by Collette Broady Grund
There’s a lot to love about this story of Nicodemus, and there’s a lot of resist. Let’s start with resistance, as I’m still feeling a little fiesty from last week:
By Rev. Collette Broady Grund
I’m just going to assume that Jesus is angry here. I know the text doesn’t say that, and scholars are back and forth on it. But I need Jesus to be angry here, at the temple system that turns what should be a sanctuary into a market-driven economic center. I need Jesus to be angry here, angry at the misguided idea that there’s some special place where you need to curry God’s favor and the only way to do that is by buying something alive and killing it. I need Jesus to be angry, because I am angry. And I could really use a good example of what to do with this anger that is both holy and productive.
by Rev. Collette Broady Grund
John 2:1-11 The Wedding at Cana: The First Sign
To follow the theme for this season of “emBodied” into the gospel of John seemed a daunting proposition at first. This is most dualistic of the gospels, with it’s flesh versus spirit and light verses dark. Jesus is the most perfect in this gospel, with his inexhaustible peace and resignation as he moves toward his own death. Yet, here in chapter two, in the first of his signs, Jesus is decidedly earthy. He’s at a party, which in this pastor’s experience, is always a place ripe with opportunities for ministry!
I also love the conversation he has with his mother about whether or not he’s going to do anything to save the day. Now I know that “woman” was a traditional way to speak to a female in his time, but his own mother? Other commentators might resist interpreting this as attitude, but as a mother whose own son has called her “woman”, I can’t hear it any other way. In my hearing, there’s always a “Geez” before the “woman”. Even though she only stated the facts of the day, “They have no wine.” Jesus’ resistance to doing something about the problem is what makes him human in this text. Maybe he’s thinking this moment is too small for his great unveiling, maybe he’s wishing he had more time before IT begins, maybe he was just having a good time with his disciples after finally getting away from that obnoxious John, who keeps pointing at him and yelling, “BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD”.
But his dear mother knows who he is, what he is, and will not take no for an answer. “Do whatever he tells you” she says, and you can almost hear Jesus’ eye roll as he accepts that this actually is his hour, and the wine actually is his concern.
In a gospel short on details so far, John spends an inordinate amount of space covering the extra proportions of the jars, the amount of water and Jesus’ instructions. He wants us to pay attention to the concrete details, the tangible facts of this sign. Twenty or thirty gallons, six times over, empty jars filled to the brim. If you hear eucharistic echoes in this story, connections to both to the conversation with the woman at the well and the feeding of the 5000, that’s intentional. Though there’s no last supper in John, the superabundance of God’s fullness is everywhere. Jesus is the good wine, he is the water of life gushing up to eternal life, he is the bread of life which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
Mysterious as this sign may be, and frustrating as his roundabout answers in John’s gospel are, Jesus is nevertheless present most clearly in the simple things of life: wine, water, bread. But in Jesus, the superabundance of these simple things points beyond them to the greater reality of God’s reign, God’s own self taking on human form, finite things which contain the infinite.
For preaching, there are two possible directions that appeal to me. First, the focus on Jesus’ resistance to this first sign, and Mary’s quiet insistence that he do something. There are countless times in our following Jesus where an opportunity arises unexpectedly, maybe even at a party just trying to have a good time, and we feel our own resistance to the work of God rise up. “This isn’t the time to talk about serious things.” “That’s none of my business.” “I’m not on the clock.” In those moments where we resist the inbreaking of God’s work, who are the ones to help us see that the hour is NOW, and that God’s concerns and ours are one and the same? Who are the ones that call us to action when we’d rather look the other way?
Second, the superabundance of wine calls to me. It’s hard even to imagine 120 or 150 gallons of wine. It’s an excess, embarrassing to the bridegroom and his family, wildly inappropriate to the occasion. Yet Jesus does it, quietly as if it’s no big deal, and walks away without comment. Think about that: such a huge quantity of excellent wine, worth thousands of dollars today, is not even worth commenting upon in the greater view of God’s reign! Is there anywhere in our lives that we experience such superabundance? Is there anywhere in the church?
My recent ministry with the people of my community has been to open a homeless shelter that rotates a week at at time between seven congregations. As little as a year ago, this seemed a completely improbable dream. Yet, everywhere we have turned, God’s abundance has appeared. Literally every day I walk into my office to a pile of donated coats, hats and blankets, to checks from those the Spirit has moved to generosity. Every night, twenty five people show up at one of our churches to a warm bed and copious amounts of food prepared by volunteers. This kind of hospitality can only be God’s work, as it far outpaced my expectations months ago. It’s not gallons of wine in this sign, it’s piles of fleece tie-blankets under which the bodies of Christ’s body finally have a warm place to sleep this winter.
by Ray Gentry
Daniel 3:1, [2-7] 8-30
"You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.”
