Gospel of John Insights
Insights to the Gospel of John During the fifty days of the Easter season, the majority of Gospel readings are taken from John, the mystical and cosmic proclamation of God’s entry into the world through Jesus Christ. Although the Gospel of John does include some common stories with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John’s faith narrative presents a different, theological direction, placing less emphasis on chronological order and putting greater emphasis on longer stories that lift up a “resurrection life” now present in the faith community. These stories, like Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus become narratives of new beginnings for a resurrection community currently realizing life in a “nowness” and living in the hope of eternal life.
The lack of chronological order is most clearly illustrated in the cleansing of the Temple, recorded in the early days of Jesus ministry in John but not mentioned until Palm Sunday in the other Gospels (the Synoptics). At the outset, there are sharp contrasts between the other Gospels. Where Mark includes no mention of a birth narrative, only a superscription or summary of his writing, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, Son of God,” Matthew and Luke each have their own account of the birth narrative. Both link their infancy narratives to major figures and themes of the Old Testament; Matthew to the long line of Davidic promises through Joseph, going back to Abraham and the Patriarchs.
Following a long and careful study of the things that have taken place, Luke takes a much broader look at the Old Testament material by writing an orderly account of the birth of Jesus, whose roots go back to Noah. In John, those beginnings commence with the Word in the beginning with God. John’s story is present at the beginning of time and space. The Word was present in this beginning and then became incarnate. The incarnation of Jesus as a flesh and blood reality suggests that through this Jesus, we gain access to God. There is a special relationship between the Father and Son, a unity that has been established by divine intervention and knowledge. This revelation has taken on flesh, the Word from the very beginning who in his person and presence brings eternity to life. In this way, the Father’s glory is revealed through the Son’s hour and then continued and maintained by the Holy Spirit, the one “called alongside,” who will not leave the world alone but will sustain this abiding presence of Christ.
Besides the large blocks of narrative in John that are used for instructing and “knowing,” there are also recurrent themes of light and darkness, good and evil, and the Christological claims of Jesus in the seven great “I am” statements. Again, these statements remind the reader of God’s declaration to Moses in the burning bush “I am who I am” (Ex. 3.14) and his “I am the LORD” statements in 6.29, 7.5, and 7.17. These “I am” statements are as follows:
The Bread of Life (Jn. 6.35-48)
The Light of the World (8.12)
The Gate (10.7, 9)
The Good Shepherd (10.11, 14)
The Resurrection and the Life (11.25)
The Way, the Truth, and the Life (14.6)
The True Vineyard (15.1, 5)
This formula puts even greater emphasis on the present reality of Yahweh (the LORD), who has not been delayed or resides in some future event but is manifested as the believer comes to faith. As people come to faith, they inherit eternal life. C.H. Dodd’s famous phrase, “realized eschatology,” is helpful here since it indicates that for John the presence of God and God’s activity in the world has been inaugurated and remains in force through the resurrection of Jesus and is brought to fulfillment with Jesus’ return. Everyone who comes to faith receives a foretaste in the present moment. Salvation in this “nowness” draws the unbeliever into a Gospel reality that further supports Christians in their faith. The signs or works that are found in John simply shed light on the transformation that takes place for those who receive Jesus. The disciples are given authority to become children of God, a transformation that takes place through the power of Jesus’ resurrection. This “new birth” through life-giving water is a promise to never thirst again. Feasting on the bread of life, his flesh and his blood are given for the life of the world.
This bread of life feeds 5,000. He walks on water and gives light to the world as it illumines a deeper relationship with God as true children of Abraham. Even our own inability to see will not stand in the way of this “God-in-the-flesh” shepherding us, thus leading us away from thieves and robbers and anyone who is a threat to our existence. The world remains opposed to this pleasant planting, a world that does not understand or know who he is and the nature of his incarnation, that he must die to offer the gift of life. Lazarus is raised from the dead, and Mary recognizes who stands before her. He instructs his disciples that he is going away but reassures them that he will not leave them alone. The Holy Spirit will live in and through them as they journey home to the Father. However, this union begins with life now, as a sign of the grace and truth that he has promised.
