Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 4:12-23: Fishing for People

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

The gospel lesson this week is about the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus has learned that John was put in prison and he himself goes back home to Galilee. But he doesn’t stay in Nazareth, his hometown. He goes to live in Capernaum, which is in the area near Zebulun and Naphtali. It says he did this to give meaning to what the prophet Isaiah said: 

“Listen, land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, lands by the road that goes to the sea, the area past the Jordan River—Galilee, where those from other nations live.

The people who live in spiritual darkness have seen a great light. The light has shined for those who live in the land that is as dark as a grave.”

Matthew 4: 15-16

Jesus begins to teach. He tells people “Change your hearts and lives, because God’s kingdom is now very near.”

One day he is walking by Lake Galilee and he sees two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew. They are fishermen and they’re out on the lake fishing with a net. Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.” They immediately stop fishing and follow him. I love the idea of this. Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living. Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.” In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s crazy to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus. How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus then goes all over Galilee teaching in the synagogues and talking about God’s kingdom, as well as healing people. Think about this a bit: his main gigs were teaching and healing. How far can Christianity get from this sometimes? And his teaching is not a judgmental, condemning kind of teaching. Yes, he tells people to change their lives and do good, but he doesn’t turn away those whom society would consider bad. He welcomes all. But perhaps that is a lesson for another day—or I think every day.

So this is how Jesus starts his ministry. He doesn’t go straight to the temple in Jerusalem, the religious hot spot. He will eventually get to that, but he starts out in the countryside in smaller towns. He goes straight to the people, not to the bigshots–so very typical of our beloved Jesus.  

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 11:2-11: John the Messenger

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

John the Baptist is in prison, where he is hearing a lot about Jesus, so he sends some followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah he has been expecting.

Jesus responds to tell John what they know: that the blind can see, the crippled walk, people are healed, and the deaf hear. The dead are brought back to life and the good news is brought to the poor. The answer is apparently obvious.

Then after John’s followers left, Jesus talks to the people about John, asking why they went out in the desert to see John. Obviously, they didn’t go out to see a fancy man in fine clothes or someone weak and inept. They went to see a prophet in John, but someone more than a prophet–a messenger who was preparing the way.

Then he says, “The truth is that John the Baptizer is greater than anyone who has ever come into this world. But even the least important person in God’s kingdom is greater than John.” (Matthew 2:11, Easy-to-Read Version).

So Jesus is responding to a question from John, his messenger. He is a messenger, but one who is still questioning his own message and seeking reassurance. We also come into Advent with questions about the coming of Christ. We are preparing for Christmas, we are awaiting his coming, but still, we need reassurance. The reassurance comes in the form of love and healing–good news for the poor, healing and restoration. The response from us is to carry that love forward and bring it to the world. And again Jesus reminds us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. What the world values should not be what we value. Love comes first and we must serve and love those who would never be first.

Proper 23, Year C: Luke 17:11-19: Noticing Others

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 23, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

The Gospel reading today is about one of the miracles Jesus performed and how the people he healed reacted. It’s kind of a cool story. Jesus walks into a small town and is met by ten men, though they keep their distance, because they have leprosy. You’ve probably heard of leprosy, but if you want more info, check here. You can also Google it, but I wouldn’t recommend an image search. Anyway, leprosy is pretty nasty and people back then thought that it was highly contagious (it’s actually not that contagious unless you have close and repeated contact–see link above). Those with leprosy were outcasts because they could no longer be near friends and family for fear of spreading the disease; they just had to hang out with other lepers. So that’s why they kept their distance and call out to him rather than coming close. They have obviously heard about Jesus and his power to heal so they ask for his help. He simply tells them to go to the priests, and on their way to see the priests they are healed. There was a law that said you had to go to the priests to have them examine you and prove if you had leprosy or not (and if they gave you a clean bill of health you could go back to your family). He hadn’t healed them yet, but sent them for that examination—they trusted him enough to go, and sure enough they were healed.  

Upon finding they are healed, nine men continue on, but one man turns back to go find Jesus again. He praised God and bowed in front of Jesus and thanked him. The Bible notes that he was a Samaritan, so not one of the Jewish people. Jesus says, “Ten men were healed, where are the other nine?” He says here’s a guy who’s not even one of our people and he’s the only one who came back to praise God? Then he sends the man on and tells him he was healed because he believed.

