flannelgraph proper 18b, Sunday closest to Sept 7

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flannelgraph / Year B

After blogging the lectionary for years, I’m retooling this blog to be a resource for people in the pews. Each week I’ll provide a short piece on both tracks of the Old Testament Lessons, the New Testament Lesson, and the Gospel Lesson. Then I’ll offer some discussion questions and intergenerational challenges based on the lessons. It will be in blog form, so you could copy+paste into a bulletin, and in half-sheet PDF, so you could print and include as a bulletin insert. Feel free to use, amend, etc. — just please use simple attribution: (c) 2015, rickmorley.com

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Here is the PDF, ready to be printed, front and back and then sliced down the middle. Enjoy!

“Be opened.” Those two little words are spoken by Jesus to the ears of the deaf man (Mark 7:24-37). But, they are always God’s words spoken to us. Our constant call is to be opened. Open to the movement of God, to the word of God, the hope of God, the salvation of God. Open to being fed at God’s table, forgiven of our trespasses, and recipients of Grace.

In the Epistle lesson (James 2:1-14) we see James, the “brother of the Lord,” speaking to his community about not closing themselves off to the discriminations of the world. They are tempted to favor the rich and influential, but James asks them to be open to seeing everyone who walks through their doors as a beloved child of God – a neighbor.

(Track 1, RCL) The lesson from Proverbs (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23) seeks to break down the same walls as James, asking us to be open to seeing that everyone is made by God, regardless of our bank accounts, and that those who share what they have with those less fortunate will be blessed.

(Track 2, RCL) The lesson from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-7a) is a plea to those who are scared to be open to the wonder working power of God. When you’re at your lowest, it’s hard to be hopeful, but the story of God is a story of victory after defeat, healing after injury, and life after death.

If only we are open.

Prayer

Wherever I am closed, Lord, open me. Peel me back. Dig me out. Help me bloom. Let me be open to the hope that is in you, and the Life that you planted deep within me on the day of my baptism. Amen.

Household faith activity

Have everyone go around the home and find something that is closed. (A jewelry box. A walnut. A flower that hasn’t yet bloomed…) Bring everyone together with their found objects and talk about how this closed thing can sometimes remind of themselves . Have everyone talk about what they tend to be “closed” to. (Perhaps it’s taking time off. Or listening to someone else. Or owning up to being wrong. Or forgiving another person.) Then talk about what ti would look like if everyone could be opened. What would the household look like if everyone was more open? Pray the prayer together.

Social Media Flannelgraph

Post a picture of something that has opened, something beautiful, something in full bloom. Share how God is opening you in the same way.

 

forgiveness on the lips: Charleston

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Jesus / New Testament

Like most preachers, I’ve been struggling with what to say this week.

Struggling with what to say to others, when I am coming up painfully short with something to say to myself.

And then, like a breath of fresh wind straight from the Holy Spirit, the families of the victims have begun to speak. And what’s the word we hear?

Forgiveness.

It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?

We can come with ramped up anti-racism programs – and I hope we do. We can march against gun violence – and we will. We can fight the systems which hold up the infrastructure that allows people think such things and commit such acts – and we will try.

But, while those are great and necessary answers, what did Jesus do when he was persecuted and killed?

“Father forgive them.”

Hanging on the cross, forgiveness was on Jesus’ mouth. Forgiveness was on the mouths of countless martyrs on their way to execution. Forgiveness was on the mouths of the Amish after a schoolhouse massacre. Forgiveness was on the mouth of the coptic church after Isis killed their people.

Forgiveness is what we do. It’s what we have.

Really, it’s all we’ve got in the arsenal. That and love. We look to the holster and hope to find wrath, and judgement, retaliation and condemnation so strong it makes toes curl and people think twice.

But, as Christians it not what we have. We have forgiveness. It’s the only arrow in the quill.

It’s how we respond to tragedy, and attack, and pain. It’s a witness to the world of the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus. AND, it’s a call and challenge to Charleston and the world, to be filled with grace and mercy at all times .

A world filled with grace and mercy has no space left over for violence, or hatred, or racism.

Racism and hatred aren’t the disease, they are the symptoms of lives lived in the absence of love.

I never met the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. But I am proud to call him a brother in Christ, and fellow minister. He set the bar high for all of us in the ministry. He helped lead and form a Christian community that is so mature and spiritually sound that after finding itself in the middle of the Valley of the Shadow of Death they instinctively do what Jesus does: forgive.

They will make monuments to the martyrs of Charleston. And, I hope they do. But, the monument could reach as high as the sky, and it still won’t be able to outdo the living monument of the faith of Emanuel AME Church. Their life and witness is the monument that matters.

In our Gospel lesson this weekend we will find Jesus asleep in a boat that is being tossed by the wind and waves of a storm, and into that storm he speaks “peace”. In Charleston’s storm it’s Jesus’ followers who cry out for peace and grace in the storm.

They know the story well, and so they know what to do.

May we pray for them. May we be like them. And, may we have the strength to have forgiveness on our lips so as to fill our world with grace and mercy, that there might not be room for anything else.

