Tag Archives: jesus

Come, See, and Drink!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading requires a bit of background if we are to appreciate what is going on. First, we need to know something about the Samaritans and their relationship with the Jews. Second, we need to know something about the significance of a man meeting a woman at a public well.

The Samaritans were a people of mixed religious and ethnic heritage. When the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, the Assyrians populated the region with peoples from five foreign tribes. These peoples intermarried with the Israelites who remained, and they worshiped their own gods alongside the God of Israel. By Jesus’ time, the Samaritans were politically part of the Roman province of Judea and worshiped the God of Israel; even so, the Jews considered them unclean foreigners because of their mixed ethnic and religious heritage. In particular, a Samaritan woman was considered a source of ritual pollution from the day she was born till the day she died. It was considered wrong for a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan woman, and if he touched anything that she had touched, he too would become ritually unclean.

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But there is more to be said about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In Jesus’ day, there was an implicit sexual tension in any meeting between a man and an unescorted woman. But to meet a woman at the public well had a special significance that is lost on us today. In the stories of the biblical patriarchs, it was not unusual for a patriarch to meet his bride at a public well. So, the very setting of the story hints at the possibility of an interracial betrothal, only furthering the impropriety of the encounter.

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Building a Fence around the Torah

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

For the last two Sundays, we have been hearing excerpts from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we heard Jesus say, “… not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Today, we hear what biblical scholars used to call “The Antitheses.” (To be more precise, we hear four of the six Antitheses; the other two will be heard next week.) Now, an “antithesis” is a rhetorical contrast of opposites. And the presumption has often been that Jesus is opposing his new laws against the old Jewish laws. But considering what Jesus said about not abolishing even one stroke of one letter of the Law, it seems unlikely to me that “The Antitheses” are, in fact, antitheses!

What then, is Jesus up to? Well, he’s doing something very Jewish, and Judaism even has a term for it. He’s “building a fence around the Torah.” It has long been a practice in Judaism to draw a legal circle around a commandment, so that one would never even come close to breaking the original commandment. A classic example is the commandment not to eat a baby goat boiled in its mother’s milk. From this came the prohibition against eating meat and dairy products at the same meal. And from this came the further prohibition against cooking meat and dairy products in the same pan or storing meat and dairy in the same refrigerator. I think that this is what Jesus is up to in today’s Gospel reading!

With that in mind, let’s go through each of the four so-called “Antitheses” and try to figure out what Jesus was asking of his disciples then and now.

anger-or-the-tussle-1516The first “antithesis” deals with the issue of anger. Jesus starts out by reminding his audience of the biblical prohibition against murder. He then says that calling someone a fool in anger is tantamount to murder and will land the guilty party in Hell. Now, rest assured that Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole here. Be that as it may, he does so, in order to drive home the point that anger can be deadly, both literally and figuratively.

Jesus then expands on this point with two “mini-parables.” In one, a man has traveled to Jerusalem to make an animal sacrifice at the Temple for the expiation of his sins, when he remembers his sin against a fellow Israelite. He leaves his sacrifice incomplete, travels back to his home town, makes up with his neighbor, and then heads back to Jerusalem to make his peace with God. It’s an improbable scenario. But it points out that reconciliation with God is only possible if we are reconciled with one another first. When we share the Peace later in the service, it is more than just a casual greeting to a neighbor, it is a liturgical sign that we who are gathered here today are reconciled.

The next “mini-parable” is about one man taking another man to court over unpaid debts. Jesus says that if the debtor has any sense, he’ll settle out of court and not risk going to debtors’ prison. This little parable is an allegory. The key to the allegory is that the word “debt” in Aramaic is also the word for “sin.” In this parable, the judge is God, and the debtor’s prison is Hell. The decoded message is to make your peace with your fellow human beings before you die, lest you suffer divine condemnation!

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“Come and See!”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel reading

Echoes of the Epiphany resound in today’s Gospel reading. Last Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and we heard St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. As I stated last week, that account is the principal reading in the Eastern Church on the feast of the Epiphany, whereas in the Western Church the story of the Magi is proclaimed. Today we get a second echo of the Epiphany in John the Baptist’s account of Jesus’ baptism—or to be precise, in his remembrance of that recent event.

mural_-_jesus_baptismIn Matthew’s account, Jesus sees the heavens open up and the Spirit descend like a dove. It isn’t absolutely clear if anyone else sees what Jesus sees, or hears what he hears. St. John’s Gospel answers that question. John the Baptist also saw the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. And for him this was the sign he had been waiting for that the One who was coming into the world had arrived.

lamb-of-god-stained-glassThe Baptist announces to all within hearing distance that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” One wonders exactly what he means by this curious expression. Elsewhere, Jesus is proclaimed as the great Shepherd of the sheep, a reference to his status as the Messiah. But here, he is not the shepherd, but the sheep, and a baby one at that! The most common interpretation of this metaphor is that John is equating Jesus with a paschal lamb, the animal that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten once a year in commemoration of the Exodus. The blood of a paschal lamb was a symbol of redemption. Recall that at the first Passover, the Israelites smeared their lintels with the blood of a lamb, so as to be spared from God’s wrathful visitation upon Egypt. While the killing of a paschal lamb was not originally a sacrifice, by Jesus’ day, when only the priests in the Temple were permitted to slaughter the lambs, the slaughter and communal sharing of a lamb was commonly thought of as a Temple sacrifice. We see this sacrificial understanding of the Passover when St. Paul writes, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” a phrase that should sound rather familiar.

