A Lectionary Reflection on John 17:20-26, for 7th Sunday of Easter Yr C

This pericope is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is, for the most part, an intercessory prayer for others, and also the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples, preparing them for his imminent suffering, death and resurrection (John 13:1-17:26).

Image credit: Jesus prayed for me at LivingLutheran.org

In verse 20, Jesus is praying for all of his would-be followers beyond the first generation of disciples, right up to the present day and into the future: “I ask not only on behalf of these (i.e. his first disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” Here Jesus suggests the power not only of his intercessory prayer for all of his followers throughout history; as well as the process by which people will come to believe—“through their word,” (i.e. the preaching and teaching of God’s word, which, combined with the activity of the Holy Spirit works faith within the hearts and minds of people).

Another significant theme in this prayer is an emphasis on the unity of Christians with one another; which Jesus prays for in verse 21 and develops this particular intercession further by saying that such a unity is rooted in God’s own Self: “As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Again such an emphasis highlights that unity is a gift of God’s grace, it always originates from God through Jesus to us. However, this unity is not unity for its own sake. No! Jesus states the ultimate purpose of Christian unity: “that the world (not merely a few privileged folks) may know that you (i.e. God the Parent-Creator) have sent me.” Jesus repeats this emphasis on unity in slightly different words, and then repeats the purpose of unity as well with an important addition: “that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This addition, of course, is consistent with the larger schema of the Fourth Gospel, which emphasises God’s all-inclusive love for the world made incarnate through Jesus. After Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven, the incarnation—albeit imperfect because we are all sinners—is present in the world through loving servanthood of Jesus’ followers who have been given the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.

Jesus also prays that his followers would be with him “where I am,” which may refer to either his imminent suffering and death on the cross or his resurrected and ascended state in heaven or perhaps both. He asks for his followers to be with him where he is “to see my glory,” and again “my glory” may refer to at least two or more meanings—his suffering and death on the cross and/or his resurrected and ascended state in heaven.

The concluding intercession focusses on knowing God the Parent-Creator and Jesus as well as knowing God’s name, which is closely connected to the gift of God’s love dwelling in all of Jesus’ followers.

There are many homiletic possibilities based on this pericope. One may be to explore what it means to pray today in the life and faith journey of Jesus-followers. How does Jesus’ high priestly prayer inspire and influence our prayers today? Are there visible signs of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity among Christians of various denominations today? If so, where are they, and how do we rejoice in Jesus’ prayer becoming a reality for us today?

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A Lectionary Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-9, Lent 3

Image credit: godtube.com

I love the Book of Isaiah, it is so rich in communicating God’s chesedlovingkindness—and grace. Those who believe that the Hebrew Bible and the God described in the Hebrew Bible are filled with doom and gloom, judgement and condemnation need to read the Book of Isaiah. Yes, there are oracles of judgement in Isaiah, however it is also bursting at the seams with messages of lovingkindness and grace.

The Book of Isaiah is a complex one, yet, at the same time, it enunciates the beauty of simplicity. Many scholars divide it into three sections and most likely three different periods of history: Chapters 1-39; chapters 40-55; and chapters 56-66. They are referred to as First Isaiah, Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah respectively. Scholars differ concerning their authorship—e.g., some believe the Book of Isaiah may have been compiled by a group of editors/prophets or ‘school of Isaiah’ so-to-speak, while others contend each of the sections were written by three different individuals, as well as other theories. Our pericope likely dates back to the time of the Babylonian exile (ca. 587-538 B.C.E.), perhaps near the end of it, as the content of this oracle is one of a hopeful future—indeed, the title of this oracle in my Bible is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.”

The oracle begins with a message of God’s grace. The picture is rather profound in that first of all everyone is given this grace-filled invitation without exception; and second, the economy of God’s grace is the exact reversal of all human economies based on a monetary system. The invitation makes it abundantly clear that God’s grace cannot be bought with money—it is free! Therefore the rich have no advantage over the poor, all are equal in God’s eyes. In God’s economy of grace no money is required—rather, God’s banquet feast of food and drink are free and accessible to everyone. What abundance, what generosity God offers here!

Verses two and three continue with this motif of God’s abundant grace, however there is a clarifying injunction, the exilic citizens of Judah and Jerusalem are commanded to “Listen carefully…,” “Incline your ear…,” “listen, so that you may live.” I believe it was Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, who once said: “The first duty of love is to listen.” Listening makes all the difference in the world, it is, or at least has the potential of being, a matter of life or death. Those who listen are often more open to the blessings of what life has to offer them through the multidimensional workings of God’s grace. Failure to listen can, and often does lead to sinful thoughts, words and actions that lead to: self-inflicted suffering, alienated and broken relationships with God and other human beings, divisions, the devastation of creation, evil, injustice, war and destruction.

In the case of this pericope, listening while eating and drinking at God’s grace-filled banquet feast is connected with celebrating God’s “everlasting covenant” now expanding from David’s line to include all of God’s chosen people—verses four and five. God’s chosen people graced with an everlasting covenant shall “call nations that [they] you do not know,” and in response to this “call,” these nations “shall run to you.” They shall do this running because of God’s grace and initiative toward his chosen people.

Verses six and seven shift in their emphasis, inviting people, including “the wicked,” to repent of their sinful ways; which involves returning to the Holy One, the One who created and loved them from the beginning. This call to repentance, to return to the LORD has a profound consequence: “he may have mercy on them…,” and “he will abundantly pardon.” Mercy and abundance are the very attributes of God; they are also associated with God’s grace, lovingkindness/chesed, and God’s fidelity to the everlasting covenant.

