The difficulty of abiding

3 May 2015
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5B (RCL)
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

What does a fruitful life look like? John’s Jesus talks a lot about bearing fruit, but we’re never really told what that fruit looks like in our lives and the life of the community. I hear echoes in this discourse to the changing of water to wine in Chapter 2. The fruit of the vine goes in to the making of the wine, and Jesus turned 120 gallons of water into wine. Talk about high spirits! And any use of vine imagery reminds us the use of that image in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 5, the prophets sings of song of God’s vineyard. Psalm 80 speaks of the vine God has brought out of Egypt and planted in the new land. Continue reading “The difficulty of abiding”

Entrusting one’s life

26 April 2015
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday
Easter 4B (RCL)

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. We all know this phrase, and it certainly fits with the pastoral image of the Good Shepherd. In Greek, however, it is not clear what the phrase actually means. The Greek is “ten psychen autou tithesin uper” the sheep. He “places his soul over (or on behalf of)” the sheep. I once asked a Greek preceptor what this phrase meant (he was familiar with classical Greek, not New Testament), and he said it came from military poetry, and described the act of one soldier entrusting his weapon to another, as a sign that he trusted his comrade with his life. John uses this phrase many times, and always in connection with the kind of love Jesus bears towards us, and the kind of love we ought to bear for one another. The meaning changes dramatically if we translate, “The Good Shepherd entrusts his life to the sheep.” Continue reading “Entrusting one’s life”

Flesh and bones

19 April 2015
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3B (RCL)
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36-48

This gospel reading bears striking resemblances to some of the resurrection appearances in John’s Gospel. On the first evening, Jesus (in John’s Gospel) shows the disciples his hands and feet, and they rejoice. In the last appearance, Jesus is cooking bread and fish on the shore, while the disciples are out fishing in the boat at night. There must be some early connection between the resurrected Jesus, seeing his hands and feet, and a bread and fish eucharist (the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, and then he shows up in Jerusalem to eat fish). We’re probably lucky that eucharist didn’t catch on! Continue reading “Flesh and bones”

Fellowship and forgiveness

12 April 2015
Second Sunday of Easter
Easter 2B (RCL)
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1 – 2:2
John 20:19-31

The Second Sunday of Easter is known as Thomas Sunday, because we always have this reading from John’s Gospel. Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas” on the basis of this reading, but the nickname is unfair. Thomas does not doubt, but refuses to believe, an entirely different matter. When Jesus says, in the NRSV translation, “do not doubt but believe,” a more accurate translation would be, “Do not be untrusty, but trusty.” The word in Greek is pistos(and its negative apistos). The word means faithful, trusty and true. A pistis was a letter of credit from a temple or a bank for gold on deposit. The bank had to be pistos.

Thomas refuses to trust, until he sees Jesus’ wounds. Continue reading “Fellowship and forgiveness”

High priestly prayer

3 April 2015
Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1 – 19:42

File this one under the category of “D’oh!” Tonight, I preached a sermon about the high priestly role of the Church in offering the prayers of the people. For Episcopalians, the centerpiece of the Good Friday Liturgy is the Solemn Collects, in which we pray “for people everywhere according to their needs.” John presents Jesus as both priest and victim in both the passover sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Great Day of Atonement (“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world). Jesus’ empty tomb replaces the inner sanctum of the Temple. The Epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus in the same way, entering the inner sanctum with his own blood, to take his place at the right hand of God and make intercession for the world.

The Good Friday Liturgy is not so much about simply commemorating Jesus’ death and accepting its merits on our own behalf as it is about entering the inner sanctum through the open curtain of Jesus’ flesh to make intercession for the world.

When we got to the end of the Solemn Collects, it hit me that the concluding collect is the same as the collect used at ordinations. The Church is being ordained on Good Friday into its role as the royal priesthood, the continuation of the Incarnation of Jesus’ role as high priest interceding for the world.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wanted to go back and add that bit to the sermon.

Toward the resurrection

5 April 2015
Easter Sunday
Easter Day B (RCL)
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

If you’re like me, you have trouble believing on their face accounts of a resurrected body of Jesus appearing to the disciples the second day after his death. I had a professor in college who used to ask, “If you had been there with a video camera, what would it have recorded?” He himself believed it would have recorded the glorified body of Jesus emerging from the tomb. I was never so sure (beyond just the fictitious nature of the question – nowadays people would use their cell phone). I think John’s Gospel throws us a little hint in this passage. After the two disciples (Peter and the other disciple) get into a foot race to the tomb, and both take their turn looking into the tomb, John tells us, “for they did not yet understand the scriptures that he must rise from the dead.” Perceiving the resurrection is a matter of understanding the scriptures. Continue reading “Toward the resurrection”