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The Only Christmas Gift Anyone Really Needs

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Merry Christmas! Today is a special day for all Christians, but it is an especially special day for the Church of the Incarnation. Since this parish isn’t named after a saint, we don’t have an annual patronal feast. Instead, we have a feast of title, and today is it—the feast of the Incarnation!

If you attend Midnight Mass or a sunrise service in an Episcopal church on Christmas, you get the story of baby Jesus from Luke’s Gospel. But if you attend the main Christmas Day service, you get something very different. Despite the fact that you see a papier-mâché stable in front of the altar, you didn’t, in fact, hear the story of Jesus’ birth in a stable. No shepherds in the field. No angelic host singing, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Instead, you got an excerpt from a mystical poem about the doctrine of the Incarnation. To be honest, I miss the charming stories of St. Luke, but this profound poem of St. John is, in fact, the very foundation of the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ. So take a deep breath, and let us plunge into its mystical depths!

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As does any good storyteller, St. John begins at the beginning—in this case, the very beginning! While St. Luke starts his Gospel with the birth of a baby prophet, St. John begins with the birth of the Cosmos, and he tells us about the relationship between God and a divine being called “the Word.” This Word existed with God before time itself was created, and all Creation was mediated through him. In the original Greek, the name of this being is Logos. Yes, it can be translated as Word. But it has other translations that are just as pertinent here, such as Reason or Order.

nativity-iconThe existence of such a divine Logos was the subject of both Greek and Jewish speculation well before the time of St. John. This pre-existent divine person was understood to be the giver of reason and order to the Universe. He is the one who maintains structure in the face of chaos. He is the one who maintains the possibility of life in the midst of deadly disorder. He is the one who allows for the existence of light in the midst of darkness.

For John, the Logos is also God’s Word spoken to the Cosmos and to us. He is the divine self-expression of God’s love for the whole world. This divine self-expression of God’s love was “spoken” by God at Creation; was proclaimed to Israel by their prophets; walked among us as a preacher of peace; and continues to speak to us in Nature and in Church, in starry sky and in Holy Scripture, in the companionship of a pet and in the Blessed Sacrament. According to John, the unity between God and the Logos is such that one can even say that the Logos is God.

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Jesus, Our Emmanuel

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

This is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. And today we consider the first advent of our Lord. More precisely, we look at the time just before Jesus’ first advent, namely, the annunciation to Joseph. Now the art world has always favored Luke’s story of the annunciation to Mary over Matthew’s story of the annunciation to Joseph. I don’t know about you, but I could not possibly rank one story above the other. Each has its own artistic and theological merits.

ahazBut before addressing the Gospel, let me say something about the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. We get this story about a prophecy to King Ahaz for one reason, and one reason only. It serves as a proof-text in the Gospel of Matthew. The original context of this prophecy is the Syro-Ephraimite War. King Ahaz is besieged by his neighbors and fears that Jerusalem will fall. At God’s behest, Isaiah comes to reassure him with a prophetic sign that Jerusalem will not fall, at least not yet. King Ahaz, feigning piety, refuses to accept a sign. Well, he gets one anyway! Isaiah famously proclaims, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and she shall name him Immanuel.” The child in question was probably King Ahaz’s future son, or just possibly Isaiah’s.” And there is no reason to believe that the young woman in question conceived in any way other than the normal way of doing it. For some reason or other, our lectionary omits the final verse of the prophecy, which portends the future fall of the kingdom to Assyria.

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The Value of One

A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on September 11, 2016, by Christopher L. Webber.

On a crystal clear September morning fifteen years ago today, two airplanes full of people like you and me plunged into the Trade Towers in lower Manhattan where nearly 20,000 people were at work. Another plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane plunged into a field in Pennsylvania. When the day was over some 3,000 people were dead.

So 9-11 has become a date to remember and this year it falls on a Sunday when the Gospel reading talks about the value of a single life. Jesus asks, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God places such value on one.

