Preaching Thoughts- Seventh Sunday after Epiphany- February 20, 2022

After a couple months of quiet on the blog and discernment (which I’m sure will shape other upcoming posts), the weekly preaching thoughts return. I hope you enjoy these reflections about this week’s appointed stories from the revised common and narrative lectionaries, with potential insights about discipleship, mission, innovation, and stewardship.

Sunday February 20, 2022: Revised Common Lectionary- Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)
First Lesson: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Gospel of Luke 6:27-38

There’s rich stories of God’s work and promises in the lectionary this week to be sure. All stories pointing to God’s on-going work of life giving and forgiveness and reconciliation, and perhaps Epiphany stories of revelation and discovery too. From Joseph and his brothers’ reconciliation to a reminder about what God does and will do for God’s own from the psalmist. From a wider perspective about what it means to be created in the Image of God from Paul, to Jesus continuing his sermon on the plain calling us to do to others as we would have them do to us, and really pointing to God’s work of life giving abundance. There’s good stuff this week to be sure. Let’s take the stories in order and ponder what see and hear.

The first lesson comes from Genesis 45 and picks up the story about Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, featuring a story of provision, abundance, and reconciliation. Where Joseph could have blamed his brothers, he sees what has happened as part of God’s work, and takes advantage of the opportunity of seeing his brothers again to restore relationship with them.

We read from Genesis 45, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him” (Genesis 45:3-11, 15, NRSV).

Families are wonderful. Families can also create and cause drama. I suspect there might be a fair amount of that in Joseph’s family. But here he is in this story offering reconciliation and provision, because he knows that is what God is calling him to do. God has been about life giving work from the very beginning, and in this story Joseph makes the point that he was led to Egypt so that the people (including his own family) would not fall victim to the famine but will be prepared and have enough in abundance to provide and sustain many. In explaining this, he also moves to reconcile. “And now do not be distressed or angry… for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph understands his vocation as part of God’s on-going work of preserving and sustaining and providing for life. And thus, he also sees it as part of his vocation as brother and son to reconcile but also to provide for his own family. That’s a beautiful move. It’s not one that every family gets to when they have drama and hard experiences and broken trust and relationships. But here is a story of hope, reconciliation and provision.

In terms of stewardship perhaps this is also a story about how God provides for God’s beloved, even if or when relationships between God and God’s own and within God’s own becomes strained. We’re called to do likewise. To reconcile. To welcome. To restore. To forgive. To provide. To live. That’s an epiphany of sorts in that the lies of scarcity the world might have us believe, where there is a zero sum game and only some will make it, that’s not the way God sees the world or works. Rather, God provides for the many. And Joseph embodies that in this first lesson this week well.

A few weeks ago, right before our bubble burst and Covid entered our household I witnessed this beautiful sign of God’s creativity, presence and promise through these magnificent colors in the sky at sunset looking west in Nebraska. Look at their vibrancy. Surely, this is a sign of God’s love and presence with God’s beloved and creation. And surely, for me and our family’s bout with Covid to come, this was a sign that God is with us and God’s love is real- no matter what might transpire. What kind of God moments and sights have you witnessed like this lately in your life?

Our psalm for this week comes from Psalm 37, featuring verses 1-11, and 39-40. From the psalmist we sing and hear, “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity... The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him” (Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40, NRSV).

The psalmist echoes the words we often hear in summing up God’s work especially in the Old Testament. Trust in the Lord, be in relationship with God and follow God’s commands, “so you will live in the land,” or “so that you will live,” or that “life might go well for you.” That’s often how the law’s purpose is summarized. It’s provided so that life may go well. Because God wants God’s own to be in relationship and to live. That’s good news, as a reminder of God’s presence, promise, provision, and desired relationship with God’s own. And the psalmist reiterates this with lies like “the wicked shall be cut off,” and “the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” Again the psalmist moves to articulating about the abundance of God which also connects to the salvation that God alone provides, and provides abundantly. Good reminders all around for life with God, in relationship with God and one another.

That brings us to the second lesson. A continuation of our journey this lectionary cycle during the time after Epiphany through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NRSV).

This esoteric body language from Paul continues. But Paul’s words about the resurrection and belief are helpful in the sense that if we dig in too much to the particulars we miss the larger work that God is up to, and try to explain away a mystery of God’s life giving work for us.

Paul continues, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42-50, NRSV).

Paul is living into the tension. The tension that we have humans and people are both children of God, and finite human beings who are born, live, and die earthly lives. Yet, we all do “bear the image” of God. That’s language of promise. That’s beautiful language that connects us back to the beginning of God’s creative work with the creation of humanity and Adam, and God’s on-going creative purpose for the sake of all God’s beloved- that we might “inherit the kingdom of God.” Conveniently, that’s something Jesus preaches and teaches a lot about and perhaps is a big motivator in his sermon on the plain that continues from last week as our gospel lesson. (And yes, remember that there is nothing that Jesus talks or preaches about more than the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.)

Jesus continues from where we left off last week with the blessings and woes of his sermon on the plain, by saying, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV).

The reconciliation language we especially heard in our first lesson is built and expanded upon by Jesus here. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” Jesus isn’t saying “just give in to your abuser” or “the one who hurts you.” No. That’s not what he is saying. But he is saying, that we are called to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Now, if you are being hurt, do not hear this passage as a justification to continue to be abused. You are loved. You are not called to be hurt. The one who is hurting is called to change- to stop, to seek forgiveness.) It’s that golden rule concept of neighbor love in action. It’s also Jesus acknowledging just how hard it can be to live fully with a sense of love of neighbor, no matter what. We all fall short at times of this- rightly or wrongly. But the one who doesn’t, is Jesus- who goes to and through the point of the cross for us out of God in Christ’s deep and abundant and abiding love for God’s beloved.