Ezekiel 17:22-24 – the sprig

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Creation / Lectionary / Major Prophets / Old Testament / Year B

Ezekiel 17:22-24 is the Hebrew Bible Lesson properly appointed for Proper 6B, Track 2 according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The king had abandoned the covenant that God had made with his people, and instead was looking to buttress himself with an alliance with the Egyptians. Instead of drawing strength from God, the king was looking towards the help of another nation.

This does not please God. And, so judgment will follow.

But, judgment isn’t all about smiting and captivity.

God will lay low the faithless ruling class, but God’s tenderness for God’s people is still very much in play. And, that’s where this little poem comes in. A sprig will be plucked from a mighty tree and planted on a high mountain, and that sprig will be able to grow into a mighty tree. And, it will be so great, that it will be a haven for everything that has wing and takes to the sky.

It’s actually a tremendously beautiful and majestic image: the great tree on the great mountain becoming the great refuge. It’s the imagery of flourishing, flourishing which is possible when one doesn’t just rely on one’s own strength and wisdom, but rather has faith that God is with us, is working for us, and loves us enough to be there even in life’s darkest moments.

Planted by God, even in the night we will rise to the sky.

Genesis 3:8-15 – broken

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Creation / Lectionary / Old Testament / Pentateuch / Year B

Genesis 3:8-15 is the Hebrew Bible Lesson properly appointed for Proper 5B, Track 2 according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The story of the Garden in Genesis is the story of brokenness. And, as such, it’s a story that we know all too well. We know it in our bones.

In the beginning, after God had drawn us out of the clay and filled us with His breath, God was right there with us. He walked with us in the Garden. He talked with us in the Garden. He told us where to find food. He made sure we had companions.

Did you catch the fact that as the evening breeze moved through the Garden that we heard the Presence of God moving among the trees? Wow. What must THAT have heard like?!

It was good. It was very good.

And then we broke it.

Yes, we ate of the tree. And, that was bad enough. But, it was not the end.

We felt our nakedness, and because of that we were afraid when God came around.

We were never afraid before. That was new. And that was bad.

And then, we tried to push off the responsibility. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” (emphasis mine)

I didn’t give myself this woman. You gave her to me. What were you thinking? If she hadn’t been around trying to trick me…

We couldn’t even own up to our mistake. We couldn’t just stand there naked and reveal the naked truth that we had screwed up.

Who knows? Perhaps if we had the fortitude to confess our wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness, things might not have been as broken. Or at least the broken thing could be addressed, and the painful process of repairing the brokenness could have begun either in Eden or East of it.

But, no, what began was fear and finger pointing.

Here’s the thing: We all stand naked before God. God knows who we are and what we do. We might fool everyone around us. We might even fool ourselves. But, we will never fool God.

But, we need not stand there in fear. And we shouldn’t do anything but realize our own fault when it is in fact our fault.

Only then can the brokenness be repaired.

good advice from an unlikely source: a reflection on matthew 2:1-12

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Gospels / Jesus / New Testament

The following is a reflection on Matthew 2:1–12, the Gospel lesson appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Sometimes the truth comes from the most unlikely of places. King Herod was a wicked, wicked man. He was guilty of the most despicable of crimes against humanity.

And yet, his directive to the magi was spot on.

Go and search diligently for the child.

Was better advice ever given?

It could be the words of angels, or prophets, or sages. It could be the advice of the magi upon their return from the Christ-child.

A little ray of light bursting forth from the darkness.

I think that they are words spoken for us. To us.

We are to search diligently for the child. It’s our life’s work.

Where do we find him?

Sometimes within us. Sometimes the search for God takes us no further than closing the eyes and the stilling the mind. We were created in God’s Image, and God’s Holy Breathe is within us. In our home. In our family. In our most beloved. In the joy and in the excruciating pain of life’s experiences.

Sometimes outside of us. In the face of another, who is also created in the image of God. In serving those who are in need. In the sick, the dying, the distressed, the depressed, the hungry, and the lost. In the Holy Scriptures, the Body and the Blood of the Holy Eucharist, the assembled Body of Christ in worship.

We search diligently in the most remarkable of places, and in the most ordinary of places. In the cathedral and in the checkout counter. In the shrine and in the cinema. In the washing of the feet, and in the washing of the dishes.

God is all around us. Within us. Above us, as our shield. Beside us, as our friend. Beneath us, as our rock and foundation.

God is where We begin our journey, where we end our journey, and along the entire route of the path we take.

But, if we aren’t diligent, if we aren’t searching or looking, we will miss Christ at every turn, at every glance inward, and in every gaze towards the horizon.

Go and search diligently for the child. It’s good advice, from the most unlikely of sources.

growing edge: sermon starter for proper 25a

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 22:34-46, the Gospel lesson for Proper 25a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ilike digging into scripture to find the subtexts, the links to other texts and stories in another section of the Bible, and the cultural references that might not be readily grasped today. I love that so much, that when I’m preaching I too often spend the bulk of my time on that, and relegate the “so here’s what to do now” to almost an afterthought.