Jesus always notices the people the rest of society ignores: the poor, the sick, the troubled, the immigrants, even women (big deal back then). He notices these ten sick guys and heals them, and then he notices that the one who came back to thank him was not even Jewish but a Samaritan–another kind of marginalized person. We must also seek to notice people like Jesus did and to serve those who need our service most. We don’t seek to please the rich and powerful but to help and save those who need God’s love most.

Proper 16, Year C: Luke 13:10-17: Hypocrisy vs. Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 16, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he sees a woman who has been crippled for 18 years and can’t stand up straight. He lays hands on her and tells her she’s now free of her sickness. She praises God.

Of course, the powers-that-be aren’t happy about this. They complain that he’s healing on the Sabbath Day. He tells people to show up on some other day to be healed.

Jesus declares the leaders hypocrites. He says they untie their animals and take them to drink water even on the Sabbath. He says it’s not wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath. The leaders are shamed and the people are happy.

Again, as in the last story, Jesus is not all about the warm fuzzies. He doesn’t agree with rules for rules’ sake. He helps someone in need and thumbs his nose at hypocritical leaders. May we be like Jesus. Help those who need help and call out those who do harm.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 14:23-29: Following Jesus

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

Jesus says to his disciples that all who love himwill obey his teaching and his Father will love them. Anyone who does not love him will not obey his teaching. He then promises that a Helper will teach them and help them to remember all he told them. That Helper is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father.

He says he leaves them his own peace–a different peace than the world. He says not to be troubled or afraid. He is leaving, but he will return. If they love him, they would be happy he is going back to the Father.

A lot of Christians are very focused on worshiping Jesus rather than following Jesus. I don’t know that Jesus ever said, “Worship me” but he definitely said multiple times, “Follow me.” And where does Jesus go that we must follow? He teaches a profound love for God and for others– a love that reaches out to those on the margins to pull them in and help them, no matter the cost, even at great sacrifice. In another possible reading in today’s lectionary, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, telling him to take up his mat and walk–the healing and the carrying of the mat are both in defiance of the Sabbath law, but Jesus cares about the man more than any consequence. He acts out of love. That is what we are to follow. And the Holy Spirit is given to lead us in that way of following.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:14-21: Jesus’ Mission Statement

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

I’m preaching this Sunday so what follows is basically my sermon (though it will no doubt change a bit in the moment).

Just imagine something for a moment with me. Father Owen on a Sunday morning reads the Gospel as usual. We are all watching him (or maybe we’re reading along in our bulletin, but hopefully we’re paying attention). Then he just sits down and says “OK, that scripture is fulfilled today” and that’s the end of his sermon. We’d be like, “What? What is happening?” But you’re out of luck this morning, I have a lot more to say—you won’t get off that easy.  But keep that in your mind as we move on.

Next let’s bring our imaginations to the time of Jesus. This is a little more difficult since we haven’t been there. Jesus has been baptized and then he has been tempted in the wilderness. He then returns to the area of Galilee where he grew up. Today’s Gospel says he returns “filled with the power of the Spirit.” What does this mean—filled with the power of the Spirit? It’s no small thing—when Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, he’s letting us know that now we’re getting down to business. You don’t describe someone filled with the power of the Spirit if they’re just planning to have a snack, take a nap, maybe catch a football game. Being filled with the power of the Spirit means something significant. He begins teaching in the synagogues of various towns, and word begins to spread that he is something special.

Then Jesus’ ministry truly begins with today’s Gospel, and he announces it in his own hometown.

He arrives in his hometown of Nazareth and is asked to read from the scriptures on the Sabbath. Someone hands him the scroll of Isaiah. He finds a particular passage (now take note this is also what we do on our Sabbath day–we look into the scriptures to learn something every week).

I’m going to read this again; it’s important: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:19 : Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6

What’s interesting to me is that he is very deliberate about the passage he reads, and he adds a bit from another part of Isaiah. So he knows exactly what he intends and this makes it more meaningful.

Then Jesus sits down. (From what I understand it was common practice for someone presenting in the synagogue to read a scripture and then sit down before explaining it.) He then says, as everyone stares at him expectantly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “This text is about me and I’m about to blow your minds.”

The response of the people of Nazareth will be continued in next week’s Gospel reading–you’ll have to come back for that (I feel like I’m giving you a cliffhanger—but you can also read it in any of the Bibles here). Today it’s all about what Jesus is saying. You could call this passage Jesus’ mission statement, because it’s indeed what he goes on to make the focus of his ministry–to bring good news to the poor, to tell the captives they are free, to proclaim sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to tell everyone the time has come for the Lord’s favor. 