The time of Jesus departure makes up nearly half of John’s writing, as opposed to the two chapters each that are given to the last week of Jesus’ life in the Synoptic Gospels. This means that the discussion about discipleship and servanthood, mentioned in the Synoptics, is missing in John. Instead, John is engaged in a pointed debate between Jesus, the light of the world, and those who belong to the world. This probably reflects a time in the writing of John’s Gospel, where Christians were being publicly condemned for their beliefs. This hostility and antagonism are seen in the language that the Gospel uses in telling the Jesus story. Finally, reaction reflects the reality of Christians being forced out of the temple. The tension between the two groups coincides with the persecution of Christians at the end of the First Century that resulted in condemning “benedictions” against them.
For John, the days leading up to the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus do not include the same Last Supper, Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. The final gathering is rather a foot-washing that underscores God’s love for the world in Jesus’ acts of service and humility. The crucifixion narratives have sharp contrasts in each of the Gospels, but the resurrection and ending of the Gospels are worth noting. Mark, generally regarded as the oldest of the faith writings, ends his Gospel in mystery and disappointment. The women flee the tomb and tell no one anything about what they have seen and heard. Obviously, someone said something, and later scribes, noting this and perhaps uncomfortable with such an abrupt and negative ending, added to the ending by including other traditions to give Mark a more positive closure to the mysterious resurrection. As the Gospel stands with the ending at 16.8, the suspense of living a mystery is left up to the remaining faith community to solve and digest. Matthew’s conclusion ends in a cloud of scandal and misdirection. Soldiers are placed in front of the sealed tomb; Jesus is missing. The religious leaders surmise that his disciples have taken the body of Jesus away, a myth that continues to the present. In the final scene, Jesus appears to his disciples and gives them final instructions for the mission that is before them. They are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that they have been instructed and concludes by putting a big explanation mark on this instruction with the promise that he will be with them, even to the close of the age. Luke’s ending is really an introduction of sorts, since his Gospel is the first chapter of a two-chapter book of faith, recognizing that the Jesus who suffered, died, and was raised from the grave, is the same one who ascends to the Father but now continues the journey to the “New Jerusalem” with his disciples as they establish his church to the ends of the earth. This passion, death, and resurrection promise is extended to the formation of the early church at a time when the final coming of our Lord has been delayed and the present reality of the early
church has become a high priority. With the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the power and assurance of this promise gives a second wind to the church through the stories and missionary journeys, beginning with Peter in Jerusalem and extending with Paul to the ports of Asia Minor.
John’s Gospel ends with a double-barreled assurance that this “Jesus-with-God-from-the-very-beginning” with many signs and wonders has indeed established his kingdom on earth. In fact, Jesus did many other signs and wonders that were not recorded in this book, but these are written that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing in him, you might have life in his name. This is the first ending or perhaps the original ending of the Gospel. However, the full text ends with an addendum that underscores the acts and wonders that this incarnation had upon the world. Later scribes describe a fishing scene in an additional chapter that includes the charge to “feed his sheep,” but ending with the full assurance that if all the events and signs that Jesus did could be written in a book, the whole world could not contain them. Could there be any doubt? Christ is risen but now he lives through us! Alleluia!!
Matthew and Mark: Two Images of the Face of God
The Gospel of Matthew - An Overview
Few books, whether they are histories, novels, or other non-fiction literature, begin with a genealogy unless…unless there is a credibility issue with the major figures in the narrative or if historical sources have been called into question and issues of authority have been raised for the intended audience to consider.
The Matthean Gospel demonstrates a resurrection faith that is articulated through a series of stories and teachings, rehearsing episodes of deliverance and new life that have been taken from the Jesus tradition. These episodes do not exist in a vacuum but recount the incarnation of Emmanuel, “God with us,” as seen alongside a long history of promise and fulfillment with the people of Israel. The Old Testament tradition links Emmanuel with the Old Testament stories of deliverance. Jesus, son of Joseph, is linked to the promises given to David and even before that, to Abraham. He falls in line with covenant promises at the very heart of Israel’s story of deliverance. The God who “tented” with Abraham and David is now breaking into humanity with that same covenantal grace. Jesus is yoked to forty-two generations of promise, fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Exile, and fourteen generations from the exile to the Messiah. Jesus is the messianic response to the lament that the “word of the Lord” was rare in the days following Israel’s return from the Exile and under the restoration plan of Ezra and Nehemiah.
