Vineyards of En-Gedi | 2019 December
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Homiletics Notes / 31.12.2019

The biblical account of the magi became the fertile material for many legends about the event that grew up especially during the middle ages. The account only appears in Matthew’s gospel chapter 2          No number of them is mentioned in the narrative; the number three arose in consistency with the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah to announce the birth of Isaac          They were magi, not kings; magi were a priestly caste in the religion of ancient Persia who worked in astrology and oneirology          They are not named; the name are a medieval addition Two of the lands of origin in the prophecy are very obscure, and only one of them was “east” from Micah          The gospel states that they came from one country, not three The phrase “in the east” is Anatolia, which is modern day Turkey, far to the northwest          They certainly did not come on camels, it’s not in the text, and camels are not indigenous to Israel's geography because their padded feet, not hooved, are suited for the desert sands, not the rocky land of Israel, Jerusalem, or Bethlehem Scientists are still debating over which possible star/comet they could have seen, and the closest one chronologically would have been 5 or 6 years before the year AD 1 (there’s no such thing as the year 0); the text has "star" not "comet" The star is called “rising” in the text, in other words not straight up overhead, but rather likely meaning on the eastern horizon          The third gift, myrrh, is not mentioned in the prophecies; two of the gifts, frankincense and myrrh, come from the Arabian south, not Persia or Babylon That's just the first two verses! Obviously the story is constructed on a fulfillment narrative built up from far older...

Homiletics Notes / 27.12.2019

Reflections on the family: God's providential care and presence: the journey down to Egypt is the model for Israel's trust and dependence on God to care for them in their need. In other words, so too the modern family in all its ups and downs depends on God to care for the family, and without God there is nothing.Practicing the virtues: the list could be a constant conversation in the family as members share how they did with a particular virtue that day.Intergenerational love and honor: we ought to recover the model of family that goes way beyond the merely nuclear family. We need grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in the family circle.Service: in the family everyone has a job to do, a talent to share, and a service to render. In this family, a child learns service to others as a fundamental way of contributing to the world around them. Vision: As Joseph has dreams, a family needs a vision of who they re, a high water mark to live up to, and since the modern world does not offer a template for family beside the nuclear family, then the biblical model stills work for us. These points would be offered to encourage god healthy and holy family life, without ever having to mentions all the ills of the modern world in the homily. ...

Homiletics Notes / 26.12.2019

The cultural-political discourse today includes a conversation about values, as if somehow they had disappeared or are being called into question. One has to wonder why this is, of course, but it certainly is a very important conversation for our times. There's a sense or feeling out there that either anything goes, or I just talk myself into justifying myself, or values are somehow old fashioned. They're not. Not everyone can agree to any one list, but what Paul offers us in Colossians this Sunday is as good as any to guide our behavior and commit ourselves to a vision and ideal. The lists in the reading could well be said of any religion that is worth the name. Learning, practicing, and living the lists creates a good life that leads to holiness -- sainthood. Teaching these to the children is esteemed, as the father Ben Sirach does in the first reading. One can only teach these by actually living them. Therefore, parents can never say, "Do what I say, not what I do", but rather ought to be able to say, "Do what I do, because I do it." These things create harmony, concord, and order in the family home. Perhaps one remembers some particular person (parent, grandparent, any elder) and tell the story of their impact on you because they knew these values and actually lived them out. Encourage this sharing in their families, telling the story, and keeping alive the memory and life of the good and just among us. ...