As I read through this week’s text I wished that it was during Pentecost and not Advent. Our loose focus during Pentecost was empire and, dang, this would have been a perfect fit. I’m certainly not going to avoid that part of the text; we’ll just have to Advent the text a little as well.
by Cara Holmquist
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Christ the King Sunday is probably the youngest feast day in the liturgical year. (I could be wrong.) The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, between the World Wars, as secular ideologies swept the globe, and in the thick of sovereignty disputes in Italy. As a modern state took shape around the Vatican, absorbing the last geography of Christendom (which had of course been absorbed by powers before, in Italy and elsewhere), Pius sent an encyclical creating the feast. By the 70’s, it was incorporated into the liturgical practice and lectionaries of denominations around the world.
Christ the King Sunday is one of those teeth-gritting festivals, for me. It so easily skews triumphalist. It so easily skews otherworldly instead of incarnate (looking at you, Pius XI’s encyclical…). It so easily skews theology-of-glory instead of the cross. It so easily skews patriarchal, dominating, and colonial, instead of exposing these sinful tendencies of power.
by Elizabeth Rawlings
I was recently talking with a friend of mine about the difficulty of the use of dark and light in scripture -- especially as we move into Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. For many of us this language is so incredibly useful. In English, we have so many phrases that equate difficult times with darkness and hope with light. I know I often think about my own bouts of depression as being trapped in darkness and searching for light. And yet we have to be aware of the effect this constant equating of light and dark with good and evil has on our psyches when it comes to skin color, and what it would be like if the same word often used to describe your skin was always equated to bad in everything from Star Wars to scripture.
This friend pointed out to me that, in German, the words for light and dark skin are different than those for light as in day/sun/brightness and dark as in night/without brightness (see, it's even hard to just describe the difference because of our language). Hebrew isn't that different. To one who reads Hebrew, these words would clearly express illumination/lack thereof without association with skin tone. The words for dark and light used here are the same used in Genesis 1:4. And yet, as we read this in English, the broad possibilities of light and dark do lend to many interpretations. Even if we aren't coming out and saying the use of light and dark here is about skin tone (and most of us likely aren't), words and symbols are important. They seep into our brain and make connections we may not even be aware we are making. Without intentionally deconstructing these connections, our brains will always make light/dark: good/evil connections.
by Ray Gentry
Amos 1:1-2; 5:14- 15, 21-24
10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins--
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
I couldn’t even start thinking about the reading for the week without reading through the first five chapters or Amos. Amos rattles off a litany of transgressions committed by Israel’s neighbors followed by those of Israel. God has no problem calling out the Israel - they are God’s chosen nation, but they are certainly not blameless.
It’s hard not to see how this very easily applies to us today. The moral failing of Israel (and the other nations) is largely focused on issues of justice. The reading ends reminding us what’s important to God. God wants none of our offerings of worship, song, and observance if we are not a people of Justice.
by Ray Gentry
1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13
Then Solomon said,
‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built you an exalted house,
a place for you to dwell in for ever.’
The end of this week’s text sticks out to me. My brain fixates on it because I think that my church building was designed and constructed with the attitude of Solomon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely building; I’m just not sure it’s gonna be here forever, though I'm fairly certain it was designed and built to be. I feel fairly confident saying that because the temple Solomon built didn’t even survive for 500 years.
Reformation Sunday seems a fitting day for this text. The Reformation, in it’s most idealized sense, confronts the certainty in our faith both personally and institutionally. Where would we benefit from a little humility that our theology is less a perfect understanding of the divine and more a lens of our time?
by Cara Holmquist, M. Div.
A "How'd We Get Here" of 1 Samuel 16:1-13
I've always loved the warning about kingship in 1 Samuel 8. The people covet a a king (can there be a "thou shalt not covet they neighbor's king" commandment?)! All these troubles of empire come to pass, some very quickly - see 8:11 and 15:52.
I think God intended Saul to be merely another judge, not a king. The people's clamoring basically makes him a king by acclamation; until that point in the story, neither God nor Samuel say he's to be king. It's "lead" or "govern," not rule.
The commentaries for Oct 15 were written by members of the Strategic Team for Authentic Diversity in the Northwest Washington Synod.
by Rev. Sara Yoos
1 Samuel 3:1-21
In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation. We recall how Martin Luther revolutionized the congregation’s access to God by making scripture and the sacraments accessible to the people. In the calling of Samuel, God comes directly to Samuel, bypassing Eli, the high priest. Eli, much like the Catholic Church pre-Reformation, traditionally mediated contact with God. But in this story, God speaks directly to Samuel, breaking down the institutional barriers between God and God’s people.
As we reflect on what it means to be a reforming church, moving into God’s future, we might ponder what existing institutional barriers are inhibiting people from accessing God (and vice versa). How does the church need to be reformed in order to help God speak more directly to God’s people?