This “quiet” period of Israel’s salvation history is particularly noticeable seen against the rise of the Greek and Roman empires. The cultural influence of both empires moved the faith of Israel to the sidelines as the two cultures spread throughout the known world. The backdrop for the long-awaited Messiah is seen over against the power and authority of these cultures. Could this Messiah offer any real alternative to a world that existed under the thumb of the Greeks and now the Romans?
This situation is further complicated by the presence of a “would-be” Messiah that didn’t act like a Messiah and savior of the nations. The centurion’s statement at the Cross provides some verification of this status by Rome, but it is far from a statement of endorsement. Even though there are numerous references to the Old Testament that are ascribed to Jesus, Isaiah’s “suffering servant” motif is a far cry from the allegiance to Caesar, given the power and authority of Rome and its Pax Romana. In line with Old Testament tradition, the Jesus movement presented a challenge to Roman authority. The perceived threat had an incarnational dimension (supposedly defeated with the Crucifixion), but the eternal promises posed an even more dangerous threat with the Resurrection. The challenge to Rome was that the “would-be” Messiah had been raised from the grave, something no Caesar has or could duplicate.
The Christian church was empowered and shaped by Good Friday and Easter, even though the religious leaders (with Pilate’s consent) responded to Jesus’ final claim by placing guards at the tomb to ensure that the body would not be stolen. At the tomb, those soldiers tremble and become as dead men. The report that the body had vanished was dismissed with the propaganda that the disciples had stolen the body, a myth that has found traction even to this day. In Jesus, who has the title, King of the Jews, framed over his Cross, this “mock kingship” takes on a new reality and, Jesus is crowned as the true king, the good news as the Son of God (initially proclaimed at his baptism).
The resultant identity of Jesus, Son of David and Son of Abraham, is also pitted against a Jewish community and their anticipation of the Messiah that has become even more problematic with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Existing in the Roman landscape with the early Christians, these two faith communities vie for authority and endorsement from Pax Romana and the larger community. There can be only one king, and for Rome this is Caesar. For the Jewish community, the anticipated Messianic promise creates conflict with the early Christians, so much that Christian followers are eventually removed from the temple and then fully exposed to the full weight of Roman power in the Coliseum.
The ensuing recognition of the resurrection spreads, and this becomes the calling card for the disciples’ message to the world, “Go therefore and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have given you, and, lo, I am with you, even to the close of the age.” The Resurrection is not simply an event in human history but rather the event par excellence for the Christian faith that now has practical relevance in the present moment.
The Cross and Empty Tomb are not the final episodes in this story but rather find marching orders from the resurrected Emmanuel’s closing words to his disciples. The incarnated Emmanuel identifies with the human condition, but the resurrected Jesus does not leave this identification limited by his death. Identification does not just mean forgiveness and new life but takes on everlasting proportions. These eternal dimensions finally offer the followers of the resurrected Jesus words of comfort, exhortation, and vision in mobilizing a mission to the world and the ongoing ministry of the church that continues to this day.
Now in retrospect, the life and ministry of Jesus, son of Joseph, become even more relevant to the gospel writers. All four gospels agree with the accounts of the suffering, death, and resurrection, even though each gospel addresses different aspects of those events. However, the words and deeds of Jesus differ significantly as the early church remembered the life of their Savior. In Matthew’s case, such reflections with the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5-7), the parable chapter (chapter 13), and a genealogy where Jesus descends from Joseph while the Lucan Jesus is linked to Mary, take on even greater significance.
There are certainly more illustrations of what Jesus meant to the Matthean community, but these stories help to underscore what the suffering, death, and resurrection meant to the early church. These episodes do not constitute a “new law” of what must be done but rather what the church, empowered by grace, is driven to do and be. It is a natural part of its DNA. The recollections of his life and ministry take shape only as a result of his passion, death, and resurrection. He is not a new Moses but rather the long-awaited Messiah. His words have not been codified but continue to be a living word breaking into a broken world.
Sundays after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 12, 2020 Matthew 3.13-17
The Sundays of Epiphany begin and end with a voice from the heavens, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased!” Whether it is at his baptism or at the Transfiguration, these epiphany scenes both begin the ministry of Jesus and reaffirm his claim as son of Abraham, son of David, yes, Son of God! The baptism is God’s “aha” moment for the world. God’s entry into the human fray marks God’s promise and fulfillment through Emmanuel. Unworthy to even untie the thong of his sandal, John underscores the power and uniqueness of the person he bears witness to. Baptism holds that same promise, more concerned about the action of God in creation through baptism than for the one who is being baptized. God chooses to enter humanity, especially with infants, showing that God’s power not only names but also rescues with a promise that is forever.
