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 25, 2015

Fatback Stake House?

FOR THIS next Sunday after Pentecost we hear again from Saint Mark concerning a behavioral tradition challenged by Jesus. The topic of conversation concerned adherence to a human religious habit founded by some for pious justifications, over against the heartfelt doings of the will of God. Therefore we respectfully read...

And he (Jesus) called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”
 And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
 And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:14-23)

What May We Eat?
As Christians who have been taught to look at scripture for the dialectic tension maintained between the Law and the Gospel, we read that our lectionary menu supplied seems to have items listed numerously beneath the left Law column. These are items that condemn us, and yet only one thing artfully hidden lay within the right reading of the Gospel. This causes us great remorse, for we thus may easily find ourselves dining on sour grapes.
 Note here that the disciples, and in particular those within Mark’s church that had incorporated many Gentiles around them, found themselves adapting their diet to include foods that were not ritually kosher in the Jewish cookery. Not only did many disciples eat with ritually unclean hands, they would eat such horrid things as delicious pork chops, lobster and squid… such items forbidden that may even cost a lot of money today for any family dining in a favorite modern restaurant.
 Thankfully, according to Mark, Jesus cleared up our dietary confusion. He said that to be defiled so that one was unacceptable before God, was not a matter of what a person ate… but rather that our spiritual condition depended on what we accomplished in daily life. That dietary news came across favorably to those in the early church who were not Jews keeping kosher ritual.
 This news is also good news for such as a contestant of a TV series “Alone”, who recently had to whip up a meal of slugs and seaweed in order to survive. It is astounding what the impoverished must find to eat from the dumpsters of our sinful world. But... does that good and pure thing which we may find to eat in the physical world, carry us safely across the threshold of the spiritual realm?

What Should We Do?
The trouble for us becomes evident as our Lord addressed that which comes out of a man. Jesus basically said that what spiritually comes out is like smelly defecation which makes us want to place our outhouse far from the homestead.
 Now for me, this egregious thought rolling around in my head struck hard on my nose, much like being downwind of the privy. Indeed, the mental picture was so pungent to them then, that as the later Gospel of Matthew was written some twenty years later, the scribe tried to lessen the impact. Matthew related that our Lord said…

 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

Thus it was even the early church may have winced beneath the smell of sin, so that they emphasized a dirty mouth. So too we should blanch at Mark's menu of condemnations. You see, our behavior stinks like sour incense before God... so that no matter which end of the worm you bite down on... it's still worm food destined for us. Just examine the list! The menu of moral degradation condemns each and every one of us… whether we are Jew, Gentile, Roman, Greek, Russian, Oriental, African or American. Our Lord Jesus stated that these things come from the sinful, corrupted hearts of all humanity.
 By the time the list is completely read, we together possess a distinct urge to push back… away from the table. But it is already too late! We are already condemned. What then shall we do? Where shall we go? What may we offer? To whom shall we cry to pay the check and save us?

Sweet Salvation
Take note here that the lesson then reveals to us the hidden one, a servant (in the Greek word “doulos” ), Jesus stands very near. The steady and pure holy Servant, who is the Son of God… is the very one who has stood by us through the Spirit to teach us today. It is the Holy Spirit that has revealed the menu for our perusal. The Spirit tells us just like a patient waiter in your favorite Chinese restaurant, "Jesus waits for you to choose between those sweet and sour sinful items on the left, or the singular saving item on the Right."
 If we choose as driven by the Holy Spirit… we find ourselves sitting at a wondrous, eternal table, where blessed Saint Paul reminds…

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
                                                                           (1 Corinthians 11:23-28)

 Therefore, people of God… examine your hearts. For indeed hidden in, with and under the bread and wine that we consume in the holy meal of the Eucharist... is certainly the One who presents the gospel! That is the “Good News”. He is the holy Servant who wrapped a towel around his waist and washed our feet, preparing us for this wondrous dinner.
 Jesus Christ, our Lord, Teacher and Savior, has given us the food which is his own body and blood. He thus provided forgiveness for us and informs of renewed mission. Most certainly, his menu empowers us for proclamations of grace, so that what comes out of our mouths is as sweet smelling incense burned before the altar of God. This is the gospel that saves, that which needs to be bountifully shared... and as such it should come from the heart of the Church.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tasting Life...

