Monday, February 27, 2023

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Sermon, Ash Wednesday: February 22, 2023

'On Ash Wednesday, we receive the sign of ashes.

A reminder that there will come a day for us

in which there is no putting us back together again.

A marker of mortality,

a memorial of death.

But it is more than that.

Physical death is one thing,

but spiritual death is another.

The ashes we wear on our foreheads not only remind us of our future,

but also of our past, and our present without God.'

Daily Bible Readings: Thursday, February 23, 2023



Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Monday, February 20, 2023

Sermon - Transfiguration Sunday

Jesus has asked the disciples, Who do you say that I am?

And Peter, replying for all of them,

says, You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.

 He, and all the disciples, had seen the light of God in Jesus:

in his preaching the good news; in his teaching with authority;

in his casting out of demons; in his healing of the sick;

in his calming the storm, in his compassion and mercy.

Daily Bible Readings - Monday, February 20, 2023


Monday, February 13, 2023

Sermon, The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:21-37 

I want to take you back to the last part of last week’s Gospel reading. Remember it? Well, if not, I’ll guess I’ll tell you again. Jesus tells his disciples and the crowds that he has not come to abolish the Law and the prophets. At the very least, he was rumored to have a cavalier attitude towards the commandments. Jesus wants to clear himself of that charge. He says that anyone who does and teaches the Law will be called great in the kingdom of heaven; and that anyone who does not do and teach the Law will be called least in that kingdom.


But then he says something that really gives them pause. He tells his disciples and the listening crowd that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven. One can imagine the consternation that this might cause. For the Pharisees were devoted to God’s law. For the Pharisees, the key issue facing God’s people was not the proper sacrifices in the Temple, or the restoration of the Davidic kingship, important though those things may have been. It was the obedience of the people of God to the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.


Moses had told God’s people that there were two ways they could follow in the promised Land, one leading to life and prosperity, and one to death and adversity. Keeping the commandments delivered to Moses by God would lead to good results for the people, one would lead to bad results for the people. And this wasn’t just the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees had identified 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible which God’s people were to keep religiously, as it were.  


 But Jesus says that his disciples must be more righteous than even the Pharisees. In other words, they must keep God’s law with more zeal even than the professionally righteous. How can this be possible, they may have asked, and we may ask? Apparently, they were, and we modern-day disciples of Jesus are, going to have to step it up, to outdo even the scrupulous in scrupulosity.


That is one way to think of it. The other is that there was something flawed in the way the Pharisees were living out God’s command to be righteous. Now this does not mean that every single Pharisee was a bad person pretending to be good. But a strange thing had happened. Jesus perceived that in many cases, the legalistic observance of God’s life-giving Law was actually making room for death.


We may wonder: why does Jesus prohibits the swearing of oaths? Certainly there can be nothing wrong with swearing that one will fulfill one’s words and then carrying them out. But there are several problems that I can see. One is that when we make an oath, we may call God’s curse upon ourselves or another if we do not keep it. Another is that an oath can be a cover for a lie, giving in the untrustworthy oath-maker’s words by attaching them to someone or something trustworthy. Finally, when a person makes an oath in a certain situation, one might ask if that person’s words are trustworthy when no oath is sworn. Besides, if you read the Bible or Shakespeare or even Tolkien, you know that no oath sworn in a fit of passion ever works out well.


Now some of us may have taken an oath in court. We might be worried now. Probably not. But Christian teaching has generally distinguished between the ‘making of oaths’ that Jesus talks about here, and the ‘taking’ of public oaths in court. Nevertheless, the Constitution refers to Jesus’ words here by providing the option for a person elected President of the United States to ‘solemnly affirm’ rather than ‘solemnly swear’ that he or she will faithfully execute the office.


 Jesus says, Do not swear at all, but simply yet one’s yes be yes and one’s no be no. These words cannot give cover to a lie by appealing to a higher power. They do not call a curse on oneself or another. They are life-giving words. By faithfulness to our word, we increase trust in the world. We make space for life.


A similar thing is happening when Jesus talks about divorce. Those men who had given their wives a legal divorce believed that they had fulfilled the righteousness required by God’s law. But Jesus perceives that a man who believes he is doing God’s will simply by dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s can hide an awful lot of violence or apathy in this way. Ironically,  Jesus’ own words about divorce have been legalistically used to keep women (or men) in relationships which are marked by physical violence and mental cruelty. In both cases, God’s life-giving words are used in a way that makes room for death.


When our Lord expands the commandment against adultery to include a prohibition of lewd glances and suggestive stares, he makes us understand that participation in the way of death begins here, just as a seed grows hidden under the earth before bursting forth into the light of day. When he expands the commandment against murder to prohibit insults and name-calling, he calls us to remember that words of violence, as well as deeds of violence, have consequences, both for the hearer and the speaker.


Moses set before the people the two ways, one of life, one of death. Jesus reveals to us that the way of life involves more than simply checking off boxes and keeping up appearances. If we attend church regularly (which we should) and yet belittle and mock and look down upon the others who worship with us, are we or are we not walking in the way of discipleship? If we are pro-life and yet do not act in love towards those who oppose us, if we use either God’s law or man’s to either trample truth or stifle mercy, can we claim to be hungering and thirsting for righteousness?


When, at the end of a day, we review its events and its interactions, what we’ve done and what we have not done, we might do well to ask, have I received the creation as the living gift of God, has everyone I’ve encountered been encountered as a person uniquely created by and redeemed by God for life? Have my words and deeds been life-giving or death-dealing? If we reflect in this way, there will be reason for thanksgiving because of the good we have been permitted to give and to receive. But there will also always be reason for humility, and reason for repentance, for people honest with themselves know the deviousness of the heart. ‘The human heart is a factory of idols,’ said the Swiss theologian John Calvin, and the peculiar characteristic of an idol is to give rise to the lie that human beings can be self-sufficient, without need for God or others, free to use and discard them as they please.


So, Jesus does not come to abolish God’s law. But that is not the whole story. For he says, ‘I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.’ In Jesus of Nazareth we see a man who perfectly embodies the song of praise to God’s will: Happy are they whose way is blameless, who walks in the law of the Lord! Happy are they who observe his decrees, and seek him with all their heart! Who never do any wrong, but always walks in his ways. His every word is true, his every act is life-giving – forgiveness of sins, protection and rescue from evil, resurrection from the dead. He fulfills the Law for us, and he fulfills the Law in us, for when our words and deeds make space for life, they are the works of his Spirit of life in us. We are humbled, but not humiliated, for in Jesus Christ God himself has chosen the way of life for us, making a way for us to follow rejoicing.   

Daily Bible Readings: Monday, February 13, 2023