Sunday, January 19, 2020 I Corinthians 1.1-9
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he extols the faithfulness of God. Isn’t that interesting? Instead of addressing the needs and issues of the church during a very divisive time for his church, Paul instead directs us to the faithfulness of God, whose decisive action for humanity will overcome even the most caustic and fracturing congregational issue. The power of the Gospel rests in the paradoxical moment, where Christ crucified is preached, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” So it is that God’s foolishness is stronger than humanity and whose weakness is stronger than humanity. Why do we continue to challenge that authority? If it is such a stumbling block, then we ought to watch our step!
Sunday, January 26, 2020 Matthew 4.12-23
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an action-packed narrative about what the movement of Emmanuel has meant for the early church. It is a grass-roots appeal that changes lives. It motivates people to move from their vocation and follow. It may not be as possible to make such a move in our situation today, but there is reassurance that following Jesus grants confidence in the new direction for their lives. Do we have that same confidence 2,000 years later to take up that same cross and follow? Jesus begins his ministry by calling some fisher folk, with the assurance that they would be catching something much bigger. He only asks them to follow. The action of evangelism rests with God. The invitation is to simply come and see.
Sunday, February 2, 2020 Matthew 5.1-12
It seems that in following Jesus, “up” is “down” and “left” is “right.” Where power and influence control so much of our lives, the Beatitudes offer a radical shift and a different alternative to these forces. Those who are poor in spirit, persecuted, in mourning will find rich reward in the inbreaking Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us a more excellent way. To let go of ourselves is not only commendable; it frees us from only looking inward for our satisfaction. Consumerism and self-interest melt away in this radical shift as we discover that the life we have pursued only burdens us with an appetite that can never be completely filled.
Sunday, February 9, 2020 Matthew 5.13-20
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. I have been called many things, but these two images are not the ones I remember. Maybe it’s not what I am as much as it is what God makes me. God salt certainly does season, and God’s light keeps on going and going and going. What God describes is the new creation we become in Christ. This new creation is far superior to anything or anyone. We are able to jump tall buildings in a single bound, not because the bar has been set lower but because Christ has given us the lift we need for the world. It is a righteousness that far exceeds even the most diligent student of the law. It pales in comparison to what is humanly possible.
Sunday, February 16, 2020 Matthew 5.21-37
As a part of the Sermon on the Mount, the faith writer of Matthew has included a section that further defines what true salt and true light are like. Apparently, a rigid understanding of the law allowed people to pass judgment on someone else’s righteousness. The writer defines this righteousness as one that exceed that of the Pharisees, the keepers of the law. More importantly, Jesus did not come to put an end to this law but rather to fulfill it. More than this, it was not a time for petty enforcement of some laws at the expense of a new understanding of how the law is now interpreted. So it is that a wooden interpretation of the law to not commit adultery is reinterpreted to mean anyone who has lusted after someone in their heart. The new law is clear to include everyone so that solely by God’s grace is anyone fully justified and leaves little room for being judgmental or self-righteous. Know anyone like that?
Sunday, February 23, 2020 Matthew 17.1-9
You’ve been driving all night, and the eyelids are getting heavy. You know if you don’t pull over soon, you’ll never make it. Bingo—a roadside stop!! Jesus push to go to Jerusalem has been a long and arduous journey, fraught with danger. Jesus takes the exit ramp with several of his disciples and goes up on the mountain for a tank of “theophany,” much like Moses did in his ascent on the mountain. It is there that Jesus is transfigured. Amazing what a little rest and theophany can do. This episode, often seen as a precursor to the resurrection, also makes clear that Jesus has not lost sight of his journey’s end. He must get to Jerusalem, because it is here that Emmanuel makes his greatest identification with humanity in his suffering and death. This presence falls in line with the tradition of the law and the prophets, but it is much more. The booths for Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus remains, along with the words, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased, rehearsing words from Jesus baptismal scene. No, there is no need to change course. You are headed in the right direction.
