Archive for the '2 Peter' Category

For Dec. 7, 2014: 2 Advent, Year B

The Reading                                                                   Isaiah 40:1-11

The long first section of the book of Isaiah foretold exile in Babylon and destruction of the Temple as proper punishment for the sins of the nation. Isaiah 40 shifts from disaster to hope; striking metaphors invoke felons rehabilitated, difficult terrain made passable, Jerusalem as herald, and God Almighty tending smelly sheep.

The Response                                                                Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 continues Isaiah’s message of hope as it celebrates God’s grace. Verses 10 and 11 anticipate the Good News: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

The Epistle                                                                     2 Peter 3:8-15a

Isaiah and the psalmist relayed the promise of salvation coming in the reign of God. For Christians at the end of the first century A.D. who wonder why Jesus has not returned to save them, 2 Peter 3:8-15a explains: God’s goal is the salvation of all peoples, and the way we Christians behave toward the world now plays an important role.

The Gospel                                                                     Mark 1:1-8

The gospel of Mark, used for Year B of the lectionary, says nothing of Jesus’ ancestry or birth. It adapts Isaiah 40:3 by way of Malachi 3:1, 4:5 to present John, whose odd clothes and diet mark him as a prophet like Isaiah. John preaches repentance and baptism, and points the crowds he gathers toward the greater One to come.

Further thoughts

The multiple voices of Isaiah 40:1-11 anticipate the Lord’s coming, for which preparation must be made. Mark’s gospel makes the connection to John obvious: here, Mark 1:2-8 tells us, misquoting Isaiah, is the “voice crying in the wilderness,” a decidedly odd man from the desert who calls for repentance in advance of the One who follows, and who offers baptism.

What exactly is baptism? The word, first found in Middle English, is derived from Old French baptesme (the modern French is baptême), which in turn comes from ecclesiastical Greek baptismos ‘ceremonial washing’ by way of ecclesiastical Latin. (The Old English word was either cristnung (literally ‘Christian-ing’) or fulluht / fullwiht ‘full consecration’.) The corresponding Greek verb is baptizein ‘immerse, dip in water’; bapto ‘wash’ is perhaps less intentionally ceremonial.

In the first centuries of the Church, baptism was reserved for people of an age to understand what they were doing and to have studied for up to three years; the baptized person could receive Holy Communion immediately. When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the number of baptisms increased so that such protracted preparation was less practical. By the 13th century, infant baptism was becoming common, along with a separate rite of Confirmation before one could receive the Eucharist. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer set forth baptism as a public rite, with water and oil of chrism. During the Victorian era baptism was increasingly a private rite, with only family and friends in attendance. [i]

Baptism happens once for every Christian—as the Nicene Creed states, “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” The policy of the Episcopal Church currently is that anyone validly baptized as a Christian is welcome at the Eucharistic table. It is only a slight exaggeration to claim that any baptism is valid provided it involves water applied to a baptizee by someone who intends to baptize and uses the formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and it certainly follows from this that, should an unbaptized person be in imminent danger of death, any layperson may perform the baptism privately. Absent such a circumstance, however, baptism in the Episcopal Church currently is to be public and it is preferred (though not required) that the bishop preside.

Baptism can be carried out by submersion (full immersion), by partial immersion (up to the knees or waist in water) with water poured over the head; by affusion (water poured on the skin), and by aspersion (sprinkling), which requires an aspergillum (sprinkling device). The first three are valid ways to baptize in Anglican practice; affusion is most common in Episcopal churches, perhaps chiefly because most lack immersion pools,[ii] and aspersion is generally reserved for blessing that isn’t baptism, as at the Easter vigil. Church traditions that countenance only submersion point to verses like Mark 1:10: “just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water…” and to the literal meaning of baptizein. It is not clear that Mark 1:10 necessarily entails that Jesus was coming up for air after submersion, as opposed to walking out of the river. As for baptizein, the Online Etymological Dictionary notes two striking figurative meanings:[iii] ‘be in over one’s head (in debt)’ and ‘be soaked (in wine)’, the latter in a sense like colloquial English soused for ‘drunk’ but probably influenced by the sense ‘to dip up in a bowl, like wine’. Dipping up is precisely how baptism by affusion works.