The closing verses of this pericope are a reminder of God’s sovereignty, God’s transcendence, God’s ‘wholly/holy otherness,’ and in the presence of God’s ‘wholly/holy otherness,’ our humility—reminding us of our finitude and limitations, which are a message of grace too, since they reveal our need of God, our hunger and thirst for God, our constant state of returning to God in order to live the abundant life. We are graced to share God’s abundance even as we live in our various forms of exile.

Brief Book Review of Sacred Treasure The Cairo Genizah

Sacred Treasure The Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic

Author: Rabbi Mark Glickman

Publisher: Jewish Lights

228 pages, ISBN-10: 1580235123, and ISBN-13: 978-1580235129

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

This volume is amazing! Well written, with a penchant for detail without getting bogged down in boredom or feeling overwhelmed—Rabbi Mark Glickman has done an excellent job in sharing with his readers an incredible adventure. He too, and his son Jacob are also integral participants in this adventure; visiting several places and consulting with numerous scholars which resulted in this remarkable volume.

Rabbi Glickman is quite cognizant of a couple rather intriguing ironies at work in the Genizah Collection story. The first, of course is the irony of a medieval cultural and religious Jewish community flourishing in Old Cairo, the land where Israelites were slaves centuries earlier. Why would there even be a Jewish community in the country that oppressed them? Wouldn’t they want to avoid such a land like the plague? Apparently not. It seems that the Muslim majority lived side by side peacefully with their Jewish neighbours in medieval Egypt.

The other irony of the Genizah Collection ‘discovery’ is that two Scottish scholars who were sisters—Dr. Agnes Lewis and Dr. Margaret Gibson, inspired it. They were linguistic scholars of Greek, Syriac, Arabic and Hebrew when most women were unable to pursue such academic studies in a patriarchal society. In 1896, they returned to Britain with a Hebrew manuscript; which they had purchased in the Middle East. The manuscript was the Apocryphal Book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus); which they showed to Dr. Solomon Schechter; a professor of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature at the University of Cambridge. This Hebrew manuscript of Ecclesiasticus led Dr. Solomon on a journey—geographical, academic and spiritual—to search for the source of this manuscript in the Ben Ezra Synagogue of Old Cairo. When Rabbi Dr. Schechter visited this synagogue in 1898, he realized what a goldmine the Cairo Genizah Collection was—consequently, he proceeded to examine it and work with other scholars to preserve it.

There are close to 300,000 individual documents in the Genizah Collection, including: some Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible texts, Mishnah and Talmud texts, legal documents, letters, liturgies, etc. The documents are written mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. Some of them are merely fragments; while others are in poor condition.

As time passed, several universities and teams of scholars have worked diligently to categorize, analyze, store, preserve, study, translate and publish the Genizah Collection—many of them are now digitized and accessible online. The largest number of Genizah documents are in the University of Cambridge library; and the second largest number are in the New York Jewish Theological Seminary library. Other libraries also have Genizah documents.

According to Rabbi Glickman; the Jewish community of Old Cairo in the Middle Ages was flourishing. Unlike many Jews of the diaspora who have the deepest longing to live in Israel; the Old Cairo Jews were most likely content to live, love, work, retire and die there.

Highly recommended, five out of five stars. Thanks to Rabbi Glickman, historians, biblical scholars, archaeologists, clergy and Jewish, Christian and Muslim laity of all walks of life should find this volume very beneficial.

 

100th Anniversary Celebration

Yesterday Sunday, September 29, 2013, I was privileged to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Stettler, Alberta, where I was ordained and served in my first call as pastor.  Of course brought my camera along and took some photos.

Church Exterior Front

Church Exterior Front

Church Exterior Sideview

Church Exterior Sideview

Church Sanctuary

Church Sanctuary

I appreciated the opportunity to assist the resident pastor with the worship service and share a greeting/address with the congregation. Meeting with parishioners after so many years brought back many warm and grateful memories too. There were both tears and laughter, as folks reminisced; remembering the saints of old who have gone to their eternal reward; as well as the saints of today and their participation in this community of faith. I learned many things from the folks in this congregation, three of which I am in particular most grateful: the ministry of hospitality and generosity, the importance of listening on a deep level, and the love of and appreciation for music. Most of all I’m grateful to God for his constant faithfulness, love and grace, which continue to be poured out in abundance among the pastor and parishioners of this congregation. To God be the glory!

 

Inspiration from Evelyn Underhill

Inspiration from Evelyn Underhill

For our Lenten devotions this year, we’re reading Lent With Evelyn Underhill: Selections from her writings, edited by G.P. Mellick Belshaw. Here’s what Underhill has to say for the first Sunday in Lent devotion:

God, as Brother Giles said, is a great mountain of corn from which [hu]man[ity], like a sparrow, takes a grain of wheat: yet even that grain of wheat, which is as much as we can carry away, contains all the essentials of our life. We are to carry it carefully and eat it gratefully: remembering with awe the majesty of the mountain from which it comes.

The first thing this vast sense of God does for us, is to deliver us from the imbecilities of religious self-love and self-assurance; and sink our little souls in the great life of the race, in and upon which this One God in His mysterious independence is always working, whether we notice it or not. When that sense of His unique reality gets dim and stodgy, we must go back and begin there once more; saying with the Psalmist, ‘All my fresh springs are in thee.’ [Hu]Man[ity], said Christ, is nourished by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Not the words we expect, or persuade ourselves that we have heard; but those unexpected words He really utters, sometimes by the mouths of the most unsuitable people, sometimes through apparently unspiritual events, sometimes secretly within the soul. (pp. 22-23)

How beautiful and mysterious is the grace of God!