The Gospel According to St. Luke
Luke Gospel Readings, Season of Pentecost,2019
If the final count of New Testament Gospels had not added Luke’s edition, many of the most well-known parables and stories of the Holy Scriptures would be lost. These stories include the infancy narratives of Jesus and John, Mary and Martha, and Zacchaeus, and the parables of the Good Samaritan, the friend at midnight, the rich fool, the Prodigal Son, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus, the unrighteous judge, the Pharisee and tax collector. In a three-year lectionary Luke is the Gospel reading for year C. In the ELCA, the Revised Common Lectionary for July 7-November 24 offer the reader sequential passages from Luke’s narrative each Sunday. Lutheran worship typically includes readings from the Old and New Testament, the Psalms, along with the Gospel passage. This study begins with the commissioning of seventy (or seventy-two) evangelists in Luke 10 that follows Jesus “setting his face to go to Jerusalem (9.51).” After a general overview of the Gospel, the study begins with Luke’s travelogue to Jerusalem and beyond.
Overview of Luke
Luke is one of four Gospel narratives that proclaims Jesus as Lord, the writer presenting an “orderly and accurate account,” having studied from the beginning the eye-witness testimonies of those servants of the word. Even though many have undertaken such a study, the writer announces that his writing is the full truth of what has taken place after carefully evaluating these handed-down accounts.
The Gospel begins with the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus, paralleling OT themes and stories of Abraham and Sarah, how God has entered the human situation, answering impossible promises. The faith story continues with Elizabeth and Zechariah and finds final fulfillment in the promise to Mary and the birth of Jesus.
For the writer, the reality of this promise given to Jesus, the beloved Son of God, is the same relationship linked to Adam, the final person of Luke’s genealogy. This promise finds direction and focus in Jesus as he is led in the power of the Spirit. He enters the synagogue on the sabbath and stands up to read from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus not only gives witness to these promises through his own person but exposes the full dimension of this fulfillment in proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the prisoner, giving recovery of sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and by proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord.
Jesus sets sail on his mission, but this takes a decided turn in 9.51 when he sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus then embarks on a ten-chapter excursion of healing and teaching that frames these mission stops “along the way.” There is no turning back and no sideways glances or deflections as Jesus points to the divine necessity of his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus remains focused on a journey to Jerusalem. Those rest stops along the way illustrate the impact of what the atoning work of Christ means in the lives of his followers and for the church with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God (the second chapter of Luke’s story is the Book of Acts). We now turn our attention to those Sunday readings from Luke.
July 7, 2019, Luke 10.1-11, 16-20, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
What begins as a mission for the first disciples evolves in a much more dramatic call to action with the mission of the seventy, following Jesus’ turn to Jerusalem as he sets his face to go there. After all, the faithful church is not comprised of pastors and church leaders only but a body of believers who claim Jesus as Lord and come to be fed and then are turned loose into the world, very often with staggering results. Remember the outdoor service and neighborhood picnic hosted. No one knows what goes beyond closed doors unless someone reaches out and invites them.
EVENTS: NEW MEMBER SUNDAY, OUTDOOR SERVICE, NEIGHBORHOOD PICNIC
July 14, 2019, Luke 10.25-37, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The keeper of the law knew many things, so he brought his question to Jesus with his pat answer. You just love God with everything you got, and, oh yes, your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms the answer with a promise, “Do this and you will live!” However, the lawyer goes farther, and Jesus responds with one of the most well-known parables of the Scriptures. The star of the show isn’t one of them. The most likely have passed by, not wanting to help or lend a hand, but the Samaritan who have already treated Jesus with some disrespect is the one who stops, binds the man up and pays for his stay and promises to take care of any extra charges. The Good Samaritan becomes the “ambulance of Grace.” Jesus is heading for the Cross. It is the least we can do. Go and do likewise.
July 21, 209, Luke 10.38-42, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Martha is busy; Mary is faithful. The Seventy carry nothing with them on their journey. The most unlikely person takes the time to help the man alongside the road to Jericho. Where do you fit on that continuum? Busy often means hectic with no sense of direction. Few people tell me that they are bored with their lives. Many people continue to tell me that they have lost direction for their lives. Mary chose the greater portion, and it will not be taken away from her. She realizes that the road to Jerusalem is very short, and Jesus is on that walk. When he comes to their house, he is not simply a dinner guest. Jesus is Lord!
