LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

Year A, Good Friday & Easter Sunday

Good Friday:
Isaiah 55:13-56:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42

Easter Sunday:
Acts 10:34-43 OR Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18 OR Matthew 28:1-10

Oh! the sheer dumbfounding irony! This week when Christians all over the world gather to celebrate Christ’s great victory over sin, death and all else that would destroy our life together – we can’t! An insidious demon called Corona or Covid-19 has suddenly appeared on the scene and decreed, “Thou shalt not worship the Lord Christ thy Saviour because the victory you thought you had in Him has been shown to be hollow and empty – He can’t even stop a virus in its tracks, let alone take away the sins of the world!” And it’s no use arguing, as some do, that Christ’s victory is a spiritual one only, and that we must look elsewhere for answers to material problems, like disease. No, our God is a holistic God; Psalm 103:3 reminds us that “He forgives all our iniquities, he heals all our diseases.” Yet it would be sheer stubborn folly to insist that because Christ has died and risen again there is now no sin, no death, no sickness, no evil of any kind in God’s world. Of course, there is! So, what then are we to make of this apparent stand-off between the reality of our faith and the inescapable reality of a fallen world?

I don’t want to get into an abstruse philosophical debate here, but just to point out that whereas we humans currently live in the world of Time, God is Eternal – He lives in the eternal Now. To put it another way, our life of faith is a sometimes precarious balance between the “already here” and the “yet to come”. We are creatures of Time moving in Christ toward Eternity. The current situation has thrown us into what for many of us are new and frightening circumstances, under the guidance of God’s Spirit we are already finding new ways of living and proclaiming Christ’s Way to each other and the world. (And a word here of praise and encouragement to [our minister] Lyn and her faithful tech team for the way they have been getting the Word out to us in trying circumstances, as is being done in many other congregations).

Do your worst, Mr Covid! You were beaten before you even started!

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

Year A, Lent 6 Palm Sunday

Isaiah 54:4-9a
Psalm 118:1-2,19-29
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

That’s yet another thing COVID 19 has to answer for! We at Indooroopilly will not be celebrating Palm Sunday with our usual choral service! And to think that the choir had already begun rehearsals! Not that we were aiming for any great new works; in fact, Wendy had decided to bring back some pieces that we have sung in previous years; and why not, since the message is still the same and will always be so, Corona or no Corona?

Music has always been integral to worship, having as it does the capacity to make real to the soul the deep things of God in ways that even the greatest oratory cannot, and in return express the wide range of feelings with which we respond to His Self-revelation in Christ.

Those pieces which we would have sung present a range of responses to the  Good News of Holy Week to which we may respond as it touches us each in our own situation. The first of them is “Hosanna, Hosanna!” published by Exaltation in Ohio – a bright and catchy tune with, as one part of the blurb says, “a distinctive Jewish flare.” Well, I wouldn’t know about that, but certainly, it echoes the sheer exuberance of that first Palm Sunday as Jews greeted their long-awaited Messiah. Yes, there is a place for that kind of worship – but it is only part of the story, as our next offering shows – “The Merchants Carol” by Frank Kendon, a fictional account of twelve Gentile merchants from a distant country who happen to arrive at Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus’ entry on a donkey. It is narrated in ballad form by one of the twelve, who in the midst of all the excitement alone perceives that the only silent one in all that crowd is the very one who is being hailed as king. The merchant catches his eye and somehow understands that, yes, he will be king, but not as people might expect. The story moves on, and finally ends at the foot of the Cross, with the merchant making the final comment, “He was most kingly dying.

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” is probably a quite well-known work because of its association with J.S. Bach who harmonised a German melody for a tune to words attributed to the medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux. It is a most poignant reflection on the grief and suffering of Christ in contrast to His former “bright as morn.” And bitterest of all, the realisation that He has voluntarily accepted this state on our behalf: “Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.

Now the green blade rises” may or may not have been inspired by Jesus’ words in John 12:24 – “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The theme of dying to bring forth new life is one of the most widely used metaphors of all, so it is hardly surprising that we should find it applied to the greatest dying and rising of all.

May the messages of this music be for us an encouragement to new life during an Easter which does not show many causes for celebrating new life at present.

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

A group of Israelites are being “escorted” from their former homes in Jerusalem, now totally destroyed, to exile in distant Babylon.

Year A, Lent 5

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

A group of Israelites are being “escorted” from their former homes in Jerusalem, now totally destroyed, to exile in distant Babylon. They pass a field strewn with the whitened bones of those who had died vainly defending the city. To one of those captives, a young Ezekiel, these bones are a vivid symbol of Jerusalem; once strong and powerful but now dead, with no hope of ever living again. Suddenly, it seems that a voice speaks to him;

“Mortal man, can these dry bones live?”
“Come off it Lord! You know quite well they can’t! They’ve been too dead for too long.”
“Hmm, perhaps. But humour Me for a moment will you; prophesy to these bones.”
“Prophesy!?”
“Yes; say to them, bones be joined together as once you were, and let there be ligaments, muscle, and with skin over them.”
“Well, alright, but only because You say so.”