His carrying out this mission is apparent in everything he does—in what he teaches, in his healing ministry, in his surprising responses to questioning by religious leaders, in his miracles—and this mission is what leads him to the cross. Then he rises from the dead and his mission continues in the hands of his church. Sometimes the church has followed his mission and done it very well and of course sometimes it’s done it poorly or even as if following a very different mission.

Let’s break this mission statement down. First, to bring good news to the poor. Jesus was very focused on poverty. He was very focused on money. There are people who count these things and they have calculated that he talked about money more than anything else–but he talked about it in the sense that earthly things are fragile and fleeting. In that time people who were wealthy were often considered blessed by God. Honestly there are a lot of Christians who think that way today. They think if you’re poor, you must have done something wrong—never mind income inequality, the effects of racism, classism, the difficulty in affording higher education—poverty is somehow a sin and a reflection of bad character according to some people. Recently Franklin Graham (he’s the son of the famous Christian evangelist Billy Graham) said in an interview, “A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume.” This was in context of him saying that the United States has been a force for good because of its wealth. I think I get what he’s trying to say, but it comes across very dismissive of the poor and their intrinsic worth, worth that Jesus would never deny.

 There are ministers (some are themselves multimillionaires) in the pulpit this morning telling their congregations that they just need to pray harder to be blessed with money. They teach that they lack faith if they struggle financially. But later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are you that hunger now.” Jesus had no disdain for the poor but only for those who mistreated the poor and trampled them on their way to their own riches. He often contrasts the poor with the wealthy. After blessing the poor, he says, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” His words of comfort were for those who needed it, not for the already comfortable. Most of us probably know the story of Jesus watching people donating money at the temple. He saw the rich men donating large amounts very ostentatiously—obviously showing off their wealth while they were at it. Then he watched a poor widow give two copper coins and he said that she had given more than all the rest, because they gave out of their abundance and she gave all she had. That was how Jesus cared for the poor. He brought good news to the poor because they likely saw themselves as unworthy as well. They internalized that harsh assessment of poverty being their own fault, but Jesus gave them comfort and intrinsic value.

Next, Jesus said “proclaim release to the captives.” Often this is interpreted only metaphorically—freeing people captive to sin or freeing us from certain ancient laws. It’s true that I can’t recall an incident of Jesus personally setting captives physically free—but he did have a message of hope and freedom. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and 20 percent of the world’s imprisoned population. Do we really have more law-breakers than other nations? Even as the rates of violent crime and property crime have gone down, our prison population has increased dramatically for decades, thanks to harsh sentencing and mandatory sentencing laws and I think also due to a certain culture of condemnation and retribution for even minor offenses. Our prisons are disproportionately populated by people of color. In addition to our regular prisons, we have those detained at the border seeking asylum. Our country has increased spending for prisons dramatically compared with the increase in spending for education. The amount of tax payer money spent for state and local prisons increased at triple the rate, compared to public school education. If Jesus began his ministry in this decade, I think he would call us out for all of these alarming statistics.

Jesus also talked about recovery of sight to the blind. This was very literal in the Gospel when he healed the blind and many other people. Healing was an extensive and essential part of his ministry. Healing should also be a part of our ministry, whether spiritual or physical. Healing is complicated and difficult, but it’s part of our calling as followers of Christ. Of course, we should work to make medical care more accessible and affordable for people and that’s important, but healing isn’t synonymous with curing. To cure someone is to eliminate their disease. To heal someone is to make them whole. That goes beyond the medical. How are people healed? Sometimes they are literally cured, yes. Sometimes they are healed of addictions. Sometimes they are healed of their own closed-minded bigotry. Sometimes they are healed of loneliness. We may not experience the kind of miracles Jesus performs in the scriptures, but healing still happens and we are called to care for our fellow children of God.

Jesus also says he’s called to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Isn’t that a beautiful thought—freedom for the oppressed and the Lord’s favor? So many of us have been treated badly, so many people have been marginalized and abused by society and by other people. And Jesus had a message of hope for them, for us. And he calls on us to carry on this mission, a mission to the poor, to the captives, to the blind, to the oppressed—to all the people our culture has rejected and neglected.

Today’s reading from Corinthians is also about the church, the Body of Christ, and how we are called to live out the mission of Jesus. We are all part of that body and we all have our own purpose within it. We all have gifts and skills to use for the church and for society. Those gifts are all different. Your gifts are not the same as your neighbor’s. Those gifts work together to make a functioning and thriving body of Christ, working together for the good of the church and the world, carrying out the same mission.