Jesus continues in expanding on and explaining what he means by loving those who it may be hard to love. He says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36, NRSV).

So again Jesus repeats, “love your enemies.” But he also says, “do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” This is stewardship language too. He’s denouncing the evils and brokenness of cycles of poverty and usury that have enslaved generations of God’s people- trapping them in a system that they can’t break out of. Instead he moves God’s people to see that they are in relationship with one another, and so they are called to act like it. To take care of each other. To make sure that each other has what they needs to live and live well. And that just makes sense when we remember from Psalm 24, that “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Which means, “all that we have, and all that we are, is God’s.” So when we remember that what we have and who we are, is God’s, that changes our perceptions and understandings and our relationships. God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are, so that we might live and live abundantly. And it only follows then, that part of that means loving, even those who might be hard to love. And being merciful, and forgiving. Because God’s work in this is always about restoration and reconciliation. About bringing people together. And that brings us to the close of Jesus’ sermon for this week anyway.

Jesus continues, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back’” (Luke 6:37-38, NRSV).

Jesus concludes by calling us to act. To forgive, so that we might be forgiven. To give, so that we might be given to. To embody and share God’s abundance, so that we too might enjoy it and not hoard it. This isn’t about works righteousness. This isn’t even about Jesus saying that these are transactional things. (Like “do x” so you “can get x.”) But transformational and Jesus is inviting us into the transformational.

For Jesus this is about community, relationship, and embodying God’s abundance here and now. Believing and knowing that with God all things are made new, and through God everyone has a place at the table, is known, claimed, and loved. The problems start when we fall into the trap and think that there is exclusion instead of inclusion. That there are some who are worthy and some who are not. That we think we are on the right side, when there really shouldn’t be sides to who is God’s child (only to really learn that we are on the wrong side, because whenever I or you decide we are right and another is wrong, we likely miss the boat). God’s abundance is for you and for me. God’s forgiveness is for you and for me. God’s life giving work is for you and for me. That is good news. That is pure grace. That is what it means to see and know that the kingdom of God is breaking into our world, bit by bit through, for, with, and in you.

Maybe I’m on my soap box a bit because I haven’t written one of these commentaries in awhile? Or maybe it’s because I’m excited to preach again this week. Either way, I hope that you hear something in one or more of this week’s stories that fills you with God’s presence and promise, and challenges and leads you to sharing God’s love and pointing to it through all that you say and do this week.

Sunday February 20, 2022: The Narrative Lectionary- Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (Narrative Year 4: Week 24)
Narrative Theme: Living Water
Focus Passage: John 7:37-52
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 147:1-11

The Narrative journey continues this week, as we find ourselves in the Gospel of John chapter 7. We’ll take the story in three parts and note what we see and wonder about.

We read beginning with verse 37, “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39, NRSV).

This living water is something that all disciples thirst for, even if they don’t know what it is. I wonder what the people hearing these words from Jesus would have thought or wondered about in hearing them? We have the benefit of seeing the bigger picture and knowing the longer narrative. I particularly am thinking about what this might mean in the context and conversation with the later story about Jesus with the woman at the well who asks for that living water. She makes that move in a way that is more direct than the people in today’s story do or think to do. I wonder why? Perhaps life and the challenges she has faced show her the reality of what Jesus is talking about in a more direct and life or death way than those hearing today’s story have experienced? I wonder…

The story continues as we hear how the crowd and the people around Jesus start to try and make sense of what they are seeing and hearing from and through him. We read, “When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him” (John 7:40-44, NRSV).

It feels like the people are missing the point. (And it’s odd too that they seemingly don’t understand that Jesus was at least according to two other gospel writers, born in Bethlehem… But, I digress.) Is Jesus a prophet? Is Jesus messiah? I can hear and see a lot of people from the today in this sort of conversation. It’s human nature. We try to make sense of things. We put them in categories and connections, and make them fit our narratives and boxes of things we can relate to. But when it comes to the Son of God or God’s self, such process and efforts seem wanting or bound to come up short. And for others, they sound down right heretical and threatening such as the chief priests and Pharisees react in the last part of this story for this week.

We read as the story concludes, “Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee’” (John 7:45-52, NRSV).

Again they are fixated on Jesus being from Galilee. It makes you wonder. It also makes you wonder why our human nature causes us to fixate on such small and insignificant things, when Jesus has just made a big claim about “living water.” Is any issue raised about this? No. But there are issues with his birth place (think birth certificate perhaps) or his credentials. Are those in power just looking for ways to stay in power at the expense of keeping God’s work at bay because it would mean change? I ask these things kind of tongue-in-cheek and I suspect you catch my drift. But it’s amazing. The major point of this story about living water is kind of treated like an after thought. It’s missed. Which is probably common in the gospels. Jesus makes a big statement, and we miss the mark. We miss the point. I’ll give his disciples credit on this point. They do keep trying and keep following and eventually they figure it out. But it takes a long time. So perhaps there is hope for you and me too in our walk and journey as disciples? To remember that Christ’s living water is for us- for you and for me. And that’s pure gift and grace. But if we try to dig into its meaning, we might be a little overwhelmed or lost in the weeds (or deep water).

Finally, I appreciate the suggested inclusion of Psalm 147:1-11, because it provides us words to respond with joy and gratitude for God has done and is doing. That element seems missing in our gospel this week as the people don’t seem to quite get it. But “Praise the Lord” indeed, and “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving.”

With the psalmist, we close with joy and gratitude, “Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:1-11, NRSV).

Whatever story or stories captivate you, may God’s love and promises be with you, and may they be shared and pointed to through all that you say and do this week. Thank you for your ministry and for sharing the Good News in any and all the ways that you do! -TS

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