OUR LECTIONARY for the church comes this week with a variance in readings. Some Christian denominations will continue to read from the Gospel of John, while others change course and read from the Gospel of Mark. Here in this study we have already dealt for several weeks with the topical subject found in John; therefore, we choose to turn to the subject now covered in Mark. Within that reading, we historically find that during his teaching in the area around Capernaum concerning his being the “Bread of Life”, Jesus and his followers quickly became confronted by religious authorities. They rose to challenge him in the name of keeping Jewish traditions. We read…

Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)
 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?”
 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written..,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)… then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-13)

What is Pure?
The behavior of the disciples and others was pointed out by opponents. The disciples ate their meals without using customary ritual washing. Therefore the Pharisees, and other legalists who had come from Jerusalem gave rise to discussions about pure obedience to God. For them, obedience meant strict personal adherence to the dietary traditions that had set the Jewish people apart for centuries. Before eating, they would perform ritual washing that “purified” that which went into their bodies. These had been lifted very high in the few centuries before the time of Jesus birth. However, as pointed out by adherents, the practices to which they clung had roots in the Exodus from Egypt and the settlement of the people into the land. These were traditional ceremonial roots that they felt set them apart as God’s chosen people. However the problem of these traditions held up in the days of our Lord’s ministry, lay not in the original intent of preserving a robust and healthy nation walking before God, but that these had been boiled into an oppressive gruel of self-justification. By a menu of strict observances, a person could… and often would… claim righteousness before the throne of God and the company of men.
 In answering this challenge, therefore, Jesus ladled out a bitter taste. He accused that the religious authorities had overthrown the immutable Law of God. They had replaced divine instruction with many temporal rules. As proof, our Lord pointed out how divine mandate was intended to preserve proper care and respect for the elderly. The Law had long established…

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)

… and …

“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)

Using these unchanging mandates of God's Law, Jesus explained how the Law had been circumvented by traditions invented in the more recent days of Israel. You see, in the time of Jesus’ ministry and later, a Jewish head of household could take those funds which had been laid aside for his elder's care, preserving them for himself by vowing their use for the temple. A person could thus negate his responsibilities for parental care, while maintaining investment control of the finances. They would invest the funds, gaining interest from the principal.

What is Holy!
In the confrontation, therefore, we see that Jesus altered the conversation away from defending his disciples. He took rather to challenging Jewish tradition. Our Lord rightly focused the discussion on a sinful human flaw… that of our distorting or dismissing God's Law in order to gain religious, financial or political advantage. Thus his admonition to the Pharisees and scribes comes through the pen of Mark to his church. But we too must hear the truth about… “many such things you do.”
 You see, this was a message given universally to the Jews, the early church and to us as well. Mark wrote in a time when the officials of the synagogue looked down upon those Jews and Gentiles within the early church who did not keep to the “kosher” dietary laws of the chosen people. Therefore the admonitions of Jesus dismissed the distracting accusations of the synagogue legalisms. They were cast aside in order to focus the early church’s attention more properly on sinful disobedience as convicted by the Commandments. In this way, they saw that we all stand before the Law as convicted. Thus we are all driven to only seek salvation through Jesus Christ and not by what we may do. You see, thankfully we are saved only by grace through faith given in Jesus Christ alone, and not by either adherences to paltry man-made laws that we may keep, nor the Commandments which we fail to keep. We need to understand thoroughly that no one can get to heaven by legalisms, religious observances or the exercise of power or influence. We are justified only by our Lord’s death upon the cross. In this way we are made witness to the Father’s mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 What then is the Law? Is it no more of use? On the contrary, the Law remains before us to be used as a guide for us in dealing and living with sin in the world. It stands as testimony that demonstrates our shortcomings and human need of salvation.
 Consider this! That which is "Corban", (laid aside) is indeed our secure salvation which is preserved for all eternity through Christ alone. For certainly Jesus willingly and exclusively paid dearly for our sinful ways and misunderstanding. He reconciled us to the Father! We are free from the penalty of the Law, though the Law yet stands. Thanks be to God that before dying upon the cross, our Lord clearly said… “Father.., forgive them. They know not what they do.”
 Thus it is now... as we gather at our Lord's table with unwashed, sinful hands… that we may rejoice and eat in peace, knowing forgiveness. From that holy place we may then rise in witness and work refreshed in this sinfully confused world. Thanks be to God.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Radical Food!

The Twelfth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost brings us to examine a lesson within the Gospel According to Saint John. In this text we hear about our Lord telling the Jews in his home environment of his being the “Bread of Life”. We thus explore the impact of these words upon the established religious world of that day. While the amount of text being read this week varies according to the lectionary a church may use, here we note the commonly used portion conveyed by Jesus to the Jews of that day. We read…

The Jews then murmured at him, because he (Jesus) said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
 Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
                                                                                                     (John 6:41-51)