So he prophesies, there is a great rattling, “the knee bone joined to the thigh bone,” etc, etc, etc, etc, with flesh and skin as specified, until instead of dry bones the field is covered in bodies.

“Yes, Lord, very spectacular, but what use are a whole lot of cadavers?
This isn’t medical school, You know!”
“Patience, young man, I haven’t finished yet. Prophesy again, this time to the wind ( that’s “breath “ or “spirit “ in case you’ve forgotten your Hebrew – My breath, My Spirit) and say, “Breathe into these bodies that they might live.”

So the wind comes, the bodies stir and stand up and once again an army is ready to do battle for the Lord’s people.

“Mortal man, as I did for these dry bones, I will do for My people Israel:
not today nor tomorrow, and it will be a long hard slog, but it will be done; for I the Lord your God not only give life;
I am life, and I need no residual life in bones or anywhere else to act as a starter pack.”

Centuries later, Jesus gets word that His dear friend Lazarus is mortally ill, but strangely, seems in no hurry to get to his side. Indeed He positively dawdles until He is certain that Lazarus is dead. When He does get there, He finds that Lazarus has been dead and buried four days. Now it was a common belief of the time that the spirit of a dead person hung around for three days, during which time they might, just might, be somehow revived, but after that – no way! So Jesus walks into a scene of grieving and is greeted characteristically by Martha: “Lord if You had been here…” (Ie, “Where the dickens were you when we needed you?”) Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb, then causes further consternation by asking that it be opened. Again, Martha-the-Mouth expresses the concern of all – in the delightfully earthy rendition of the King James Version: “Lord, by this time he stinketh!” But Jesus calls aloud, “Lazarus, get out here!” And Lazarus gets out here, grave clothes and all, to the crash, no doubt, of many jaws dropping at once! “Get those off him,” says Jesus. “He doesn’t need grave clothes now!

Jesus the Son of God is Life, and shortly will give that Life – give Himself – so that we all might live.

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

In the days before radio, cinema and TV, people, especially in rural communities, had to rely for entertainment on travelling musicians, actors and other artists.

Year A, Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

In the days before radio, cinema and TV, people, especially in rural communities, had to rely for entertainment on travelling musicians, actors and other artists. A popular figure, particularly in the USA, was the elocutionist, whose forte was the declamation of poetry, famous speeches, passages from the Bible and other such. One such person came to a country town and before a packed audience recited passage after passage to thunderous applause. Finally, he concluded with a rendition of Psalm 23 which nearly brought the house down. But a little old man near the front raised his hand and asked, “Do you mind if I say that psalm now?” “Not at all my friend, go right ahead.”
This time there was no applause, only a reverent hush broken only occasionally by what could have been a stifled sob. At the end the elocutionist, with tears in his own eyes, walked over to the old man and shook his hand, saying, “My friend, I may know the Shepherd Psalm, but you know the Shepherd!”

Yes, one of those sickly sweet stories so beloved of a certain kind of evangelical Christian – not a kind of story I myself would normally set much store by; but in this case, it does emphasise the fact that anyone who truly knows Jesus Christ in a living, personal relationship has about them an air, a power and a serenity hard to mistake. Such a relationship is open to all of us, because Jesus offers it to all, but most of us, while knowing Him to some degree, have not yet gone all the way with Him because to do so requires discipline sacrifice: putting ourselves on the line. Today’s OT reading is our first introduction to David, youngest son of Jesse the Sheepman, whose family held him in so little regard that until Samuel insisted they hadn’t even bothered to call him in to share in the family feast which the arrival of the Prophet had occasioned. And even Samuel seems to have been a little surprised that it was David and not one of his brothers whom God had put His finger on for the next king. But God knew that it was out there among the sheep that David had come to know and trust God, when he had to face lions and bears in defence of his father’s sheep, and later in that same trust faced the Philistine giant (17:34-37).

To this same relationship of trust, we are invited as we proceed through Lent.

Some Resources for 2020

I would like to suggest that Calendars (well, the right calendars) are a valuable but often overlooked resource

As we draw towards the end of another year, those of us that like to plan ahead start thinking about what resources we might need to support our calling as preachers in the coming year.  Of course, the problem is not that there is a paucity of choices – quite the opposite, in fact, ranging from comprehensive resource manuals such as the Abingdon Manuals through to simple Lectionary listings.

I would like to suggest that Calendars (well, the right calendars) are a valuable but often overlooked resource.  Think about it – calendars are positioned in conspicuous places, are constantly glanced at and can take advantage of that fact to gently encourage one to think about the themes and messages that the calendar promotes.  Here are a couple of options that lay preachers may like to consider.

