TO THOSE persons seeking discussion for Sundays coming forth in the lectionary, we offer a listing according to the three-year calendar.
On the right-hand column of this page, please find the past corresponding year for lectionary years A, B, or C.
And then search the appropriate month in each for a discussion concerning the gospel reading.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Finding, Losing and Rewards

THE Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost brings us words of Jesus that were primarily said to Peter. According to Saint Matthew, our Lord predicted his own suffering and death and we hear that his disciple Peter declared instant alarm. A missional difference existed between them. Thus, Peter being an example of our own discipleship, gave us opportunity to examine this valuable illustration concerning the proper aims for the modern Christian Church…

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21-28)

Showing Us the Way…
In a continuation from the previous conversation between our Lord and his disciples about the perceptions of both other people and themselves, in this text we hear that Jesus created a counterpoint example between the found and the lost. Differing from the earlier penned Markan account of this conversation (c. 65-70A.D.), Matthew included something that Mark omitted. Matthew’s gospel states clearly that Jesus said he must go to Jerusalem. We emphasize the “must” expressed. Jesus told them by using that word that Jerusalem was the site not only of a major confrontation wherein the powers of this world was set over against him, but also that event contained an imperative ending that was written in stone. Jesus said that he “must” go. This word signified that the course unfolding was one that was previously laid out for our Lord.
  Understand that as Savior, this was a role that he had accepted from the very beginning of creation. What was most profound was that the path was pleasing to… and required by... our omniscient God. We note with interest that Matthew was the only gospel writer who blatantly told this, the one disciple who named the place of the imperative act. Thus we may gather that the place for the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus had been decides and had occurred before the time of writing. This was very important to the responsive walk in faith by the writer’s own community. It seems that Matthew wanted his congregation to distance themselves from the central core of the Judaic government and temple cult.
  Within this passionate statement we note that Jesus stressed to the disciples that his journey to Jerusalem was not going to include a pleasant reception. Suffering and death would be the outcome for him.
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By Paul Tillich
 Now here we need remember from last week’s lesson that Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Christ... the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Having done so, Peter was praised by Jesus for confessing that which had been revealed to him by God. That praise from Jesus has resounded across the centuries that “upon the Rock” of our Lord the Spirit would build his Church. We may gather that this played well as told in Antioch of Syria… the community wherein the Matthean gospel was written. You see, Peter had already exerted much influence there.
 We find as this reading progressed, however, that Peter and Jesus originally had different thoughts about the unfolding future. The difference seemed to center about just what “Messiah” meant to Peter. For Peter had futuristic visions of Jesus going to Jerusalem to rightfully claim the rule of both government and temple… to restore the former earthly glory of the Jews which had been present in the days of David and Solomon.
 Reading about these motivations then, could we today say that in this way Peter hoped the burden of Roman rule could be cast off from the chosen people of God? Certainly as the pebble named in the stream of divine unfolding, he was eventually to become a rock of faith,
 However, Peter at first had a differing vision for the Messiah, Therefore Peter “took” ( Greek – proslabomenous ) Jesus aside. We can envision that Peter went “nose to nose” with our Lord. He upbraided our Lord, but in turn was firmly chastised. He received a distancing statement. Peter had provided his argument from sinful ambition. In argument against those that say that Peter is the "Rock" that establishes his priority amongst the disciples, and therefore inherited the papacy, we see that his statement had been provided to him by Satanic powers in the world. He therefore garnered the…  “Get behind me Satan!” retort. If Peter was the "Rock, he had already crumbled. Suddenly the earlier image of the divinely-favored Petrine position was gone from the reading. Scripture witnessed that Jesus told his leading disciple to get in line. In other words, Jesus was asking… “Whom shall you serve?” As the community knew by the time of this gospel’s writing, in the future Peter was to serve God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not fall victim to the sinful appetites of humanity. 
 At the time of Peter's protest, however, Jesus had turned to the whole audience of disciples. He clarified what the apostles were intended to be... and do… and a great lesson was delivered to the later Church. We see that for Matthew’s community, the founding voice of Peter was put in its proper place. Centered before them stood the words of Jesus, the Messiah. These words were immovable! The conversation centered them around carrying of the cross. Striving within the early Church was fierce. Persons holdng various roles of the early Matthean church were wanting to take Peter and Matthew aside. In retrospect, we realize that glaring was the message as indeed ... centuries of persecution would follow.