Homiletics Notes / 25.12.2019

Merry Christmas! If at this point you're now seated at table, you may be looking around at the family and perhaps saying to yourself, "Here I belong." or perhaps "What has God wrought?" or "Why me?" Whether you like it or not, you are a member of a family; the degrees of holiness and grace and love, well, all these are up to you, too. Merry Christmas! Alternate to the list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians, this list (twelve things) enables or grows the fruits. Put on these classical good things, and be thankful. Yes, even for your family, all gifts from God, it's just that we don't often know how to unwrap them. Sing together at least one Christmas carol. The Church adds four more verses at the end, in parentheses, so that it is an optional longer reading. In our cultural, perhaps best left unread, as few are going to be able to get beyond the "wives be subordinate to your husbands." In 2020, this is not going to fly in our society. The root verb in the imperative is more like "wives be aligned with your husband" or more clumsily in English, "wives be in the act of creating order with your husband." The word in Greek has the sense of the orderliness of the universe and that life is good when we are aligned and in order with the cosmos. The men (husbands) are to be obedient to the woman; the word "love" is an odd translation for the original Greek. The word appears also in Paul in the opening to Romans in the phrase, "The obedience of faith." In any event it seems more likely that Paul is describing a fundamental submission of everyone to God. To go off in this direction is to distract from the whole first part of the reading and its appropriateness for Christmas and Holy Family. ...

Homiletics Notes / 24.12.2019

More reflections on Holy Family. Journalistk typically portray the family gathering around the table for Christmas as a time of great stress, unsavory relatives, conflicting food issues, political disagreements, and religious controversy. They recommend avoiding it altogether or provide list of tactics to avoid the inevitable. Journalists make it sound as if Christmas dinner is the worst event of one's life. One has to wonder if this merely reflects the unhappiness index of journalists, because surely many families gather and actually have a good time. Perhaps journalists do not know that most people really are decent and civil. The first reading is an example of this. Ben Sirach, a father, writes a lengthy letter to his son. Like every loving father, of course, he wishes his son well, gives his blessings, and gives his advice for wellbeing, success, and civility. The portion of our reading suggests on the surface a father's self serving advice about his own old age. He is really merely reinforcing deep intergenerational cultural values, that we would do well to practice in our own days. The last verse uses a bit of karma to encourage the son in the care of his father. In other words we are under obligations to one another, regardless of how far we go in the world. Good practices of lovingkindness in the family atones for sins. They cover over a multitude of the bad things we do to one another. This is unusual theology, given that sins otherwise could only be covered over in Temple worship and sacrifices. In Temple Judaism, the covering of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies and the word atonement derive from the same word stem כפר. And that cover was understood to be the footstool of God's throne, the point were the soles of God's feet touched the earth, thereby creating union between God and the human person. Atonement for sins then recreates the divine and holy presence of God on earth for...

Homiletics Notes / 23.12.2019

This Sunday's readings tell the stories of any number of dysfunctional families, just saying that the texts are brutally realistic and honest about real life. They often painfully just like us! But this Sunday is not one of them. Joseph is the main character ion the Gospel, with Mary and Jesus referred to as "the child with his mother" three times in the text. The story picks up right where the gospel for Advent IV A left off. The massacre of the holy innocents injected in between. Indeed Mary is only named once in Matthew's infancy narratives at 1, 18. First to notice is that lie Mary, Joseph is portrayed as someone who also does the will of God; he is a faithful and just man. Second is the way in which Matthew inserts the story of Jesus into a larger picture of the sweep of world events and history; you can notice this in the opening genealogy of Matthew. It seem that the point is that God acts in human history and continues to do so to draw humanity and the fallen world back to God's own self. While the world may be in disorder, God acts in an orderly and carefull way with us. Notice that Joseph was a Judean, and yet he could not return to his first home for fear of the Herodian clan, so he moves far north into the hill country of Narareth where there were also job opportunities nearby with the Roman building or a new city a couple of miles from Nazareth, at Sephoris. A prudent carpenter was able to provide for his family yet living within a Jewish community to avoid hellenization. This is the environment in which Jesus was raised. ...

