The promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their descendants would dwell in the land of Canaan, lived on after Jacob died in Egypt. On Wednesday night gone, our reading from Genesis ended with Jacob’s son Joseph requiring a promise by that his body would be embalmed and would be carried into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when God visited them and fulfilled the covenant.Read More
The man born blind did not ask Jesus for anything. He did not know who smeared dirt on him and sent him to wash. I can’t help but think that in the moment he was manhandled, it would have seemed to him to be just another one of the humiliations like those he had known all his life. Yet at the heart of this story, New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders points out, is the unnamed man’s commitment to the law of God given to Moses, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The truth—lower case “t” for the sense of what is true, not false, and capital “T” for the one who is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life”—sets him free in more ways than he could have imagined before he could see.Read More
I pulled out the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament the other day to look up the entry for a word that I’ve been paying more attention to since last Easter. The gospel for Easter morning, of course, is John’s account of the resurrection—Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciple we know only as “the disciple Jesus loved” at the tomb. Quite honestly, I was looking for something to help me with John—on which I think I have preached for 28 Easter mornings in a row—so I turned to Matthew. It’s the only other gospel where the risen Jesus himself speaks on the morning of the resurrection. And I got lucky.Read More
In this lectionary year, we started reading Genesis at Evensong on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. We began at the beginning with the first creation story. We’ve had two Sundays away from Genesis. We picked up Genesis last Monday with what Genesis calls the story of the family of Jacob, but it’s really the story of Joseph. And that’s where we are tonight. During the fourth week of Lent, we will move from Genesis to Exodus. But this year, like most years, we will end up hearing almost all of Genesis through the Sundays and weekdays at Evening Prayer.Read More
In the background of today’s gospel lesson are words from a song of Moses found in Deuteronomy, which “Moses spoke . . . in the ears of all the assembly of Israel.I He said to the assembly, “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Into the world of the descendants of that assembly of Israel, the Word of God was made flesh. Salvation no longer belonged to the old covenant but is the gift to all who believe and become children of God, to all who are born from above by the Spirit.Read More
Dr. Mark Davis in his online scripture blog, “Left Behind and Loving it,” suggests, for grammatical reasons, that instead of hearing the devil say, “If you are the Son of God, [then] command these stones . . . throw yourself down [from the building]; . . . fall down and worship me,” we should only use the word “if” in the first two tests. Instead, we should use the word, “since.” Checking the dictionary, he’s not wrong.Read More
The first record of ashes being used by Christians in association with penitence comes from sixth-century Spain. Ashes were given to penitents who, because of serious public sin, had been publicly excommunicated. A ritual for the imposition of ashes is found in the altar book for the bishop of Mainz, now Germany, in the tenth century as part of the liturgy at the beginning of Lent. In spite of the words of Jesus that we just heard—always associated with the Mass for the beginning of Lent—at the end of the eleventh century, Pope Urban II decided ashes would be offered to everyone on this day in the Western Church. Maybe not this year with the rain, but most years, in our city of New York, more people will enter churches today for ashes than on any other day of the year and for any other reason. I know of no other city where this is true. So what do ashes mean for us? What can ashes mean for us?Read More
Our appointed gospel lesson begins with the words, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.” But this story really begins a week earlier in Matthew, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men and women say that I am?" And the story doesn’t end when Jesus and the three disciples come down the mountain. What happens next, the healing of an epileptic boy, is very much a part of the story that begins, again, with Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do men and women say that I am?” Read more
Growing up Southern Baptist, I don’t remember learning Luke’s version of the last words of today’s gospel lesson. Luke’s Jesus in his Sermon on the Plain—not on a mountain—says, in the King James Bible of my youth, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” I do remember learning parallel words from Matthew, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Read more
