Proper 9, Year A: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30: Rest for the Weary

Source: iStockphoto.com

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic – Source: iStockphoto.com

It took me longer than expected to get back to blogging, so I am a few weeks behind. Only a couple days after my son spent more time than expected in the hospital, I fell and dislocated my elbow pretty badly. I am only this week able to type with both hands again.

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 9, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s gospel, Jesus responds to comparisons of his ministry to John the Baptist’s ministry. John had been an ascetic, living very simply, subsisting on very little and living like the extremely poor people of the time. Jesus was more celebratory, and was called, “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. John was ministering in a time of waiting for the Messiah, and the wait was meant abstaining and preparing. Jesus’ ministry is more celebratory, because he is the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah.

He goes on to say that God has hidden things from the wise and revealed them to children. I think what he’s talking about here is that many of the learned people in his society rejected his message and him, but that the poor and marginalized people followed him. This was a great part of how Jesus ended up being criminalized by the powers-that-be. He was too influential over masses of people and preaching a dangerous philosophy of the last shall be first and love and hope. The powerful do not want the people under their feet to have that much hope.

Then we have one of Jesus’ most famous and beautiful sayings:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Hope for the hopeless. Rest for the weary. Jesus gives it.

 

 

Post Delay

Road construction sign telling motorists to expect delays

Source: iStockphoto.com/mrdoomits

I will get at least a little behind on my posts because I’m in the hospital with my son right now so he can get a video EEG and work out the right medication combination to control his epilepsy. He is otherwise safe and healthy–just getting some analysis done–it makes it harder to write at the moment, though.

Proper 8, Year A: Matthew 10:40-42: Righteous Reward

Syrian refugee camp in Turkey

Syrian refugee camp in Turkey – Source: iStockphoto.com/mrtaytas

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 8, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew from Track 2.

This passage is short and sweet, but says so much. These are the last of his instructions to his disciples before he sends them out to do his work. He is saying they are his representatives and how they are received is how he is received by the people. He also talks about the rewards received by those who receive them and do good. To welcome the disciples (or today’s disciples—followers of Christ) is to welcome Jesus himself.

Here’s my favorite part:

[W]hoever 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.

To me, this takes the analogy further. It is not only about welcoming the disciples but in giving in their name (or in the name of Christ) to others—about welcoming others in kindness. I don’t normally get political here, but it might be considered political to say that I think this goes from the personal to the national. Not only should we be welcoming hosts in our churches and homes, but we should be welcoming refugees and immigrants into our nation. I am not basing that on this little passage along.  Check out this list of Biblical references to immigrants and refugees.

Are we welcoming people into our churches and are we welcoming immigrants and refugees? Please check out the Episcopal Migration Ministries website for information on how the Episcopal Church is welcoming people from all over the world.

Proper 7, Year A: Romans 6:1b-11 : New Life in Christ

Respect and praying on nature background

Respect and praying on nature background – Source: iStockphoto.com/ipopba

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 7, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Romans from Track 2.

In this passage, Paul asks if we should continue to send so that grace may abound—in other words, maybe our sinning makes grace all the greater, so should we just sin away to demonstrate that amazing grace? Paul says BY NO MEANS. If we have died to sin with Christ, we can’t go on living in it. As we are baptized, we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus—which is the death of our sin and our resurrection into new life—not an old life of sin. As Paul puts it, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Obviously, we do not achieve perfection in our baptism, and we will go on to sin, but we must not wallow in that sin and consider that grace’s work done. We go on day by day to embrace the new life in Christ Jesus. We go on to discipleship in him—I consider discipleship just a way to say lifelong learning and growth in the love of Jesus. If we are learning and growing in Christ, we are seeking to avoid sin and instead to love with the love of God.  Let us go forth in the name of Christ.

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

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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.