EVENT: ANNUAL GT2 SERVICE AND BARBECUE AT TRINITY EPISCOPAL
July 28, 2018, Luke 11.1-13, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The disciples ask Jesus how to pray. Be careful what you wish for! Of course, God’s name is holy, the holy of holies. When God is holy, everything else seems to make better sense. What’s more, God’s Kingdom comes without our praying for it, but, as Luther stated, “we ask that it may also come to us.” Yes, God knows that we need daily bread but filet? Oh, and there is the part about asking God to forgive us. Now don’t be so tight and forget that this forgiveness only extends as far as our forgiveness with our neighbor. It doesn’t seem to matter when that takes place. Just as it is when we ask God to visit, it doesn’t make any difference what time it is. In fact, the late hours are often great times to entertain God.
EVENT: GUEST PREACHER, BISHOP GREGORY COOK, CHAPLAIN, BAYONNE MEDICAL CENTER
August 4, 2019, Luke 12.13-21, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Every time we make a move, we count the cost. At least, we tell ourselves that we need to lighten the load. I need to save this, but I can throw this away or at least put it on the “I’ll look at this later shelf.” How about when Jesus invites us to move forward from where we are to another point “along the way.” There’s not nearly as much in your new space, because you are being asked to travel light. This is nothing more than “death wisdom,” where we discard or let die that which we treasure and move beyond death. The parable allows us to consider what we need to take on this final trip. The man builds more barns to store his stuff, but fails to recognize the “U-Haul” that will take him to his final home has much smaller dimensions. Fool! Jesus tells his disciples to travel light, ”no phone,
no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury.” We have more than enough, and it is our Lord’s cry from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” that helps to put this into perspective. Could we be just as foolish?
EVENT: REV. IRENE PYKE, WALLACE TEMPLE AME ZION, BAYONNE, PREACHER
AUGUST 6 NATIONAL NIGHT OUT
August 11, 2019, Luke 12.32-40, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
If we are on a journey and we are carrying a heavy load, it would make sense to lighten the load. We have been blessed with so much. In fact, it seems like a kid turned loose in a candy store. We know that too much sugar is not a good thing. We are once again reminded not to store up treasures on earth, especially those things that ultimately of no value. Why is all this so alluring? Look what it does. It reorders our priorities. They become “ends” in themselves. It changes the way we value life. It changes our dependence on God. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Our center of being and all that it takes to preserve and protect that lifestyle move God off-center. The exhortation to keep alert because of the nearness of the kingdom of God is lost in our greed. It must look very silly to see us traveling to the Cross, trying to carry all our stuff. So, what’s in your wallet?
EVENT: BISHOP GREGORY COOK, CHAPLAIN, BAYONNE MEDICAL CENTER
August 18, 2019, Luke 12.49-56, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
We are reminded not be anxious about our lives, about food or clothing. We are told not to be fearful, because God has given us the Kingdom. Therefore, we able to give up what we have and to provide for the poor. We will not be deterred. We now keep alert for signs of this now-dawning Kingdom. We are to get things in proper order for this day. Jesus then reminds his followers that their journey is not a cakewalk but certainly not the destination, because the journey now turns very serious. Jesus again reminds those who come after him that this walk of faith has consequences, especially when it comes to family. I always thought that God is against family division. He sharpens the argument by saying that those aligned with the Kingdom maintain a unique relationship to God, one that may put them at odds with even family. That’s how important the good news is! Even family. Could there be anything that important?
EVENT: REV. SAMUEL SILABAN, CHAPTAIN, EGER LUTHERAN HOMES & SERVICES
August 25, 2019, Luke 13.10-17, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
She had been bent over for eighteen years. All she could do is look down. Jesus touched her and she was able to look up. That’s what happens when Jesus passes by. He stops and heals. He heals someone who has been overlooked and taken for granted for a long time. Wouldn’t that kind of event draw tremendous community response? Perhaps to those who are staying and are not following Jesus in his travels to Jerusalem, such a healing is just too disruptive to the comfort box they have created. In the end, that understanding faces public humiliation, as the Jesus travelers delight in the response.