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The Demands of Discipleship

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, wrote these words in 1937; a few years later, he was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship, and he was willing to pay the price.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus speaks of this cost in words that are both startling and intimidating. He enumerates three demands of those who would be his disciples: 1) hate your family, 2) carry the cross and follow him, and 3) give up all your possessions. Jesus goes on to tell two parables, one about a builder and one about a king, the point of which is “Don’t even start what you can’t finish.”

If we wish to call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, it behooves each of us to consider these three demands and to ask ourselves, “Can I finish what I have started?”

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Pride goes before destruction…

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

There is a common thread tying together the first reading from the book of Sirach and the Gospel reading from Luke, and that commonality is human pride, one of the so-called seven deadly sins.

Sirach, a book of the Apocrypha, was  written by a wisdom teacher, someone we would probably call a “life coach.” His purpose was to teach young men how to get along in life without forsaking God. He teaches that human pride is a sinful forsaking of God our Maker and results in ruin.

Jesus, speaking at a dinner party, comments on the guests’ scramble for the best seats at the dinner table by telling a parable. The moral of that parable is “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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Pride is clearly considered problematic. For English-speakers, the very word is problematic. Pride can mean “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect.” When we see parents displaying bumper stickers about their kids’ being on the honor roll, it doesn’t seem particularly sinful. When San Francisco hosts a Pride Day Parade, it is not meant to promote a deadly sin (though some might disagree with me there!). The kind of pride that is condemned as sinful is the state of mind in which a person lives as if they are the very center of Creation, that their accomplishments are unique, and that everything in this world matters only in so far as it affects them. Such a person forgets that everyone, and I mean everyone, is a beloved creature of God, and that every gift and every accomplishment ultimately derives from the Creator. But there is another way of looking at pride. One writer on patristic spirituality says, “[Pride’s] essential quality is not found in having too high an opinion of oneself so much as too low an opinion of everyone else” (Roberta Bondi, To Love as God Loves). I kind of like that!

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It’s OK to be Mary!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

This week a preacher is presented with an embarrassment of riches. We have the great Old Testament story of Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord in the form of three travelers, a famous proof-text for the doctrine of the Trinity. We have the reading from Colossians, which begins with an awe-inspiring hymn about the Cosmic Christ. And we have the familiar, but disturbing, story of Martha and Mary, found in Luke’s Gospel. Well, taking into account the overwork that I regularly witness in this parish, I have decided to focus on those five verses from Luke.

The story is short. The details are sparse. And most annoyingly, the point of the story is not readily apparent. The result is that biblical exegetes throughout the last two millennia have offered a wide variety of interpretations.

Our early Christian ancestors were fond of so-called “spiritual” interpretations. One Church Father by the name of Origen explained the story of Martha and Mary as an allegory contrasting the contemplative life (represented by Mary) with active life in the world (represented by Martha). While not excluding some value to a more literal interpretation, he thought that this story was included in the New Testament to encourage Christians who wanted to advance in spiritual attainment to abandon the world for either life in a monastery or life in a cave. St. Augustine, another advocate of allegorical interpretation, taught that Martha represented our current life in this world, where we suffer worry and distraction, and that Mary represented life in the Kingdom of God, where our carefree life will be focused solely on God.

My sense is that we here today might benefit more from a literal interpretation of this story. So let’s take a closer look at this story of a dinner party gone wrong.

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Channels of God’s Compassion and Mercy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Reading

If you’re very keen-eyed, you may have noticed that our lectionary inserts now say “Track 2,” instead of “Track 1.” The difference between the two tracks is that in Track 2, the Old Testament readings during Ordinary Time are chosen to complement the Gospel reading, while in Track 1, the Old Testament readings have no connection at all with the Gospel reading. Today, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading not only complement each other, they look like carbon copies. Each is the story of the resuscitation of a widow’s only son. But there are differences, and these differences are significant.

In First Kings, Elijah, as you may recall, is a refugee in the town of Zarepath, in the Gentile kingdom of Phoenicia. He is abiding with a widow and her son. When he arrived at their door, he found them starving due to a drought. Having been promised that God would provide, the woman fed Elijah with the last of her food. God rewarded her generosity by providing a miraculous never-ending supply of flour and olive oil. All seemed well. Then disaster strikes. The woman’s only son dies. This would be a tragedy in any culture. But it was even more so in ancient Israel. A widow with no male heir lost all her property to her husband’s family. And unless her deceased husband had a brother who was willing to marry her, she would be homeless and destitute. In a real sense, the death of the woman’s son was her death sentence as well.

The widow of Zarepath accuses Elijah and his God. (Now I say “his God,” because the woman was most probably a Gentile worshiper of Baal.) Elijah is a bit panicked. And he too accuses God of a betrayal. But he conquers his doubt and performs an action that could be considered either a prophetic sign, a medical procedure, or a magical rite. He covers the body of the dead child three times with his own body, all the time praying to God to revive the boy. And God shows mercy and returns the child to life. This is the first resuscitation story.

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