Advent 3: Year A

The promised day of God is dawning

  • Isaiah 35:1-10
  • Psalm 146:4-9
  • James 5:7-10
  • Matthew 11:2-11

Advent is also a desert time. But soon joy shall come, as written in this Hebrew traditional song:

Joy shall come even to the wilderness, And the parched land shall then know great gladness; As the rose, as the rose shall deserts blossom, Deserts like a garden blossom. For the living springs shall give cool water, in the deserts streams shall flow, For living springs shall give cool water, in the desert streams shall flow.

John is the herald of the coming of the Lord. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God by everything that he said and did. We pray for God’s kingdom to come every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

The Baptismal Covenant provides the vision for the baptized: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching . . . persevere in resisting evil . . . proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ . . . seek and serve Christ in all persons . . . strive for justice and peace among all people? (BCP 304-305) Continue reading

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Advent 2: Year A

A voice in the wilderness crying

  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
  • Romans 15:4-13
  • Matthew 3:1-12

During Advent we are called to prepare the way of the Lord. Through repentance we are able to prepare our hearts to accept the gift of Christ. The prophets were sent as messengers to preach repentance and to bid God’s people to prepare for salvation. In today’s Hebrew scripture readings we hear of the promises to come: Isaiah declares that God will send a wise and understanding Judge who will be righteous and faithful in his decisions. The psalm proclaims the expected Messiah as one who will rule with righteousness and justice, bringing peace to the end of time. Paul also speaks of the time to come, when the God of hope will fill the church in Rome with “all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” All of these are voices crying out to us in the wilderness. And this Advent, there are many voices crying out to us.

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The Season after Pentecost, Year C: Proper 26

God’s covenant demands justice

  • Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
  • Psalm 119:137-144
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
  • Luke 19:1-10

God’s covenant in both the Hebrew scriptures and Christian testament demands justice. Without justice, praise and sacrifice are empty acts that do not make God’s people righteous. Habakkuk describes the breakdown of Judah’s legal system, allowing for ruthless accumulation of wealth. He prophesies to the people that the righteous live by their faith, and God’s rule is reliable. Today’s Gospel has the memorable story of Zacchaeus. The chief tax collector in Jericho, he seeks out Jesus; his actions confirm that he too is heir to the promise of salvation.

Fred Craddock shares, “Zacchaeus’ offer of half of his possessions to the poor and a generous restitution to anyone he may have cheated can be seen as itself evidence of the radicality of grace and the power of Jesus’ good news to him. After all, Luke’s gospel of grace is joined to repentance, and repentance is not solely a transaction of the heart.”

Reflecting on all of today’s readings, what do they suggest to us about sin, repentance, and forgiveness? In the final verse of the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he “came to seek out and to save the lost.” Who are the lost in our world today? How are we as individuals and as the Church called to take part in this ministry? As “sons of Abraham” (v. 9) all can be restored to the community and are entitled to inherit all God’s blessings. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Year C, Proper 25

One’s prayer and faith in proclaiming the Gospel is remembered by God.

  • Joel 2:23-32
  • Psalm 65
  • 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18
  • Luke 18:9-14

Parables have a way of pointing to a deeper truth with very few words. Today’s parable speaks to the heart of human nature in relationship to God and to one another. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is unique to Luke, and provides further teaching on prayer and patterns of reversal. Jesus sets up a comparison between the spiritual pride of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector.

The failure of the Law alone to justify, the evil of pride, the mercy of God and the universality of salvation are exemplified. Jesus challenges us to place ourselves in this parable. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Year C, Proper 24

We are to preach, teach, and live the faith.

  • Jeremiah 31:27-34
  • Psalm 119:97-104
  • 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
  • Luke 18:1-8

In today’s New Testament reading, Paul tells Timothy to remember from whom he learned the truths of faith, to proclaim the message, to use every gift at his command, and to teach with the necessary patience. He must keep calm, face the hardships, and work for the spread of the gospel. Perhaps in Timothy’s time there were a number of teachers who called themselves Christians but who represented their own versions of the faith. Timothy is urged to remain strong in what he has been taught and in the scriptures, which would have been the writings of the Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah.

I read the Torah as Jews have read it and loved it for centuries. For example, I can tell you what is the middle word in the Torah. I can tell you what is the middle letter in the Torah. Over the generations Jewish scholars have read the Torah not as a novel to see how it ends, but as a love letter. For instance,  “Why did he use this word instead of that word?” “Why is there a space here?” “Why a comma here instead of a period?” That’s the way you read a love letter and wonder, “What did he or she mean by this word?” We Jews have seen the Torah as not just a book of stories or law codes, but as a love letter from God. Harold Kushner, Questions of Faith: Contemporary Thinkers Respond (1990: Trinity Press International).

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The Season after Pentecost: Year C, Proper 23

God is faithful.

  • Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
  • Psalm 66:1-11
  • 2 Timothy 2:8-15
  • Luke 17:11-19

Jesus encounters all kinds of people on his journeys. Those who are outsiders, outcasts, and at the lowest end of the social structure receive special attention from him. Today’s healing of individuals with leprosy highlights the kind of relationship that God, through his Son, establishes in our lives. When one returns to offer his thanks, Jesus tells him his faith has made him well. This particular Samaritan is an example of one who did the extraordinary – he took the time to turn back, to complete his own healing process with evidence of true salvation.

Faith is about a relationship of trust in God and faithfulness to God. Marcus Borg says, “In the Bible, salvation is mostly concerned with something that happens in this life. Even in the New Testament, the primary meaning of the word ‘salvation’ is transformation in this life. One can see this in the roots of the English word salvation, which comes from ‘salve,’ which is a healing ointment. Salvation is about healing, We all grow up wounded, and salvation is about the healing of the roots of existence . . .  The ancient meaning of the word ‘believe’ is ‘to commit oneself, to be loyal to.’ The Middle English word for ‘believe’ means to love or be loved. So faith is about loving God and loving that which God loves – which is the whole of creation.” Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Year C, Proper 22

Live in faith. Follow the teachings of God.

  • Lamentations 1:1-6
  • Psalm 137
  • 2 Timothy 1:1-14
  • Luke 17:5-10

 

Luke brings us two short sayings from Jesus: one about faith and the other about power. In both he confronts assumptions his disciples then and now bring to him.

Self-improvement is a mantra in our culture. Every day, we hear hundreds of offers from companies who want us to buy their product or service to improve our lives or our skills in some way, often by promising more of what we already think is a good thing. This is what many advertisements do, and the average American is exposed to hundreds of them across multiple media platforms every day. So for us, the disciples’ question “Lord, increase our faith,” (that is, “give us more”) may seem quite reasonable.

But Jesus doesn’t answer their request as they put it. It’s not more faith that they need. It’s a different kind of faith: Mustard weed faith. Continue reading

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