‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved.He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’
In today’s reading, Jesus is speaking with religious leaders after healing on the Sabbath. Much like those leaders, we are in conversation with Jesus. Yet we can choose a better path, a better way to wait for Jesus, than they did. The leaders’ conversation with him was contentious. The waiting that happens in contentious conversations is a charged, frenetic waiting. One side simply waits to launch the next salvo of their attack. They do not listen. Our waiting for Jesus is quite different. We wait with openness and receptivity. We wait for Jesus to finish speaking to us, because his words are balm for our souls and hope for our future. We listen. In listening to today’s passage, we hear Jesus name four witnesses who vouch for him: his Father (vv. 32, 37), John the Baptist (v. 33), his works (v. 36), and Israel’s Scriptures (v.39). As we anticipate both Jesus’ birth and return, trust that all around us, in ways seen and unseen, witnesses are vouching for the truth of his presence and activity in this broken world. Perhaps you can be a witness as well, vouching for the truth of his presence and activity in your life.
Matthew 24:1-14As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
There’s a story about two Arkansas highway workers preparing the ground for a new layer of pavement. One is hard at work, shoveling tar into potholes, smoothing old surfaces, and removing rocks and gravel from the roadway. The other is sitting on the tailgate of their big Ford F-350, under the shade of the construction rack holding their tools.
The worker sitting on the truck calls to the other:
“You know, you can just wait for the leveling crew to get here!”
The other replies, “I am waiting for them to get here!”
We Christians are like highway workers. We are not called to sit on the tailgate, passively waiting for the paver to lay new asphalt; rather, we are called to actively wait by preparing the way. We know in full assurance of faith that Christ Jesus will come again very soon in his Second Advent. But Jesus also calls us right now to our daily prayer and work, such that our muscles stay warm with charity, and not grow cold through inactivity.
Work today with the awareness that we actively wait on Jesus Christ, that we might be found hard at work as faithful servants when He comes again.
The. Rev. Mark Harris, SCP
Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church
Matthew 23: 27-39
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are
descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You
snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and
pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
As we prepare to welcome the infant Christ, we are also aware of the message Christ came to deliver. The
lament Jesus unleashes in Matthew 23 comes from the narrative of Holy Week. Jesus is not meek and mild, but angry and frustrated. He sees the parade and show of the Pharisees and Scribes. He sees the hypocrisy underlying their actions. Jesus’ cry against those who claim they would have stood by the ancestors in defending the ancient prophets, while ignoring and even persecuting the current prophets (himself included) rings particularly in my ears this Advent. Am I listening for the voices of those who speak God’s word in our own time? Am I ready to hear the
prophetic word for my own age? It is well and good to proclaim that I would have stood by the ancient prophets or even Christ himself if I had lived in their time. But, Jesus calls us to pay attention to the voices that are with us now.
Yet, even in this call to action marked with Jesus’ anger and frustration, God’s grace and love for us all is still present. We are waiting for Christ to come not to shame us or destroy us, but to gather us in and protect us with love, as a mother hen shields her chicks. So it is that we wait and prepare by listening for God’s word in the voices of modern prophets, while also aware of God’s great love for us all.
Rev. Kathleen Owens
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
In today’s scripture from Matthew’s gospel, we get a very clear message from
Jesus, “do as they say, not as they do.” Jesus is instructing his followers not to
follow the ways of the scribes and Pharisees for they do not practice what they
preach. This message fits the overall intention of the gospel which serves as a
transition, connecting the stories of the old and new testaments.
It must have driven the church leaders mad to have this very human “king” come
onto the scene and point out the dissonance between their words and actions.
After all, they were expecting and waiting for a very different king. The humility
required to hear such a reprimand and to choose to change their ways proved to
be too great a challenge for many Jewish leaders.
Well, how about us today? The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to
reflect on our own choices and to prepare a deeper place for Jesus’ love in our
hearts and actions. During this time, we prepare for the “coming of Christ” in
three distinct forms: remembering the infant birth of Christ; remembering the
promise of his second coming; and preparing for his birth in our own human
hearts. We wait. We remember. We prepare. Once the waiting is over, we
celebrate on Christmas morning.
