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 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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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.

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 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