Living Bread…
Members of the faith community where Jesus lived murmured thoughtfully concerning his words. Likely gathered in the synagogue they spoke with one another and to him, grumbling about the radical phrases he declared. First, they noted that he used an unfamiliar phrase to liken himself to the bread (manna) that had come down from heaven, food that laid on the ground when Moses led the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. This image recalled from their memory the event that we find as recorded in Exodus, Chapter 16.
 Thinking strictly in physical terms of bread then, it seems that without considering the spiritual meaning of the miraculous occurrence, they missed the taste of Jesus’ spiritual language. This was not unusual for the time, for within that ancient society nearly all things were concretely defined by their function. You see, to all, bread was to eat.
 This mindset they zealously held had been established by heritage and tradition. Some in the synagogue likely had recently received the miraculous bread from Jesus on the Galilean hillside. Then Jesus responded to their concrete reasoning and short-sightedness by reminding them that like their ancestors they now murmured against God's divine providence. They did not recognize the gracious meal that was being laid out before them. Our Lord said that he was the "Bread of Life", and the ability to know his identity as this Bread was reserved for persons chosen by the Father. These the Father would “draw’ unto himself. This term “draw” (ἑλκύσῃ in the Greek) used in the text by the writer of this gospel, was a term holding multiple meanings. However, here this sort of drawing according to Martin Luther, was a  “…gracious allurement, such as that of the man whom everybody loves, and to whom everybody willingly goes.”
 Those that believed his words, therefore, who loved according to the will of the Father... were drawn by the Truth. Willingly called forth in faith into the abstract, they could hear beyond hearing. Confounding the unbeliever’s minds was that startling abstract imagery Jesus used to describe himself. Their reaction amplified as they clung to the accepted worship traditions of Israel.
 Many of the Jews listening to our Lord on that day opted only to remember the legalistic scriptural dietary restrictions given during the settlement of Israel. They surely recalled the ancient cereal offering of grain that was used by citizens to make bread. They recalled the warnings against eating of sacrificial animals, grain and especially the blood. We call this text from the time of the patriarchs…

“Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; and with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a libation.
 And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a cereal offering and its libation, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord. It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak there to you. (Exodus 29:38-42)

 Thus we find here a great disturbance that likely occurred in the minds of those Jews who were with Jesus on that day. You see, many who heard Jesus were already invested in the sacrificial system of Israel. These were likely who mumbled and grumbled, and depended on keeping to those ritual practices attended to by the so-called pious ones in the Temple. The offerings they made via priests in those hallowed halls were their justifying works righteousness. The sacrificial system was one of frequently repeated ritual in which some persons often paid great donations in order to participate. They surely mirror those of us who invest ourselves today in a certain Christian denominational expressions, a certain pastor, a given church, a particular pew or seat, or memorial made. By doing so we tend to puff ourselves up, murmuring against the freely given Bread of Life.
 When they heard Jesus’ words, therefore, the synagogue leaders remembered that the Passover indeed was approaching. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to be upon them. Tradition was founded by the elders, and yet Jesus thus revealed the radical free grace of God. He especially revealed this Truth to those faith-filled persons who were chosen by the Holy Spirit. These few would eventually come to complete understanding. These chosen few were those who were taught by God in faith, because they had witnessed the acts of God done through Christ Jesus.
 You see, the complete recipe of divine Bread would be yeasted to its full expression only after the crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord. Raised then by the Spirit, these followers more firmly believed and were blessed. They were to reveal that believing disciples were already given eternal life.

Gather, Take and Eat!
Jesus clearly proclaimed to all those gathered around him that he was the Bread of Life. The grain offerings and such they presented at the Temple were soon to be of no avail. By stating this, our Lord dedicated himself as the offering. He became willingly consumed in his task to go to the cross. Additionally, Jesus would before the end of that very century, be consumed by those who daring enough to live in faith during the turbulent times of John. You see, for them to be chosen by God as gracefully elected to receive the revelation… was to be present for the eating the Eucharistic bread of thanksgiving. The words of Institution remembered and repeated became a gracious gift come down to us. Thus from the Last Supper, “Take and eat, this is my body…” echoed across the infant Christian church. What is more so, by our author’s writing of this great mystery, and our own reading of such, we in the Church today also come to know that this is the same Bread. This is the Sacrament of the Table that we in the Church receive in these modern days. The Bread of Life comes to us. Christ Jesus our Lord is in, with, and under that gracious physical bread we receive together as his gathered community.
 Undoubtedly as the Church struggles against heresies abounding, we today need to hear again that Jesus Christ is the forgiving manna who comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He sustains our lives in this modern wilderness. Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, was kneaded by our sinful fists and stricken by the whip. He was thereby scored for the furnace of hell as he was offered up in the fiery ordeal of the cross.
 Indeed Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, baked in the afternoon’s hot sun that beat down so harshly upon Golgotha. Yet even knowing this was all to come, he offered himself up as the Bread of Life, even unto death.
 Consequently we stand as admonished and pardoned. We know that those of us who believe and eat of his Body shall live forever. This is the Good News provided by this lesson, and we are thus called to always proclaim that he is the Bread of Life. I repeat to you in the Spirit therefore, that together we need say... “Lord give us this bread always.”

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