Jacob’s mother’s brother, that is, Jacob’s Uncle Laban, sells his daughter to Jacob for seven years’ labor. When the day of the wedding comes, there is a great celebration. In the morning Jacob discovers he has been tricked—alcohol?—into sleeping and being intimate, not with the first cousin for whose marriage he had labored, but with the elder sister, Leah. Seven more years of labor follow for the younger sister. Jacob now has two wives. The one who is hated bears children; the one who is loved does not—at least not at the beginning of the stories of what will be Jacob’s four wives. Leah had four sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Read more
The Sermon on the Mount is by far the longest of the five sermons given by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Today’s gospel is from the middle of what we call the fifth chapter; the sermon goes on for two more chapters. Today we heard four of the six verses called, “antitheses;” we will hear the next two next Sunday. These antitheses begin, “You have heard that it was said.” Jesus then continues with, “But I say to you.” Read more
The late New Testament scholar François Bovon refers in his commentary on Luke to the description of an icon in a book by a priest-monk of Mount Athos who died around the year 1744. It shows Joseph, Anna, and the child Jesus. The priest-monk, Dionysius, wrote, “Next to him [Joseph] stands the prophetess Anna, who points to Christ and holds a tablet with this inscription: ‘This baby created heaven and earth.’ ” I’d like to see the icon; it is an interesting commingling of John—“In the beginning was the Word”—and of Luke. Read more
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 29, 2016, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. Peter R. Powell
Jesus as Elijah
We continue in the Gospel this morning the reading from last week. Jesus is in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town, and last week he read from Isaiah 61, then this morning he tells them what the reading means.
Today’s Gospel begins with the response to Jesus’s teaching. It seems to me that in the response to Jesus’s preaching the congregation reacts that he sounds nice and isn’t it wonderful that Joseph’s little boy can sound so good. Then they immediately turn on him and say we’ve heard you can do healing acts, let’s see some! Jesus responds by talking about Elijah’s healing of gentiles and however or whatever he says, he so offends the Nazarenes that they threaten him to toss him off a cliff.Read More
Year A: Micah 6:1–8; Psalm 37:1–6; 1 Corinthians 1:26–31*; Matthew 5:1–12
Today’s gospel lesson is familiar, well-known for a lot of reasons. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ longest and most famous sermon, the one we call the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a passage countless Christians have memorized since Matthew’s gospel first circulated. The opening words of this sermon captured the experience of Matthew’s community of faith in a time of great persecution and great suffering.Read More
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 29, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. Peter R. Powell
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Two Sundays ago we heard the story of Jesus being baptized. Last Sunday we did not hear the very next story in Matthew, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. That lesson has long been reserved for the First Sunday in Lent—Matthew this year, Mark next year, and in the third year, Luke. In the fourth gospel, the Baptist is known simply as John. Although he figures prominently at the beginning, he does not baptize the Word made flesh.Read More
The Genesis reading tonight is all of the seventh chapter of Genesis. But I want to begin by reading four verses from the sixth chapter that tell us why God did what he did. The translation is by Professor Robert Alter, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley:Read More
I think it was in a ninth or tenth grade English class that I learned about the power of an opening line. The example my teacher used was the famous first sentence in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick—“Call me Ishmael.” Though I knew who Ishmael was; he was Abraham’s first son, but not the son of his wife, I didn’t know how the author was using his name. My teacher showed us how knowing the story of Ishmael of the Bible told us something about the Ishmael of the novel. Fortunately, we weren’t being asked to read Moby Dick—and I confess that I have never finished reading it. Our teacher was teaching us something about how to read—how to think.Read More
Today we began reading Genesis. The way the church calendar falls this year, we will be hearing Genesis at Evening Prayer until the last two Sundays before Ash Wednesday. On first Sunday in Lent we pick it up again. In the Fourth week of Lent we will be in Exodus. But today I want to mention only one thing about this first creation story.Read More
Augustine of Hippo thought Mark’s gospel was an abstract from Matthew, though I’m sure many thoughtful readers over the centuries must have realized this made no sense. As Raymond Brown pointed out: why would Mark leave out things like Jesus’ birth and the Lord’s Prayer or decide to include Jesus saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”Read More