EVENT: REV. ARND BRAUN-STORCK, SEAFARERS INTERNATIONAL
September 1, 2019, Luke 14.1, 7-14, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
On the way, Jesus is stirring up quite a little reaction. In fact, the “religious folk” are watching him carefully. Maybe it’s because they feel their position of power and authority are slipping or at least are being challenged. I had a friend who told me often to fly low, the fall is less. Jesus likens this to a wedding feast invitation. Take one of the cheap seats; there is always someone who will want your seat. The humble will be exalted, and the exalted will be humbled. So, when you host a party, don’t settle for an invitation to someone who will simply repay you. Kingdom talk includes an invitation to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. The satisfaction will be realized when we get to Jerusalem and beyond.
EVENTS: DR. PATRICIA ESPEJO, GUEST PREACHER
September 8, 2019, Luke 14.25-33, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
It is quite a scene! Large crowds are following Jesus on is journey to Jerusalem. Do they really know what they are doing? Do we? On the way to the Cross, Jesus gives his followers the opportunity to carry this cross as well. This following supersedes allegiance to even family if we are to be truly his disciples. We need to count the cost. Otherwise, saltless salt is not worth even the manure pile. Smell something?
EVENTS: GOD’S WORK. OUR HANDS.
September 15, 2019 Luke 15.1-10, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
We have all lost something valuable, so valuable that we would risk everything to recover it. Then we find it, and we can’t wait to tell everyone the good news, even if they could care less. Jesus is amassing quite a following on his way. He doesn’t take low-hanging fruit but risks the whole tree in search of the fruit that is beyond society’s reach.
September 22, 2019, Luke 16.1-13, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sometimes shrewd does not mean dishonest. Jesus describes it as being ‘wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” On this side of the Cross, the followers of Jesus can appear naïve. The children of the dark are often shrewder in dealing with life than the children of the light. Can we be trusted with the investment that God has given us? In the end, we cannot serve two masters We will either hate the one, or we love the other. We cannot serve God and mammon. Perhaps that Is why the road to Jerusalem is so long and winding.
September 29, 2019, Luke 16.19-31, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The cost of serving God and not mammon has implications far beyond day-to-day decisions we make. They have eternal dimensions in the reversal of fortunes with the rich man and Lazarus. More than that, the final chasm is so wide that there can be no relationship between the two. The final judgment is both a warning and a promise. God’s grace is not to be taken advantage of. Material wealth does not give a person a privileged place in the Kingdom of God. Likewise, suffering and pain, even to death, is not the final answer but simply points to the saving work of Christ on the Cross. He died so that we may live. How does that living give us hope and a way of life in our journey?
October 6, 2019, Luke 17.5-10, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Our journey to Jerusalem has taken its toll. At times the trust required seems impossible, because the cost is so high. We cry out for God to increase our faith. Christ answers by assuring us that the quantity of faith is not the issue. Even faith the size of a mustard seed can do incredible things. You already know about the mustard seed and the shade that it offers the birds of the air. It can uproot long-established realities. Still, following Jesus doesn’t put us on easy street. It only allows us to do what we have been called to do. We have done our duty.
October 13,2019, Luke 17.11-19, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus meets ten lepers meet him who have been ostracized from both groups. Theirs is a faint cry, but Jesus hears their plea nonetheless. They want mercy; Jesus gives them healing. The significance of this healing cannot be underestimated. Leprosy was a death sentence, a slow, lonely death. Still, Jesus is amazed at their responses. Embracing that new life is natural, but isn’t there a sense of gratitude that goes with it? To live with no hope and then to graciously receive life out of death. Is this no different with confession and forgiveness? Remember how it feels when Christ looks from the Cross and says, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
October 20, 2019, Luke 18.1-8, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The ten lepers have no position of power from which they can negotiate mercy from Jesus. The parable of the unjust judge or the persistent widow moves to the level of this cry. A long journey has a way of wearing on a person. It takes the edge off. It curbs our zeal. The widow stays on task, even though the judge she is appealing to has no regard for her or her cries. It, however, begins to wear on him. Her consistent and pointed pleas begin to make a difference. Answers to prayer do not always happen on our time. They often take place over a long continuum of vigilance and perseverance. The question remains, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
October 27,2019, Luke 18.9-14, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
There are so many instances in life where performance is graded. Whether it is grades in school or titles we hold in a business, our performance is measured. However, performance does not have a direct correlation to worth. We set up false standards and weigh importance accordingly. Final accountability belongs to God and not to us. Th Pharisee and the tax collector speak to this specifically. Our Lutheran theology reaffirms this. Like the tax collector, all we can do is say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Justification takes place at the foot of the Cross, and not with our own self-justification. Thank God!!
