Friday, January 24, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23
I don’t want to burst any Bible balloons but Matthew’s call of the disciples is quite different from the Gospel of John. I’m guessing most people don’t notice week to week the discrepancies that crop up in the scriptures but surely this week someone in the pew will listen to the preacher read the Gospel according to Saint Matthew the fourth chapter and remembering last week’s Gospel according to Saint John the first chapter raise an objection. They can’t both be right, can they? In the past I would have suggested they were two different and unrelated accounts of the same story and we shouldn’t make them do what they didn’t intend to do, namely agree. Matthew written before John didn’t read John and John written after Matthew thought there was more to say. But what if – and here I apologize to all my New Testament seminary professors unless my “what if” is original and makes sense in which case I want credit – what if John’s story written last comes first and Matthew recounts a calling of Andrew and Simon (called Peter) who’ve known Jesus for some time? So this is the timeline. Last week’s Gospel comes first. Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, follows Jesus to where he is staying bringing his brother Simon who Jesus renames Peter. There is “not recorded time” when Andrew and Peter keep fishing dividing their time between John and Jesus. And then when John is arrested the Jesus in Matthew comes calling and says “follow me” which they do because the one who invites them is known to them. That makes more sense to me than two fishermen leaving their nets to follow a perfect stranger. That’s how it is with us, isn’t it? We risk the following, just like they did, but only because we know the one who invites us. They didn’t know where he would lead them or even what fishing for people meant but in the unrecorded time between Andrew’s inviting and Simon’s renaming they had come to know that the only place they wanted to be was with Jesus.   

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Okay, so I got ahead of myself last week and skipped over Paul’s introductory remarks about sanctified saints enriched in speech and knowledge to get to the conflict I knew was coming. It is amazing how many Spirit filled, stockings stuffed with manifest gifts, Bible believing Christians who know the Corinthian correspondence chapter and verse miss Paul’s point altogether. On the other hand I remember when the wind of the Spirit rocked my world and set me on fire for the Lord. I scorched more than a few friends and neighbors with my new found personal relationship with Jesus piety. There’s nothing worse than a reformed sinner who only remembers the moment of conversion and forgets how many conversions it took to get one to finally stick. But then the Corinthians are not so much reformed back-sliders as they are religious junkies who revel in the novelty of ecstatic speech and hedonistic excess justified by grace gone wild. And even though Chloe’s people report some follow Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or Christ, truth is the Corinthians are following their own desires. Preferring the tongues of angels they neglect the language of love and empty the cross of its power because they trust their own wisdom and manufacture whatever truth suits their fancy. This is the week of prayer for Christian unity and yet divisions in Christendom continue to be common as those destined to spend significant time together in eternity can’t seem to set aside the petty differences of the present to be the one in Christ people, by the grace of God, they were meant to be. Instead the church puffed up with pride, thinking its primary purpose is to be the sole gate keeper to heavenly bliss, has finally reaped the reward of its arrogance and become irrelevant to those who know what legitimate love looks like without any help from the church, thank you very much. If those inside the church can’t get along with each other why would anyone outside the church want to “come and see”? We spend a lot of time and effort defining ourselves by what divides us. I belong to Luther. I belong to Calvin. I belong to Wesley. I belong to Rome. I belong to Canterbury. And yes, I belong to Christ. But the foolish message of the cross is that in Christ we belong to each other.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
The confidence celebrated in Psalm 27 is not due to the absence of things of which one might rightly be afraid. In fact the psalmist anticipates a day of trouble and even now is surrounded by enemies. So this is not a “you’ve got to accentuate the positive eliminate the negative” sort of psalm. That denial of true trouble cannot long withstand the onslaught of all that destroys hope and robs us of well being. But I believe it to be true that songs sung and music made in the midst of trouble, even through clenched teeth and weeping eye, diminish the darkness and encourage confidence, for in the light and salvation of the Lord we see the sanctuary of hope and gaze upon the beauty of peace that is the face of Christ. One my favorite songs of the monastic community in Taize, France is Nada te turbe. “Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God will never go wanting. God alone fills us.” It is the way of faith to remember when in the past God our helper lifted our head above all that troubled, all which frightened, so that when we experience difficult days in the present we can by memory sing the song that anticipates the time of rejoicing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Isaiah 9:1-4

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - 3 April 1968, Memphis, Tennessee)



Isaiah 9:1-4
Isaiah 9:1-4 is a timely text for the day that remembers the light that dawned in this country when the voice of a twentieth century prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., cried out to lift the yoke of burden from the shoulder of African Americans and break the rod of oppression that kept them enslaved to systems that denied them basic civil rights. I hope that no matter where we stand on the political spectrum we can agree that denying people equal access to seats on a bus or at a lunch counter or the right to vote or what school one can attend based on the color of one’s skin violates the very principles upon which this country was founded. And therefore no matter what we think of Dr. King I hope we can acknowledge he was a man of great courage and conviction whose commitment to justice changed our country for the better. But of course that’s not what Isaiah had in mind when he penned this prophecy as the “he” who brought the land of Zebulun and Naphtali into contempt was the same “he” who would later make glorious their way to the sea. What seems ironic to me, in light of my introductory remarks, is why these two tribes were brought into contempt in the first place. When the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were given the prettiest land in Palestine they didn't obey God’s command and kill the resident Canaanites but lived among them, which meant at some point a Zebulun Romeo fell in love with a Canaanite Juliet and that was not kosher. Of course that’s not the reason the Assyrians brought anguish to these two lands, that happens much later, but it would seem that the very thing that Dr. King preached about having “been to the mountaintop” is at odds with God’s demand for racial purity in the conquest of the original Promised Land. But then the prophet who penned the prophecy could not fully foresee the future that was being promised. The great light that would shine over deep darkness did not come from Jerusalem but from the land corrupted by Romeo and Juliet’s romance. The “he” that would make glorious the way of the sea would lift the yoke of burden and break the rod of the oppressor not by ethnic cleansing but by bearing the anguish of the cross on his shoulders and banishing the deep darkness of death with the light of resurrection dawn. So maybe it is a timely text for a twentieth century prophet who knew himself to be a sinner but by the grace of God a saint as well, a man who like most prophetic voices resisted the call at first but once claimed by the vision did not withdraw even when he knew it would lead to his death. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Epiphany 2 A - John 1:29-42


How is “Rabbi, where are you staying?” an answer to “What are you looking for?” unless of course what the two disciples are looking for is a place to stay. In that case “Come and see” is exactly what they want to hear and before you know it at least one of the two disciples of John the Baptist, namely Andrew, has moved in with Jesus and found a spot on the couch for his brother Peter as well. Six chapters later Andrew will find a boy whose mother packed him a sack lunch and bring him to Jesus and Jesus will turn the boy’s five small barley loaves and two sardines into a feast for more than 5000. That’s what happens when “Where are you staying?” is really “Can we come with you?” and “Come and see” is really “Follow me.” It’s not any different today, although the Gospel makes everything except the crucifixion sound easier than it really was. Andrew leaves the familiar to follow the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and Simon, whose name means “to hear”, listens to his brother without any evidence that what Andrew is saying is true and subsequently becomes Peter “the “rock” on whose confession the church is built, though that will get him crucified just like the Christ he confesses. I do not believe God orchestrates all the details of our lives but like the two disciples of John I do believe God can be found in the timing of chance encounters and overheard conversations that lead those of us who have found a dwelling place in the Christ to step out of our comfort zone and for a moment be Andrew inviting those who God has put in our path to “Come and see.”