The Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36

Florence -  Transfiguration of the Lord

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for The Transfiguration by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing amazing—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah—ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “His face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then two men were there, talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.”

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, I will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son. He is the one I have chosen. Obey him.”

In Matthew’s version of this story, Peter James, and John were freaked out at this experience (as one might expect).  They fell to the ground in fear, but Jesus came and touched them and told them not to be afraid.  When they looked up they saw that Jesus was alone and he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.

In this version it just says that they didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.

This can be a bit of a confusing lesson; there’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t overexplain it.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website (one of my favorites when I was teaching church school) says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  What you mainly need to know is that Moses and Elijah are ancient fathers of the Jewish people.  Maybe it would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help). Just imagine! Your teacher, whom you revere but do not yet fully understand, is not only glowing, but is joined by ancient wise fathers of your people. It would be both beautiful and terrifying.

Dwell on that image today and dwell on the awesomeness of God. Meditate upon the mystery.

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 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!

Lent 5, Year A: John 11:1-45 : Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus Raising Lazarus

Jesus Raising Lazarus – iStock.com/traveler1116

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

This week’s Gospel lesson is a pretty famous one. Before Jesus rose from the dead, he brought another man back from the dead, his dear friend named Lazarus.

The first part of the story is a little puzzling. Jesus receives a message from Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, telling him his beloved friend is ill. Jesus hears it and said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Continue reading

Lent 4, Year A: John 9:1-41: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9), published 1877

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind – Source: iStock.com/ZU_09

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

This week’s gospel lesson is about Jesus healing a blind man. The story starts out with Jesus out walking with his disciples. They saw the blind man and the followers asked Jesus why the man was born blind. There was a common belief at that time (and with some religious people today) that any illness or disability was punishment for sin. They asked if he was born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents. (Seems puzzling to me—how could he have sinned before he was even born?)

Jesus said it wasn’t sin. He said he was born blind to show what great things God can do. Then he said, “While it is daytime, we must continue doing the work of the one who sent me. The night is coming, and no one can work at night. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Continue reading

Lent 3, Year A: John 4: 5-42: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – iStock.com/Ruskpp

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

This week’s gospel lesson is another time Jesus is speaking to just one person, though it leads to him teaching to a whole town.

An important aspect of this story is that Jesus and his disciples are in Samaria (you may remember it from the story of the Good Samaritan). There are very few Samaritans left, fewer than 800 according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans). They have a religion apparently very similar to Judaism, but different enough that they could not agree and would not accept each other at all at the time of this story. From what I have read, nowadays they are seen as a sect of Judaism rather than a group of unacceptable heretics. But at the time of this story, they were very much outsiders to the other Jewish people and the two groups did not get along well. That’s why the parable of the Good Samaritan would have been shocking at the time—that the one who was good was an unacceptable Samaritan. Continue reading

Lent 2, Year A: John 3: 1-17: Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus – Source: iStock.com/Ruskpp

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

The gospel lesson this week is a little different. Instead of Jesus teaching crowds of people or his disciples, he is talking to just one man. The man is named Nicodemus, and he’s an important man among the Jewish people. He comes to see Jesus at night—I have read that this is because he didn’t want to be seen consulting Jesus openly so he comes by cover of darkness. I don’t think that’s explicitly stated, but it could be true. So he comes to Jesus to find out more about him. He says, “Teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God. No one can do these miraculous signs that you do unless they have God’s help.”

Jesus tells him, “Everyone must be born again. Anyone who is not born again cannot be in God’s kingdom.” Continue reading