What will this Christ-Child within us look like in our lives? Will we exalt ourselves
or humble ourselves? Will our words and actions align? We get to make the
choice every day of our lives. May this holy season of Advent nurture a Christ-like
clarity and humbleness in all of us so that we may live our Baptismal promises to
be the presence of Jesus’ love on earth. Amen.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” This was one of two tests the Pharisees gave to Jesus through a lawyer in this encounter. The answer was simple and straight-forward. Jesus quotes the Sh’ma out of Deuteronomy, which says you must love God with all your being, and then Jesus expands by saying you must love your neighbor as yourself. This was an irrefutable answer. Then came another question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” The answer, rightly was David, but then Jesus asks another question, which stumps the Pharisees: “If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”
All of these questions and responses put Jesus, and the Pharisees for that matter, in a religious context. They were speaking to one another as Jews - followers of God from ancient times, practicing a faith that even then was ancient. As we await the coming of Christ this Advent, we must remember that our faith is one that is connected across generations, back even to creation, through the Hebrew faith of which Jesus and the Pharisees were a part. Faith is eternal, from the beginning to the end of ages.
The Rev. Matthw L. Buterbaugh
Diocese of Milwaukee
The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’
Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
The poor Sadducees. Their question on its face is almost a farce, as is the situation they propose to Jesus. Jesus, always one to tune into a trap or to discern an angle, is having none of it. He even seems to call them out on their incredulity regarding the resurrection.
Are we astounded by the teaching of Jesus? We should be. The teachings of Jesus are meant to speak directly to our hearts and to help us see where we are getting it right. Perhaps more importantly, however, are the places where we get it wrong. I don’t mean this in the sense that Jesus is looking for that gotcha moment with all of us. Rather, Jesus is looking for those places where we need healing and where our vision needs to be restored to us. Jesus is looking for those places where we’ve become deaf to the suffering of others. Jesus is trying to cure those places in our hearts that are still sick with sin. He does this by giving us the sight to see what is amiss and inspiring our hearts towards repentance and reconciliation with our God and with our neighbors.
So often Advent gets skimmed over for Christmas. Too often we miss the point of this season that gives us the time to prepare. As we continue to wait on Jesus, may we have the sight to see when we are missing the point, and as a result, are missing Jesus.
The Rev. Tyler C. Richards, SCP, SMMS
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church
De Pere, Wisconsin
"Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them."
I had a dream this week of Advent coming like a old fashioned horror movie, complete with a giant baby Jesus chasing me through the streets. Sometimes, Advent can feel that way. Like trying to stay one step ahead of chaos and disaster. There is too much to do and so little time to do it. It can be anything but peaceful. It’s stressful and overwhelming. In our streets, stores, workplaces and homes, this season is frantic and exhausting. In our churches, in our hearts, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can experience Advent as a peaceful and life giving time. It takes discipline. It takes patience.
Catholic woman religious, Rose Marie Berger offers this breathing practice as a reminder.
Slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and breathe out on the “vent” part...Breathe In. Breathe out. Ad Vent There! You prayed today. Keep it up! And May the peace that passes understanding guard your hearts and minds. In Christ’s name, Amen
"Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Reverend Caren Teichmann
First Christian Church Paris, TN
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
This passage marks the first of four efforts by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus. Jesus’ answer is far more than disarming a trap. Jesus’ answer, that we render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God, teaches us about His unique role in salvation history and reminds us of our calling, and the conditions of our lives until His return. In His answer, Jesus is reminding us that our work and witness will be within the existing political systems of the world, regardless of their oppressive natures. Jesus has not yet come to overthrow governments, nor has He come to create a kingdom that will compete with the Caesars of the world.
As God’s adopted heirs, our first allegiance is rightly to the Kingdom of God; Jesus’ answer, however, reminds each one of us that we are called to live as if we truly understand ourselves to be stewards of all that belongs to God. It is in our daily witness of loving our neighbor, of caring for the earth, and even of fulfilling our obligations to our political systems, that we glorify God until Christ’s return. And it is in this response to our witness that we see the working out of His plan of salvation, not just in our lives, but also in the lives of those around us.
The Rev. J Brian McVey
Church of the Advent, Nashville, Tennessee
"Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’"
The holidays are in full swing. The greens and silvers, reds and golds. The hustle and bustle. The stress. The anxiety. The excessive shopping. And the parties. Oh my word… the parties. The parties with the exclusive invitation lists and a constant flow of food, drink, laughter, and party games.