The Climate Justice CalendarPRL191028 CJWG 2020 Calendar FrntCover

The Methodist Church of NZ last year created a Climate Justice Working Group to work nationally to support parishes and other church bodies to respond to the current Climate Emergency.  There are a number of elements to the group’s mandate, one of which is providing education and awareness resources.  They have published a 2020 Calendar as the first step to this end.PRL191028 CJWG 2020 Calendar BackCover

The end result is an A3 portrait calendar, produced on Forestry

Council Certified matt satin light card and (where available) printed with entirely vegetable-based dyes.  The calendar features stunning images and graphics contributed by members from throughout the Methodist Church community.

Each month of the calendar focuses on one aspect of climate change and climate justice.  It provides theological perspectives and practical actions on 12 climate issues facing Aotearoa NZ today.  The themes are based on reflections written for the calendar by Dr George Zachariah, lecturer in Biblical Studies at Trinity Methodist Theological College.  These reflections are combined with Practical Actions to address the issues relating to the months’ theme, for individuals, families and congregations to consider and adopt during the year.

Of specific relevance to lay-preachers, the calendar provides the Lectionary Reference & Liturgical Colour for each Sunday and special days from the 1992 Common Lectionary Revised as published by the MCNZ and the PCANZ.  Also, a Collect or Prayer has been written for each month and the Climate Justice Working Group encourages all congregations to consider using these regularly in their worship throughout the year.

The Religious Diversity CalendarRDC FrntCover

A second calendar that lay preachers may find helpful is the Religious Diversity Centre’s 2020 Calendar.

The goal of the Religious Diversity Centre is to foster appreciation, understanding and deeper relationships among the religious, spiritual and secular communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.  This will ensure that New Zealand is an inclusive and safe society, where understanding and respect can lead us to a productive future in diversity

The calendar promotes that appreciation RDC BackCoverand understanding by including dates for Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Māori, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian celebrations and commemorations. They have also added New Zealand holidays and commemorations, moon phases, solstice and equinox dates, and astrological dates.  The 2020 calendar includes photos depicting the wide variety of faith and belief groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, all taken by local photographers.

How to get a copy.

The Climate Justice Calendar

The Climate Justice Calendar should be available from any Methodist congregation, or you can email either peter.lane@sdcs.co.nz or marion.hines@xtra.co.nz to order a copy.

Calendars are available in English, Samoan, Tongan and Fijian.  Please specify what languages are required when ordering, together with a postal address for delivery.

Calendars may be purchased at $20 each including P&P.  Bulk orders for 10 or more delivered to one NZ address will attract a discount.  Payment can be made by cheque or internet banking – details will be provided at the time of ordering.

A donation will be made from the proceeds of sales will be made for solar panels in a Methodist Solomon Islands project, through MCNZ’s Mission and Ecumenical division.

The Religious Diversity Calendar

The Religious Diversity Calendar can be ordered by emailing the centre administrator, bex@rdc.org.nz.

The cost is $15 each, plus $5 P&P for up to five copies, or plus $10 P&P for up to ten copies.  Payment can be made by cheque or by internet banking – details will be provided at the time of ordering.

(PS: in the interests of full disclosure, I am a member of the Climate Justice Working Group and was part of the group that put it together.)

Lay Preaching Basics – by Rosalie Sugrue

Rosalie writes: “I have been concerned for some time that with less ordained clergy along with many parishes less able to employ full-time ministers, a heavier load than ever is being put on lay people to lead worship, many having to do so without training or mentoring. To help with this situation I have written a book that rolled off the printing press last week. Lay Preaching Basics – a Practical Guide for Leading Worship covers the nuts and bolts basics of what a lay preacher needs to know concerning the Bible and preparing services along with sample services and prayer resources. It is a book that would be useful for every preaching place to have ready to hand as it addresses all manner of preaching emergencies as well as supplying Bible information useful to any study group. In my section on additional resources I promote Word & Worship and the NZLPA website.”

Chapter headings include:
1 — Help! The Preacher hasn’t arrived
2 — Introduction to the Gospels
3 — Essential Background Knowledge
4 — Making Reflections Memorable
5 — Making Services Meaningful
6 — How to organise a church service
7 — Lectionary and Liturgy
8 — How to prepare a reflection (sermon)
9 — Service sheets and PowerPoints
10 — The Preacher’s Satchel
11 — Children’s Time / Family Time
12 — Circle and Cafe style services
13 — Services for rest homes
14 — Devotions: Ideas to build on
15 — Complete Service Samples
16 — Sample ‘Family Time’ slots
17 — Sample Cafe Services
18 — Ideas for Devotions, Family Time and Less Formal Services
19 — Sample Prayers
20 — Theology Guides for the 21st Century
21 — Additional Worship Resources

The book is available in paperback format from the publisher, Philip Garside Publishing Ltd, and a Kindle edition is available at amazon.com.au.  It is also available directly from the author, using the form below, which can also be downloaded here.

Lay Preaching Basics