Addressing Factions!
  Though energetic and enthusiastic at first, the prophets, teachers and leaders were exerting forces which distracted and burdened. We read of this in an admonition from the “Didache”, often rightly called the “Teaching of the Apostles of Jesus Christ”.
 Believed by many scholars to be written about 50 A.D…. some thirty years before Matthew’s gospel, within this document we read much about the guidelines concerning persons within the early Church. Though written primarily for teaching novices new to the faith, it gave both leaders and laypersons alike.., certain behavioral standards…

“However, if a teacher has himself wandered from the right path and has begun to teach a teaching that is at odds with what is set out here, you should not listen to him. On the other hand, if his teaching promotes holiness and knowledge of the Lord, then you should welcome him as you would the Lord.(Didache 11.2)

  A difference loomed, therefore, between a pebble and rock for the Church. Peter, having been named as “Rock” was called only to promote “holiness and knowledge of the Lord”. Subsequently we emphasize from writings of earlier prophets who spoke at the time before Israel’s exile, that leaders such as Peter should not be placed too highly. He, nor others, should stand as a hindrance to the gospel of deliverance through Jesus. Jesus alone is the Messiah. Rendering “hindrance” then is more interpreted as “stumbling block”. We read first from a prophet…

But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”  (Isaiah 8:13-15)

 Thus the early Church stood warned by the witness of this Hebrew prophetic writing, coming from the ancient text they held dear. The prophet warned about any persons or things that would usurp the foundation laid forever by God. We read…

… therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘He who believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” (Isaiah 28:16)

 Within this context then, Jesus the Messiah of the Living God... pointed beyond that immediate day wherein he taught. Though he had not yet suffered the cross, certainty was indelibly cut into the foundation of the future of the Matthean church. The perfectly innocent Messiah had been crucified… and rose again. They, like Peter... thus stood as admonished.
 In modern times, we too carry the image of that cross as a tortuous device of rejection,  persecution and death. This stresses a theology of the cross, rather than a theology of glory. Consequently, we are called to walk in a goodly path. By being asked to carry such from its birth, the early Church after the Resurrection knew of the given promise that any who do adhere to the cross faithfully would surely give voice, fall… and rise again. In this way, the Church would imitate the walk of the Teacher and Savior. This exhortation and instruction, therefore, at first hindered by those who foolishly considered gaining mortal power and influence over the Church, discovered that proper payment is to be made.

Carrying the Cross!
These words need be hammered upon the spiritual rocks that lay beneath our baptismal stream. They reflect the faith of our ancestors brightly into the Church today. We stumble forward. We today are assailed by some of the same powers that burdened the early Church. We are rent by similar forces walking both in and out of our number. But through this wondrous reading we know that the way of the cross of Jesus is the path chosen for us. We are blessed if we should so carry it.
 As baptized sinners then, individually we stumble and fall in our daily lives as we try to push Jesus aside. We stubbornly rankle at scriptural words and instructions when Satanic forces and demons try to muddy the waters of the baptismal font. Together, as the Church which has moved through history, we see that these same demonic powers were present always and still do not relent. But we have heard here that they shall not have the last word. For the day comes when our Lord shall powerfully demonstrate his authority and judgment.
  As a pastor, I consider that it is indeed Satanic that some in our modern clergy number try to raise offices for their own ministry, or raise laity to the power and authority of Jesus. These even challenge the divinity of our Lord and attempt to change scripture, whether we are reading Law or Gospel. We must arrive then at the conclusion that ancient demons still rage.
  If your answer empowered by the guidance of the Holy Spirit remains as our affirmation of faith, that "Jesus is the Son of the Living God", may those words we utter bring other sinners back to the foot of the cross. There we may together ask forgiveness. In unity we may receive this blessing through the sacrifice of Christ our Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we and these others shall remain as blessed within the Church. We can collectively lift the cross high before the world and its demons, for we are like our forebears in the faith! So it was when the church of Matthew approached the altar of our Lord, and so it is with us even now. 
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Foundational Rocks!

OUR SCRIPTURE reading for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Within it we hear how Jesus examined both the thoughts of the people in the surrounding society, and the awareness of his disciples. He thus questioned the apostles about his identity. Therefore, as we hear the response of Peter given to him by the Spirit we find ourselves also pressed toward the expression of our faith into the world. The message of Matthew reads…

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
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By Paul Tillich

Confronted in Belief…
Our gospel author related that during our Lord’s work amongst the people, he took his disciples to an area surrounding the city of Caesarea Philippi, which was a city formerly called Paneas.  Matthew and the other synoptic gospels (see Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21) wrote that he took his followers from beneath the argumentative scrutiny of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Together they went to a place where his followers could speak more freely. He asked them how people identified him and his message. He asked their thoughts about the identity of the Son of Man… the person mentioned by the prophet Daniel...
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
                         (Daniel 7:13-14)