Growing up I was usually the last one invited (if I even got an invitation) to attend parties hosted by my peers. I was the nerdy, flamboyant, deep-thinking, androgynous personality that didn’t quite fit the mold of social normalcy. But when I did get invited, I was so gracious to be included. To be a part of the group. To have that opportunity to build community. To have the opportunity to feel accepted for all that I brought to the gathering --- the imperfections and the quirks of who I was at my core. But what I would do in those days was find excuses as to why I couldn’t go, all because I was too afraid of what others would think. I was so deeply terrified of sharing who I was at my core with others. I didn’t believe that I deserved to be invited because I wasn’t like everyone else.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet teaches us of the Creator’s generous call to a sumptuous feast to
which our RSVP’d acceptance to the invitation is expected. It is so easy to take God’s generosity for granted and through our fear and shame we scramble to find excuses not to respond. “...they made light of it and went away...” What is God inviting us to at this point in our lives? Are we as good at finding excuses not to answer the call? Are we just postponing our response because we don’t think that we deserve to be invited?
Even through our lack of response, God still invites us -- even those of us who believe that we didn’t even deserve the invitation. And at God’s table of plenty, we will be welcomed and served as honored guests, not because we have status or are part of the in-crowd but because we are loved right where we are: imperfections, near-perfections and all that lie between. May we accept God’s invitation with gratitude as we do the holy work of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, working for the good of others, so that all may have the opportunity to come and share in the feast.
Mr. Quincy Hall
Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church
“We must leave this place better than we found it,” my youth minister said as our youth group began a retreat at a lake house on loan by a parishioner. After a long weekend, you can imagine how a house full of rambunctious teenagers looked. But we remembered the exhortation and set to work with a zeal, garnering praise from our youth minister and a return invitation from the host. That experience has instilled in me a life-long practice of striving to leave any home, lodging, office, classroom, church, community entrusted to me better than I found it. What’s more, the practice of what I call “gratitude blessing” sparks unspeakable joy in myself because I helps me to reflect on the ways in which I have been touched and blessed. Moreover, doing so, even when I’d rather be doing something else, always pays large spiritual dividends. It turns out, the act of being gracious instills grace upon the giver.
The wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 would have benefitted from the lesson of my youth minister and the practice of gratitude blessing. While the parable suggests the profitability of the vineyard entrusted to their care, its well-tended and fertile ground is strewn with as many wasted lives by the end of this sad tale. The owner, now bereft of faithful retainers and his own son, is very correct in his righteous indignation at the ingratitude and disrespect his tenants have shown him through their misuse of the property entrusted to them and by their treatment of his agents and his own flesh. This parable is, of course, Jesus’ not so thinly veiled censure against those persons who are stewards of God’s people. He is criticizing those who God has appointed and set apart to tend the vineyard of God, and he is building upon the teachings of the prophets who proclaimed God’s indifference to the correct worship of those who neglected the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Yet, we should be cautious about falling into the common trap of othering the characters in Jesus’ parables by seeing ourselves outside of the narrative. As we journey, God places people in our path, angels in disguise as it were, to give us practice in gratitude blessing, of leaving those committed to our care better than we found them as a gift of gratitude to God for all of the ways we’ve been blessed. Yet, how often do we reject God’s call to show the lovingkindness of human compassion to those who need it during the week in exchange for self-satisfaction in correct ritual and sound doctrine on a Sunday morning? If this parable teaches us anything it is that the religious prosperity of well-tended ritual and well-pruned doctrine is nothing to God if their maintenance is at the cost of ignoring God’s agents— the exploited, oppressed, and suffering masses pleading silently at a firmly guarded lichgate.
As Christians, we are called to leave our world better than we found it by taking the blessings of the church beyond the walls of the sanctuary and proclaiming Christ’s Gospel of love, peace, and equality before God to the world outside. In this way, we demonstrate our love for God in a life touched and changed through the practice of genuine worship and spiritual formation. It’s a big job, but our God is a big God, and we do it, in the words of the baptismal covenant, “with God’s help.” And Jesus has provided us with the very best model to follow in accomplishing this great commission: We meet people’s basic needs, we love them radically and unconditionally, we invite them nonjudgmentally into a spiritual reunion with God, and we leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. This advent, let us recommit to imitating Christ in loving and serving God’s people, those sent to test and temper our faith, so that when Christ comes in glory, he finds the beloved community he’s left us instructions to build. May it be so.
The Rev Darcy Corbitt
Minister at All Souls' Universalist Church