That’s one of my growing edges.

But, there are some sections of scripture which just really don’t need that. There are a few texts which just need to be read and absorbed into daily life.

Today’s Gospel lesson is one of those.

The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor. It is the very core of the Gospel. It is the distilled essence of Jesus’ teaching. AND, it’s the words behind the actions of Jesus’ Passion.

His life, death, and resurrection was the physical manifestation of the love that he taught.

The Church spends a lot of time on a lot of things. We have programs and initiatives, we have theological arguments and conversations, we build buildings and we seek to expand our reach. But, we cannot forget the core, the foundation of love.

We are redeemed by love, and we are to be known for our love of others. Love for those near us, and those far; those like us, and those alien to us; those who we like, and those who we have a hard time stomaching; those who are nice to us, and those who have injured us greatly; those who think like us, vote like us, pray like us, and those who work for the very opposite things.

We love. We encourage love. We are to build people and communities and cultures on love.

crevace: sermon starter for proper 24a

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Exodus / Lectionary / Old Testament / Pentateuch / Year A

A reflection on Exodus 33:12-23, the Hebrew Bible lesson for Proper 24a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

God takes Moses, and he puts him in a little crack in a rock atop a mountain. God was going to pass by Moses, and God wanted to let Moses catch a glimpse of Him.

So God passed by – but Moses wasn’t allowed to look yet. He wasn’t able to look until God had already passed. And then… Moses was able to see the place… Where God had just been.

Our English texts usually say that Moses could “see his back,” but that’s an inaccurate translation. Moses caught no sight of the “body” of God.

He saw the place where God just was.

That preaches, I think, because it’s how I often experience God. In the busyness of life, I’m not anywhere near aware or awake enough to see God’s Presence. I’m answering emails, making visits, writing sermons, picking up kids from school, washing the dishes…

But, when I look back over my day, with intention, I can see God’s Presence so much easier.

I’ve used the practice of a nightly examen for quite some time now. Examen is a prayer, usually prayed at the end of a day, where you intentionally recall your own failures, but also God’s little gifts of grace through the day. Sometimes I forget to pray it. Sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of it.

But, never have I prayed the examen and not seen God’s Hand, God’s Presence, or the place where God just was in my day.

Here’s the thing, though: if I don’t take the time to look, I almost always miss it. Find that little crack in a rock, and sit in it. Open your eyes, and see the place in your life where God just was.

patience, grasshopper: sermon starter for proper 23a

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A reflection on Exodus 32:1-14, the Hebrew Bible lesson for Proper 23a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Their feet were still covered with the mud from the Red Sea’s floor. Their nights were still aglow with the brightness of the pillar of fire. Their hands were still covered with the callouses born from brick making.

They had just tasted the sweetness of freedom, won by the hand of God Almighty.

But, Moses and God were taking too long on the mountaintop. What in the world were they doing up there that could possibly keep them this long?

We’ve all been there. We’ve sat in a terminal waiting for a plane that was supposed to have arrived an hour ago, and which would still need to be cleaned before we could begin embarking. We’ve sat in a long line of endless cars, going nowhere, wondering what in the world is going on “up there.” We’ve waited for technicians to arrive for a scheduled installation, well beyond what any human being would call a “normal,” acceptable, delay.

And, if we’re with other people, group-think gets going. Which pretty soon turns into group-rage. Words are exchanged. People want to talk to managers. Sternly worded letters are going to be written, I promise you that! We get out of the car, and crane our necks as far as we can to see if we can get a glimpse at whatever in the world is going on.

But, does it ever cross your mind to fashion an idol, and fall down to worship it? Me, I’ve never been tempted to do that. Maybe I’m weird.

Here’s what this little episode shows, though: Pharaoh wasn’t the only problem.

One could be excused for thinking that once Israel escaped the evil clutches of an economic and social system that was brutally built upon their backs, that everything would be just fine. That would be the case if Pharaoh was the main issue. But, he wasn’t.

It’s so easy to point the finger towards “the man” and say that it’s “his” fault. It’s easy to always look towards flagrant abuses of power and acts of injustice and decry them as the great evil that’s going to bring us all down.

It’s easy to decry our society as losing its religion. It’s easy to point at Sunday morning soccer, creeping secularism, and see wars on Christianity at every turn.

It’s harder though to look in the mirror and see our own issues. It’s harder, and a lot less fun, to do real self-examination.

Where do I need to grow? Where do I need to change? What do I need to let go of, or take on?

What Sea is God Almighty asking me to ford? And, how patient does God need me to be? Because maybe sitting at the bottom of a mountain for a few days is just what I need.

a day of rest: an infographic on the 4th commandment

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infographic / Lectionary / ministry resources / Old Testament / Pentateuch / Religion / sabbath / Year A

This Sunday (Proper 22a) we have the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Sabbath these days…particularly in the sense that as a culture we don’t get any…. and I’m going to be preaching on that this Sunday. Walter Brueggeman’s recent book “Sabbath as Resistance” is amazing, and I recommend it highly.

A hi-def version of the infographic below can be downloaded in PDF form here.

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