection. He doesn’t want God to remain unknown to the Athenians. Sharing the love of God is like sharing your love for other people, in some ways—like the way people newly in love can’t help but go on and on about their beloved—so Christians should be about the love of God. Some people laughed when he talked of Jesus’ resurrection, but others wanted to know more. And the same is true today—some will dismiss Christianity but some will embrace it. We must just continue being witnesses in the Jesus Movement.

Easter 5, Year A: John 14:1-14: Doing Great Things in His Name

John

John – Source: iStockphoto.com/tracygood1

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

A lot of times I like to paraphrase the Gospel story as I write.  This week I’m not able to paraphrase very well because it just seems best to go ahead and put it in Jesus’ own words (well, in the English translation we have of Jesus’ own words).  This week’s Gospel lesson is about another time Jesus spent with his followers after his resurrection.  Jesus is talking to his disciples and tells them not to be troubled but to trust in God and to trust in him.  He tells them, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Remember Thomas, who is curious (not just doubting)—he is the one to ask a question here: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Thomas is the kind of guy who likes to be more certain he knows what’s going on.  Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him.”

Philip responds with, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”  (Isn’t it a shame Thomas gets a rep for being Doubting Thomas? No one ever talks about a Demanding Philip.)

Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.

“I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.  If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

I like the part about “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too.”  It’s the heart of the story here—God sent us Jesus to show us Himself.

I’m less comfortable with the end of Jesus’ speech, because it’s been taken to mean some pretty crazy things by some Christians.  “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you.”  I once attended a church where people were into the prosperity gospel (believing God wants believers to be prosperous and all it takes is faith to have success, money, healing, whatever—flip side is if you have any problems you must just lack faith—I consider that very damaging theology).  The day a teacher got up and said he felt he lacked faith because he gave his daughter Tylenol I walked out and never returned.  Anyway, I think the key to that verse is the “in my name”.  It’s not a magic formula—if I just pray “In Jesus’ name” I can have whatever I want.  I think it’s more about praying in accordance with what Jesus himself would want—praying in His way, if you will.

I also love how Jesus promised that those who believe in him will do great things.  You could talk about how we can do great things for Jesus in our own community—for instance in our church we have a program that provides breakfast to the homeless every Thursday morning.  And the Episcopal church at large has so many programs of great things they are doing out in the world. For instance, Episcopal Migration Ministries is helping refugees (click here for more info and while you’re there, click the Ministries tab near the top right and see how many other amazing things the church is doing for Jesus).

We know a lot about Jesus from the Gospels talking about what he did healing and helping and also the stories he himself told about how we should live.  From there we can see the great things he did and how we can then do our own great things in our own communities. I believe that we have to look for where God is at work and join Him there—healing and helping around the world.

Easter 4, Year A: Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd

Nazareth Shepherd

Nazareth Shepherd – Source: iStockphoto.com/nopow

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Psalm reading.

First, this psalm is so beautiful I want to start by sharing the whole psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I’m not even sure how much this passage needs a breakdown. It’s a beautiful description of God’s care for his people. Most Christian or Jewish people or even people who live in the Western world will have heard this before.  But take time to read it anew.  I think the time when this psalm is most wanted, is when its promises seem the farthest away.  It is a soothing reassurance when we are at our lowest point, so I suggest either keeping it marked with a post-it in your Bible to pray through, or print a copy to keep nearby.  Use it as a prayer when you need a dose of love and assurance.

I found a cute printable online here, but if you prefer yours with a bit more restraint, go here. And here is a link to an easy-to-read version if you prefer that or want to share it with children.

 

Easter 3, Year A: Luke 24:13-35: On the Road to Emmaus

Man in cloak tearing bread into two

Man in Cloak Tearing Bread in Two – Source: iStockphoto.com/fotograv

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s Gospel lesson occurs shortly after Jesus’ resurrection.  Two of his followers are going along a road to a town called Emmaus.  It’s 7 miles away—a long walk by modern standards, probably not too bad back then.  These two men are talking about what has occurred in Jerusalem.  While they’re walking along and talking, Jesus comes up and joins them on their walk.  The scripture says, “But the two men were not allowed to recognize Jesus” so I guess they just think he’s some random dude.  He asks them what they’re talking about and they stop.  It says they looked very sad.  One named Cleopas says, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has just happened there.”