One function of infant baptism is to wash away original sin—the sin of Adam, which is to say the sin that inheres to everyone by virtue of being human. (In the phrase cast aspersions, the word has gone from sprinkling for cleanliness through spattering to a metaphorical sort of soiling. Languages are funny that way.) Another is, with the oil of chrism, to mark the newly baptized person as belonging to Christ and to induct the newly baptized into the Church and the local congregation. A function that may have more resonance for adults being baptized, and for the congregation witnessing the baptism and renewing baptismal vows, is the symbolic burial with Christ and rebirth into new life. Both the washing and the rebirth

Like the other great sacrament of the Church, the Eucharist, baptism brings us the extraordinary grace of God clothed in the ordinary stuff of daily life. What if we were to take each of our daily uses of water as an occasion to give thanks for our baptism and the grace that comes of it?

[i] “Confirming Baptism.” Episcopal Diocese of New York. Web. http://www.dioceseny.org/pages/228-concerning-baptism. Consulted 6 December 2014.

[ii] Fischbeck, Lisa G. n.d. “Baptism by Immersion.” The Episcopal Church of the Advocate. Web. http://theadvocatechurch.org/worship-liturgy/baptism-by-immersion/ Consulted 6 December 2014.

[iii] “Baptize.” n.d. Online Etymological Dictionary. Web. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=baptize&allowed_in_frame=0. Consulted 5 Dec 2014.

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For August 3, 2014: Transfiguration

The Reading            Exodus 34:29-35

The reading from Exodus is familiar from the last Sunday after Epiphany. It is, so to speak, the second coming down of the Ten Commandments, Moses having broken the original set on discovering that Israel had taken up idol worship. As Moses returns, his face shines with the glory of God’s presence—and terrifies everyone.

The Response            Psalm 99:5-9

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God. The verses we read for the Feast of the Transfiguration reflect the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness and afterward, with God’s priests Moses, Aaron, and later Samuel calling on him for the people, and God speaking to Israel from the pillar of cloud.

The Epistle            2 Peter 1:13-21

The letters of Peter were probably written in his name and after his death: the author of 2 Peter 1:13-21 writes better Greek than a Galilean fisherman would know. This account is nevertheless a compelling witness to the impact on Peter of seeing his friend revealed as the very Son of God.

The Gospel            Luke 9:28-36

Versions of Jesus’ transfiguration are in all three synoptic gospels. Minor details vary—in Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the disciples to say nothing, whereas in Luke’s version the disciples keep mum of their own accord—but all agree on the light, the prophets, Peter’s stunned response, and the announcement from heaven.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for the feast of the Transfiguration make much of appearances. The glow that Moses acquires from contact with God—and the apprehension it produces in the Israelites—prefigures the more striking and pervasive alterations in Jesus, with great Moses and Elijah paying court into the bargain, and the greater extent to which they leave Peter and the other disciples (to borrow the evocative British term) gobsmacked.

Interestingly, the book of Exodus doesn’t mention Moses’ skin shining the first time he brings the Ten Commandments to the people. Either his skin wasn’t shining, or it wasn’t obvious, until the second time, after the people have demanded an idol to worship and Aaron has complied and Moses has had his tantrum on God’s behalf. It’s sobering to think that people notice God’s glory when they need it to scare them straight—sobering, and unsettlingly familiar.

The encounter with Jesus plays out differently. Unlike Moses, Jesus seems both aware of and in control of his glory on the mountaintop. Of course, that’s appropriate to God, and of course Peter babbles. But then there is the voice out of the cloud. The voice doesn’t announce itself as God (not that it would have to), nor does it announce that Jesus is supreme, nor does it lay out point after point and law after law that must be obeyed or penalty after penalty that must be paid.

Instead, as 2 Peter remembers it, the voice simply says, “Listen to Jesus, because I love him.”

What if the kingdom of God is listening to each of the children of God—whether or not they recognize themselves as such—because God loves them?

For March 2, 2014: Last Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                                  Exodus 24:12-18

Moses is called to Mount Sinai to receive from God the Law by which Israel is to live. We have a vivid description of Mount Sinai shrouded in cloud, with the glory of God appearing like a fire on the mountain. Who could fail to be transformed by such a vision?

The Response                                                  Psalm 2

Psalm 2 may have been written for the dedication or rededication of a king of Israel: announcing a ruler as son of God was common in the Middle East, as is depicting one’s national god as more powerful than the gods of other nations. Might it be that God’s scorn is reserved for those who believe that they are in charge?