 The first response came immediately from his followers. The disciples said that some persons said that he was John, Elijah, or Jeremiah returned… or another prophet. The disciples said that some persons had even given their own opinions about the prophetic identity of the Son of Man.
 Nailing his catch of gathered fish to the cleaning board… Jesus immediately co-identified himself because he asked what his own followers said of him. Jesus asked… “Who do you say that I am?” As leader amongst the disciples, Peter offered their collective answer.
  As readers, we must note historically that Peter had been very instrumental in the history of Matthew’s faith community. However, we note a change here in the comparative gospel record. In the earlier written Markan gospel, Peter had just replied, “You are the Christ.” That declaration of Jesus as the Christ in Mark stood as identical in the Lukan statement written about two decades later. In Matthew however, we read that the addition also defines Jesus as “the Son of the living God”.
 This written difference challenges us, in that the latter was not said in the original conversation but was added solely by the Matthean writer. Thus certain scholars accuse that Matthew by the authority of the Holy Spirit, put words into the conversation which were not originally used, but rather are justified in testimony as the Spirit cultivated the early Church.
 While I hear their argument, I counter this thought by saying that the earlier gospel had brevity as one of its priorities. Therefore the phrase could have been omitted due to the need for a shorter account due to lesser parchment availability. Secondly, the phrase may have had less importance for the readers of Mark or Luke. I consider that since Matthew worked on a larger abundance of materials and wrote, like Luke, at a later date... we find that these details were added.
 These differences also had become more important for the Church. They are indeed evidence that Matthew’s scribal efforts were inclusive of important materials as that began to emerge. They describe the very nature of Jesus, the Christ… as the “Son of God”. You see, by the latter part of the first century the theological stance concerning the dual nature of Christ was being heatedly debated. The early Church was struggling to clarify that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Through this declaration then, faith began to come upon them that Jesus was indeed the one promised from times gone past… and would be present forevermore…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
 The text thus recalled the words of the prophets to the infant Church. Additionally, at that time arguments explaining the Trinitarian identity were being formed, guided rightly in development by the Holy Spirit. Thus it was that Peter’s words were remembered by this community. They had personally received his ministry, wherein his presence was more distant to the people of Luke’s churches. 
 Jesus is firmly described as the “Son of the living God”. Surely, we first must consider that for the disciples of Matthew, God the Father is considered as yet living. This was thus important for the infant beginnings of cosmic dualism promoted by Marcion. God the Father yet stood strong for them amid a diverse society where many of the ancient gods were thought of as dead. Second, we must consider that by knowing God as the “living” God means that he does not rule in absentia through emissaries that can skew authority. The authority of God’s Word is revealed through the Spirit as present always in scripture and stands amid us forever.
 What follows is that Jesus’ authoritative declaration about Peter... though not originally found in Markan witness… is now found by us as no less valid. Simon was named as “Peter”, and Jesus declared his faith declaration as a rock. Named as such, a great dualistic meaning came into effect. In Peter, the rock… as the collective disciples’ witness... was prophetically made as immovable throughout history. The apostolic witness statement is so solid that the powers and minions of hell would not prevail against it. That Matthew raised this Petrine witness to the fore should be expected by the reader, for wasn’t it at the very beginning of this gospel telling… that our scribe related the identity of Jesus as the Christ. (as seen in Matthew 1:16).
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Challenged Church?
We note that the gospel writer used a word in this reading that did not appear in the other gospel witnesses. The word “church” (Greek – ecclesian) appears in this gospel not just once… but twice. In its infancy, therefore, the concept of the Church had already developed as a gathered community. This community had already existed before the writer’s time. The Church existed not as one individual, but as a group of persons chosen by baptism to faithfully follow in Peter’s footsteps.
 You see, by the end of Matthew’s telling about Peter having received the keys of the kingdom, they would find themselves sharing apostolic strengths with the whole church. Church is a community of people given faith by the Holy Spirit; a gathering collectively governed by God. At the time of this ancient writing, the Church born during the Pentecost feast was a spread-out gathered community that had already been in existence for about fifty years. Coming into its own consciousness in Matthew then, we find from them the formulation of such as the doctrine of the Trinity. This was beginning to be hammered out, not to be tumultuously smashed on shores of unbelief. We read from Matthew…

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15-21)

 We see here that the doctrine of the Church was also being understood and noted by the Matthean community. Peter’s witness therefore… came from a sinful man yet saved by God's grace and developed over a period of time. Consequently as the modern Church, we today also need to keep the sinful humanity of Peter in clear perspective. Certainly, we are represented truly by this leader of the apostles. We need remember… this is Peter, who in faith given by the Spirit made this profound, rock solid statement. This is Peter, deliberately named the “Rock” by our Lord, who spoke the faith of the immovable church.
 Surely by the Spirit of God, Peter received the knowledge that Jesus is the Father’s only begotten Son. But, let us always remember as well… lest our co-identification with him drive us to think too much of ourselves… that this was truly Peter, the Galilean fisherman. It is he, the leader of the disciples, who soon after this event denied our Lord. But, be careful here! Let us not judge his walk of faith for we differ not in human sin. For you see what wondrous grace was certainly shown to him… and now to us! Though sinful and doubting, with the exception of Judas, the loving power of our Lord provided by the Holy Spirit caused Peter and his fellow disciples to become the foundation of our Lord’s Church. The faith given to them by God though his Son was passed through the centuries to us by such as Matthew. This astounding gift of faith we must hold rightly and tightly… for we are yet called to share this good news profusely with the world around us. So it was then.., and so it is now. Thanks be to God!
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Faith That Is Rock Solid?