Jesus said, “What are you talking about?”

They tell him all about Jesus, how amazing he was, but how he was killed on a cross.  They say, “We were hoping that he would be the one to free Israel. But then all this happened.” Then they go on to tell him that some women told them that Jesus’ body was not in his tomb and that they’d seen angels who told them Jesus was alive.  Then they say that they went to the tomb and it was indeed empty, but they didn’t find Jesus.

Then Jesus tells them they are foolish and that they haven’t believed the prophets. He says, “The prophets said the Messiah must suffer these things before he begins his time of glory.”  And he goes on to explain everything about him that was in the Jewish scriptures.

Finally, they come near to Emmaus.  Jesus acts like he is going to keep going but the men beg him to stay as it’s getting dark.  So, he goes to stay with them.  As they’re eating supper, Jesus takes some bread and gives thanks and then breaks it and gives it to them.  I like this part:

 “Just then the men were allowed to recognize him. But when they saw who he was, he disappeared. They said to each other, “When he talked to us on the road, it felt like a fire burning in us. How exciting it was when he explained to us the true meaning of the Scriptures!”

So, then they go straight back to Jerusalem to find the followers of Jesus who tell them Jesus has indeed risen, and the two men tell the other followers of their experience talking and sharing bread with Jesus.

It’s kind of mysterious and interesting how they men at first were “not allowed” to recognize Jesus and then they saw who he was as he broke bread—much like he broke it at the last supper, or how we break it today during our Eucharist.

This reminds me of the previous story of Mary Magdalene we read on Easter Sunday, who at first does not recognize Jesus outside his tomb.  And just as it moved me that she turned toward him and knew him upon hearing her name, I am moved by this story—the men see Jesus for who he is in the simple act of him giving thanks and breaking bread.

This week I want to think about being on the road of life, a journey with Jesus by my side, but I hope I can recognize him day-to-day and see what he sees.

Easter 2, Year A: John 20: 19-31: Peace and Forgiveness

 

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas – Source: iStockphoto.com/wynnter

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

The Gospel story this week starts in a locked room where the disciples are hiding away after Jesus’ death.  They were terrified the authorities might come after them next.  They didn’t know what was going to happen next, and they’d heard from the women who’d been to and seen Jesus’ empty tomb.  We can only imagine how scared they must have been.  Did they believe the women? Did they believe Jesus was alive? They certainly didn’t act like it (contrast it to how they act later in the gospels after they’ve seen the risen Christ).  So this is the situation we start with.  Then Jesus appears among them (it seems he just appears in the locked room) and as is typical of his loving attitude, he doesn’t condemn them for hiding nervously in a locked room, he says, “Peace be with you.”  I’m sure peace is probably what they wanted most at that moment and it’s what he gave them.  I love that this is also what we say to one another every Sunday as we pass the peace on.

Now this part I’m going to quote verbatim because I wouldn’t know how to paraphrase it: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Woah.  So here is when he gives them the Holy Spirit to be with them.  And he breathes the Spirit on them.  That’s kind of cool, I think.  I read while studying up on this passage that in their language one word meant breath, wind, and spirit.  Interesting, right?  I also read this online and I like it: “In this short passage Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  (Found here on the Worshiping With Children blog).

Most of us probably know the story of doubting Thomas (poor guy is forever known by that name just because of the one incident).  He’s not there when Jesus visits and he says he won’t believe Jesus is alive until he touches him (and his wounds–bit gory, that). Then again they are in a locked room and Jesus appears among them, and this time Thomas is with him.  Jesus again grants them peace, then allows Thomas to touch him and proves that he is no ghost, but flesh and blood.  He tells Thomas to believe and “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'”

Another bit I love from the link I included above is this:

In describing Thomas, remember that he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 14:5).  He really wanted to understand Jesus.  Thomas was also the one who after telling Jesus he was nuts to go to Jerusalem where his enemies were out to get him, replied to Jesus’ insistence that he was going anyway, “Let us go and die with him” (John 11:7-16).  He was that loyal.  Finally, upon seeing Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”  That was his statement of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only confused, questioning disciple after Easter.  List the responses of Mary, Peter, John, and the others as they encounter the risen Christ.  Everyone was so confused that they were frightened.