EVENT: REFORMATION SUNDAY
November 3, 2019, Luke 19.1-10, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
The imagery for this All Saints Sunday is graphic. Zacchaeus, small in stature, of small significance in his community, wants to see Jesus but fears not being seen. He climbs into a tree for a better view. He sees Jesus, but Jesus recognizes him and gives him startling news. Not only does he ask Zacchaeus to come down but tells him that he is going to his house. Zacchaeus is so taken by this, he makes a surprising offer. Could Jesus, spotting us and making a home visit, change us so that we would be willing to give half of what we have to the poor? How about four times what has been defrauded? Our journey to the Cross allows us to bring hope to the lost!
EVENT: ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
November 10, 2019, Luke 20.27-40, Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Authority still weighs heavily in our decision-making process. We might say, “What gives you the right” or “Where does it say.” We make decisions based upon the hold that authority has over us, especially when it challenges how we act or the impact on our life. The way to the Cross certainly confronts us with similar claims of authority, as it did for the religious leaders of Jesus day. Heavenly origins of authority challenge the way we invest in life, the influence of God on our political system, and much more. We should not trivialize this with mundane questions about marriage and ultimate spouse. As children of the resurrection, we take authority from the god not of the dead but of the living. Now that’s an authority to follow beyond death to life. Any questions?
November 17,2019, Luke 21.5-10, Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God tears away traditional footing and places us on higher ground. It is a time for testing the voices that are vying for authority in our lives. Regardless, the solution is a process not an event. Final judgment is found in the ongoing work of the church.
That is why the Gospel of Luke is a part of a two-volume set, a journey that extends beyond resurrection and ascension in Jerusalem to the far-reaching impact of the Spirit from Jerusalem, into Asia Minor, and finally to Rome.
November 24, 2019, Luke 23.33-43, Christ the King Sunday
The weekly lectionary was revised (the Revised Common Lectionary) so that there would be an extended emphasis on the Second Coming. This Sunday interrupts this sequence by revisiting the passion of our Lord in Luke. The passion of Jesus closes the loop in his travelogue, although the final leg of that journey is repeated more in Luke than any other Gospel, along with Acts. The story builds on itself, adding a finality to each episode of the passion. There is no turning back; there is no easy out. The cries for help go unheeded. You are the Messiah, aren’t you? Save yourself and us. The divine necessity of it all is apparent, and so is saving grace. The response to the criminal takes the story to another level. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The journey has reached its conclusion. The Lord is at hand.
The Pentecost readings from the Gospel of Luke from July through November take us on an exciting “road trip” with Jesus and his disciples. The map of this journey unfolds well before this with the promise given to Mary as she and Joseph travel to their hometown for their enrollment in the census. It is here that God enters humanity in one small entry to this census. Against all odds, this Jesus points to God’s journey into the human family. It is a road that is fraught with “lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” travel that is of divine necessity for God to rescue humanity. Unique to Luke, these ten chapters offer a perspective of Luke’s gospel that helps to shape the theological and Christological understanding of what it means to claim Jesus as Lord. During this journey, Jesus never takes his eyes off his final victory lap in Jerusalem and his passion, yet it is through these stops along the way that we begin to understand more fully the cost of discipleship and Jesus mission to the world.
It turns out that this Is only one leg of the journey. Luke ends his accurate and orderly account of the things that eye-witnesses have seen with an incredible account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the road to Emaeus. He seemed to be going farther but the disciples bid him stay and break bread with him. Their hearts burn as he opened to them the Scriptures. And then he vanished from their sight. He ascends to the Father, but there is always that sneaking suspicion that we might see him along the way. Not to disappoint, the next edition of that journey in Acts, begins with a reference to Theophilus, the gift of the Spirit to the disciples and the question as to whether God will restore the Kingdom. What follows is the travel of the Gospel, beginning in Jerusalem with the Spirit falling upon the disciples. To the ends of the earth and finally reaching Rome, the center of civilization, culture, and life. The story of Jesus and his journey to the Cross is also Peter and Paul’s missionary journeys, beginning in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. The story of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus our Lord is the story of the Church, which exists in the “already, but not yet” time of the Kingdom. Now where is this Good News in Christ taking us?