The Epistle                                                                        2 Peter 1:16-21

Peter of Galilee went up a mountain on a hike with friends—and saw his teacher revealed as God’s own Son. The second letter of Peter, almost certainly composed in Peter’s name rather than by the apostle himself, retells the story to confirm that it is no myth but rather a lamp leading us to the Light.

The Gospel                                                                       Matthew 17:1-9

The gospel tells the story to which the day’s epistle alludes: Jesus is revealed as the Son of God by being both transformed and acclaimed—but only for a little while, and he hushes it up.

 

Ponderables

An epiphany is a revelation, and the last Sunday of Epiphany brings us more than one.

The Old Testament epiphanies are grand, obvious, and enduring. Exodus reveals God in mountain-enveloping cloud and “devouring fire”—the sort of conflagration from which residents of tinder-dry Southern California flee in terror. Psalm 2 shows God easily angered and dictating terms to rulers who have presumed to challenge either the rule of God or the rule of God’s representative.

The New Testament epiphany, retold in 1 Peter, shares some features with the Old Testament epiphanies: as in the psalm, Jesus is recognized as God’s own son; as in Exodus, Moses is present, though here it is not Moses but Jesus whose appearance is transformed; as in both Exodus and the psalm, God’s people are awestruck to the point of terror. But where Moses the prophet took advantage of that terror in ruling God’s people, Jesus doesn’t. To quote the Christmas carol, “mild he lays his glory by” to be born to and among us; he orders the disciples not to make a big issue of who he is and what he does; and he keeps laying his glory and pride aside as he deals with nearly all degrees and conditions of people, from those terrified, sick, or outcast up through the most powerful religious and political figures in Palestine. This is a far cry from announcing whose sin has invoked this plague or that natural disaster or demanding the legal right to refuse service.

So what if truly following God means not flaunting God?

For Dec. 4, 2011: 2 Advent, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 40:1-11

The book of Isaiah was written during and after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel to Babylon. In the chapters that precede today’s reading, Isaiah explains these disasters as richly deserved punishment. In chapter 40, however, Isaiah’s gift for striking metaphor is lavished on imagery of hope: it is God’s will that God’s people are done suffering, and it’s time to call them—and us—home. Listen for these themes in today’s other readings.

 

The Epistle            2 Peter 3:8-15a

Since the second letter of Peter has been dated to the end of the first century A.D., it is unlikely that the Apostle Peter was the author. Whoever wrote it explains straightforwardly to the first Christians—and to us—why the return of the Lord has not come as soon as the first Christians expected it: this is not tardiness on God’s part, but generous patience.

Further thoughts

Advent sounds two notes in the believer’s ear. The first note is the note of judgment. Three of last week’s readings made the case that repentance is both necessary and urgent: we are so far short of God’s standard of purity that, left to our own devices, about all we can do is numbly mark the axe as it falls. As this world lurches toward the longest night of the year, it can be hard to believe in an outcome other than doom, and next to impossible not just to give up.

But the God who made us, knows us. The second and stronger note sounded by Advent is the note of hope. We are not left to our own devices, and the axe is stayed from falling—not because we deserve any such thing, but because of the abounding love of God.

This is the message that rings through the reading from Isaiah: comfort, pardon, good news, God coming not to condemn but to save. It’s worth noting that Isaiah 40:1-11 figures heavily in the libretto for Handel’s Messiah, which Charles Jennens so ably compiled from the Old and New Testaments: in fact, it opens with the tender and grace-filled recitative “Comfort ye” (Isaiah 40:1-3), followed by the inspired and inspiring “Every valley shall be exalted” (Isaiah 40:4) and the all-out praise chorus “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” (Isaiah 40:5) I think this beginning accounts for a good deal of the appeal of Messiah, just as it is much of what makes A Christmas Carol so irresistible: like Charles Scrooge, we hear the very good news that all is not lost—and, given such hope, we can then dare to undertake the repentance to which 2 Peter and John the Baptizer call us.

Dec. 4, Sunday: 2 Advent, 9:30 am
Intercessor: Judy Brown
Second Chalice: Larry Burns
Lector 1: Linnea Lagerquist
Lector 2: Penny Park
2 Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8