I want to challenge all of us to think about Jesus’ mission over next two weeks as we approach the date of our annual meeting. How are we fulfilling our role within the body of Christ?—both as members of Grace and members of the larger church. How is Grace working toward these goals? I could tell you some wonderful things Grace is doing, but I challenge you to look into it in the coming week. You can check out the website for information on all the ways this church is at work fulfilling Jesus’ mission or you can come to the annual meeting on the 10th and hear the voices of those doing that work and inviting you to join in as well.

So let’s go back to where we began—in our imaginations. We have heard the scripture. The Holy Spirit is within us as followers of Christ. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to heal the broken, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim the goodness of God. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.

Proper 25, Year B: Mark 10:46-52: Meet Needs With Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 25, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus arrives in Jericho, followed by a large crowd. A blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the road, where he often sat begging for money. When he heard Jesus was there he began to shout to him for help. Other people tell him to be quiet, but he cries out more, “Son of David, please help me!”

Jesus, of course, asks for them to call him over. Bartimaeus approaches quickly. Jesus asks what he wanted and he asks to see again.

Jesus tells him, “Go. You are healed because you believed.”  The man is immediately able to see again and he followed Jesus down the road.

Once again Jesus has a different view than others. Others are telling the man crying out for help and mercy to shut up, to leave Jesus alone and stay quiet. But Jesus notices him and wants to see him. He doesn’t care that he is merely a beggar. Another popular teacher might be seeking out the rich and famous and trying to make a few bucks off his power and popularity, but Jesus sees the saddest person there in the greatest need. And he sees that person’s belief. Then he meets that person’s needs. His eyes see what others don’t. He sees a need and he meets it with love.

Proper 18, Year B: Mark 7:24-37: Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 18, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is trying to stay hidden (because he is so often surrounded by crowds begging for healing). A Gentile woman finds him and asks for healing for her daughter. He seems reluctant at first, telling her that the children must eat all they want before their bread is given to dogs. She replies that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table that the children don’t eat. He approves of this answer and says that her daughter is healed. It sounds harsh and I think that’s partially a cultural thing that’s hard for us to understand, but the woman seemed to have both humility and assertiveness in her response. Jesus is reluctant, yes, but he does extend his love and healing beyond his own people.

Then Jesus moves on and people bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly. Jesus leads the man away and heals him quietly. He told people not to tell anyone, but they do not stay silent and spread the word about him.

Jesus in these stories is not seeking out the crowds but his compassion is so great that he continues to heal and help people, even though that makes it hard to keep a low profile. He is continually loving and healing people. This makes me think of the healing ministry of my church that was recently expanded to include individual prayers during or after the Eucharist. It’s a lovely way to follow in the steps of Jesus.

Proper 11, Year B: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56: Jesus as a Healer

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 11, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

The disciples Jesus sent out in the previous passage have returned to him. They eagerly tell him all they had done. But it is so busy with people that they don’t even have time to eat. Jesus tells them they will find a quiet place to rest. So they go on a boat to a place where they expect to be alone, but people follow them there. So many people come that a large crowd is waiting when Jesus gets off the boat. He takes pity on them so he stops to teach them.

The lectionary passage here skips ahead to another landing of the boat. They get out of the boat again and people recognize Jesus and people come in from all over the area bringing the sick to him. Wherever he goes people bring sick people to him and beg that they might just touch even the edge of his cloak. Anyone who touches it is healed.

This is very timely for me (even though I am doing it a couple weeks late). I happen to be sick this weekend and unfortunately I was too sick to serve on the healing prayer team today at church as planned. Our church has had healing services on some Wednesday nights for a while now, but we recently started a ministry of healing prayer during Sunday morning services. A couple of us stand to the sides during the Eucharist and people can come up to us after receiving communion for an individual healing prayer and anointing with oil. We discussed in our Adult Spiritual Formation commission that healing is not just about physical healing and that healing isn’t synonymous with curing. I’ve been reading a book called Healing in the Landscape of Prayer that has some great stories of people being cured after prayer, however, so it can happen. It’s lovely to be involved in a ministry that was so much a part of Jesus’ ministry in his lifetime.

I have spent some time in hospitals with my youngest son, who has a rare genetic disease, KBG Syndrome, which causes a few physical issues as well as some neurological ones. I know the great comfort I’ve had when visited by an Episcopal chaplain or our own priest while my son is sick. He may not have been cured, but we felt a healing effect and the love of Jesus.

Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13: Ministry of the Twelve Disciples

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

Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.

Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.

Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.

So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.

Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.