I love this.  Thomas gets sort of a bad rap for being a doubter, but we can see him instead as someone who just really wanted to know the truth and wanted to understand.  It’s o.k. to ask questions of God. And I really identify with Thomas. I am a big believer in rock solid truth and I like evidence before I believe a story (I’m notorious for being the kind of person who fact checks other people’s Facebook posts–I can hardly help myself).

So I’ve rambled on a lot about this passage. There’s so much to it–forgiveness, peace, doubt, truth, faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit. I’d just like to emphasize again the lovely idea I found on the Worshiping With Children blog (an invaluable resource when I am teaching church school):  “Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  Let us go forth and share the peace and forgiveness of Christ.

Year A: Easter Sunday: John 20:1-18

Jesus Tomb in Holy land

This is a picture of a first century ancient tomb with the stone rolled aside in Israel. This is similar to the type Jesus would have been buried in. Source: iStock.com/lokibaho

You can see all the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus has been dead since Friday. It’s now Sunday morning and Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She’s surprised to see the stone has been moved away from the opening of the tomb. She runs to Peter and John and tells them someone has taken Jesus out of the tomb. It seems she’s afraid the authorities or someone else has moved him for some nefarious purpose.

Peter and John (John always refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” or in this case “the other follower” rather than saying it’s himself) run to the tomb. John got there first and looked into the tomb, where he saw the burial cloths left there, but didn’t go in. Peter did go in and saw the burial cloths including the one that had been on Jesus’ head—and it appeared to be folded neatly and laid aside. John then came in behind him and when he saw it, he knew that Jesus had risen from the dead (though the scripture specifies they didn’t know before this that it would happen).

Then the men went home, but Mary stayed there, crying outside the tomb. Then she looked into the tomb and saw two angels where Jesus’ body had been. One can only imagine how shocking that would be. They were sitting where Jesus’ head and feet would be. They asked her why she was crying and she responded that someone had taken away the body of her Lord (she was apparently not like John in immediately deciding Jesus had risen).

Then she turned around and Jesus was there, but somehow she didn’t know it was Jesus. This happens other times in the stories of the risen Jesus, such as the story of the road to Emmaus (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2024:13-35 ) . Perhaps Jesus was in some way enough different to be harder to recognize at first, or perhaps God made it so people didn’t recognize him until he wanted them to, or perhaps it was a consequence of her grief and how she wouldn’t expect to find the one she was grieving for alive. I think perhaps she just wasn’t paying attention to him very well through her own tears. I don’t know. Jesus asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for. She thought he was an official for the garden and she asked him where he’d taken Jesus so she could go get him. Then he simply said, “Mary.” She turned toward him and said “Rabboni,” which means “Teacher”. It’s such a beautiful moment. He simply says her name and she knows him, her beloved teacher. It makes me cry every time to read that he says her name and she knows him. Oh, to know Jesus so well that he will call us by name and we will know him.

Jesus tells her not to hold onto him (we can imagine her clinging to him, desperate he not leave again) and tells her he will be going back to the Father. He instructs her to go to his followers and tell them, “I am going back to my Father and your Father. I am going back to my God and your God.” So she runs to the other followers to tell them the Good News of Easter.

I love this story so much, the confusion and grief turned to hope and joy. The simple calling of Mary’s name as she turns to Jesus. This is the kind of story I turn to in any crisis of faith. I turn to it and pray that Jesus will call my name in the darkness. This is the joy and hope of Easter, the wondrous cornerstone of our faith, the love of God for us, even in our darkness.  Hallelujah, He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!