Homiletics Notes / 21.12.2019

" . . . that we may press forward all the more eagerly to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son's Nativity." This is the aspiration of the Communion Prayer this Sunday. Three things come to mind: how eager are we about the presence of Christ in our lives? What does a worthy celebration look like both at church and in our homes? What is the mystery here of Nativity? Another lens through which to read the Gospel in immigration, refugees, and the displacement of peoples throughout the world today. Joseph, perhaps aware already of the threats of Herod and now with a dream to support his fears and solve his questions, flees with his family into Egypt. He is repeating the ancient biblical pattern of descent into Egypt (Joseph and his brothers) and ascent from Egypt (Moses and the Exodus). This is a kind of reflection of the pattern of the life of Jesus: descent from the cross to the tomb and the ascent from the tomb in resurrection and ascension. But, in what is this ancient pattern of God acting among us the pattern I can discern in my own life? ...

Homiletics Notes / 20.12.2019

The gospel is Matthew's opening narrative which comes just after the first part of Mt. 1, the genealogy. Unlike Luke, Matthew begins with Joseph. He is a man of three dreams: our gospel today, the dream to go to Egypt, and the dream to return from Egypt. Matthew's birth narratives are much shorter and simpler than Luke's, yet still loaded with a rich theology. God acts through intermediaries. These are not only angelic, but also through humans in real time history. That means through us, too. Step back a moment and ask: is God at work in my life? Have I ever known or heard that deep interior voice calling me to do something outside my comfort zone? Have I answered that voice and done the will of God in my life? ...

Homiletics Notes / 19.12.2019

The introit and the collect begin with "drop down" and "pour forth" our savior, using images of water, rain, and dew (although dew technically does not fall). fIn a world just now beginning to enter into a state water scarcity and crisis and still on the radar of only a small number, we may actually come to renew our understanding of these two powerful verbs from the ancient desert context into our own. Reframing the end of the gospel, we might ask ourselves have we taken Mary and her child into our homes like Joseph did? We've prepared our menu, wrapped the gifts, decorate the house and yard, welcomed relatives, went to church, and an almost endless list of other things to prepare the way for Christmas. Some may even be exhausted already, But have we completed the evangelical circle? We've heard all the preliminary and preparatory stories in the readings for three weeks. The Gospel has been proclaimed. Yet, have we taken that second to the last step of receiving the gospel into our homes? Oh, and the last step, then, is to actually live it. Our homes are filled with all these things, the scents and sounds of Christmas, but are they filled with Christ? The rain of grace has come down, the dew has fallen, but is it taken power over our lives? Have we taken this child into our homes? ...

Homiletics Notes / 18.12.2019

This is a season of greetings, yes, even after all the politically correct jargon elbows its way in, of Christmas joy. It's become so careful that all we can say it "Happy Winter," what ever that means for something no one get bent out of shape about. The very act of greeting one and all with the traditional, and yes, Christian greeting has fortuitously become an accidental act of evangelization. You are announcing that you are disciple of Christ, proud of it, and wish like St. Paul that grace and peace befall the person addressed. That is the upshot of the long single sentence structure of the first reading. Paul writes, heaping up appositives, participles, and relative clauses addresses the holy and beloved members of the church at Rome and wishes them grace and peace. This is our Christmas greeting: grace and peace. Not exclusively for one's fellow Christians, but a wish for everyone, muslins, buddhists, vedics of every sort, and yes even the modern neo-pagan person. That's the beauty of this greeting. The peace and grace that goes forth from us will come back to us increasing in peace and grace. We need to stop backing away from our carefulness about how we greeting one another, hoping to offend no one. So, now two things come to mind. If I'm extending this greeting, then I have to first be living this greeting, a task very difficult in the modern fractured world. I have to be or become a person of grace and peace in order to extend it. It has two other components: joy and holiness. These two are not things we often thing of going together. The second thing, I must receive the greeting in return from the other person, regardless of what it means. This first step of exchange of greeting is the opening of dialogue; we introduce ourselves by name and we greet. In biblical times (and a bit formally today in Greece) the normal greeting year...