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2nd Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday in Lent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Genesis 12:1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17; Psalm 121

Genesis 12:1-4a

Both Jews and Christians believe that by His call to this one individual God set in motion a series of acts of grace and judgment which would fashion a special people for Him, who would lead a lost mankind back to their true home. As Christians, we belong to that special people. And with our Jewish brethren, we also look back to Abraham as father of the faithful.

If he had not answered that call, Israel would not have reached her Promised Land, the Church we love would not exist, there would be no Scriptures for us to study, and our lives would be emptied of everything that makes them worthwhile.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Paul stresses that Abraham was justified by faith, not works (vv. 1-8), and he was justified by grace, not Law (vv. 9-17). If salvation depended upon our abilities, we would all be hopelessly lost.

Thankfully, God keeps His promise to those who believe (trust in God), and mercifully and generously offers us His grace.

John 3:1-17

The fact that Jesus did perform miracles was beyond dispute. This brought a Pharisee named Nicodemus to question Jesus (3:1–2). Jesus stunned Nicodemus by saying that before any spiritual questions can be dealt with a man must be “born again” (v. 3). Even though the concept of a spiritual rebirth has roots in the Old Testament, Nicodemus was totally confused (vv. 4–9). Jesus challenges Nicodemus to accept Christ’s testimony (vv. 10–15) and goes on to explain the awesome cost to God of making eternal life available to humankind (vv. 16–17).

Comfort Zones

Today’s readings are all about comfort zones – specifically, getting out of them! At times God uproots us, just as He did Abram. Get out! Leave your family and friends! Take a journey to a new place you have yet to discover. Sometimes we can identify with Nicodemus, when everything we think we know is turned upside down by the Word of God. And always, we find ourselves in the vulnerable position of relying on faith and the grace of God. We want to “pay our way” and “earn our keep.” But salvation cannot be bought or earned. Instead, we must trust that, in spite of our weakness and flaws, an all-powerful God loved us enough to redeem us.

In each situation, we are stretched. We become uncomfortable. God asks us to move beyond what we know and function outside of our comfort zone. This is the opportunity of Lent – and it’s the result of our faith being deepened and refined.

Prayer for Second Sunday in Lent – God of grace, as You call me to follow You in new ways, give me a steadfast faith to hold tightly to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

1st Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2017

First Sunday in Lent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 32

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The disobedience of Adam and Eve shatter the innocence and harmony of original Creation. The significance of that defiance has impacted the entire human race. The craftiness of the enemy tempted Adam and Eve. Sin is always enticing, but its consequence is devastating.

The story of the Fall is Scripture’s explanation for the sin and evils that mar society, corrupt personal and international relationships, and doom us to biological and spiritual death.

Romans 5:12-19

In this passage, Paul addresses “death,” not so much as biological, but as a spiritual condition rendering humankind powerless. He reveals that “sin” is an inner moral corruption alienating humans from God and making final judgment a dreaded certainty.

Adam’s sin, which introduced biological and spiritual death, poses a dark and grim situation for our present life, and the life to come. In contrast, Paul reminds us that through the death of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, Jesus intersects our dilemma and offers us life rather than death.

Mathew 4:1-11jesus-tempted-in-the-desert

Jesus is also aware of the powers of temptation. In His temptation in the wilderness, even in His weakened condition, Jesus gives us a model of how we, too, can overcome temptation: By acting on principles found in God’s Word. By understanding – and acting – on the Word of God, we overcome temptation.

What’s the Word?

In the Gospel reading, Jesus experiences His own Lent. He’s isolated. He’s hungry. And He’s without provision. In these moments, it’s easy to look for the quick fix – tempting to find an easy out and avoid the pain. But Jesus doesn’t do this. Instead, He gives us an example to follow… “It is written…”

Jesus relies on the Word of God as His foundation for decisions of action and attitude. Notice He makes no attempt to dismiss or refute feelings of hunger, hardship, or loneliness. He hurts – and He knows it. But He doesn’t allow His hurt to direct His decisions. In allowing God’s Word to serve as His compass, Jesus enters a place of divine protection and provision.

What’s guiding you this Lenten Season? Whatever you’re facing – whatever you’re feeling – God’s Word leads to a place of refuge and refreshing.

Prayer for First Sunday in Lent – God of mercy, although I am tempted and weak, help me find You mighty to save; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

Last Sunday After Epiphany, February 26, 2017

Last Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9, Psalm 2 or 99


Exodus 24:12-18

Relationship with God is not just a matter of moral and religious duty. There is a mutual commitment: God will protect and bless His people, if they remain separate and committed to Him. God’s covenant, offered to the people of Israel, had been welcomed, enthusiastically. In fact, they vowed to do “everything the Lord had said” (24:1-3).

Moses ascends the mountain and enters into the very presence of God. The “covenant making King” invites us – not only to enjoy the benefits of the covenant – but to enter into a personal relationship with Him.

2 Peter 1:16-21

In a court of law, it is common for the prosecution to ask the question: “What did you see?” Eyewitnesses are key in any case. Peter declares that the stories of the power and coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, were not a fabrication or a figment of imagination. He (along with many others) had personally witnessed this glory. At the transfiguration of Jesus, they had heard the voice that came from heaven, declaring that “This (Jesus) is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt. 17:5).

Despite voices that suggest that Jesus may not be the only way to God… there is no way to satisfaction, life and glory other than through the well-beloved Son of the ever-living God.

Matthew 17:1-9giovanni_gerolamo_savoldo_005-1

This passage affords us clear echoes of Old Testament theophany (an appearance of God); like the appearance of God on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24). In similar manner, Jesus takes three representatives to a mountain, where his appearance is transformed to the extent that his native, divine splendor radiates through his clothes and in his face.

The voice from heaven serves to reveal that Jesus is one with the prophetic tradition, represented by Moses and Elijah, but that he is also the consummator of that tradition.

Down From the Mountain

We all want mountain top experiences – those awe-inspiring moments in God’s presence when we are transformed. We want God’s “big voice,” speaking words of affirmation, reassuring us that our faith is not misplaced. And in certain circumstances and seasons, God reveals Himself to us in these mountain top moments.

Like the disciples, we are tempted to escape the daily responsibilities of life and want to “set up camp” where we can bask in the glories of God’s presence. But notice what happens in today’s readings. In the Old Testament readings, Moses eventually had to come down from the mountain. So did Jesus and the disciples. So do we.

We come down from the mountain bearing the radiance of God’s transforming and revelatory power – and we re-enter everyday life, shining His presence into our world. This is the work of Epiphany in us; it is the work of God through us to illumine our world with His life.

Prayer for Last Sunday After Epiphany – “Almighty God, as I experience the illuminating light of Your presence, help me to shine Your light into the world around me. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

7th Sunday After Epiphany, February 19, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18


The regulations given in chapter 19 have direct relationship to the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). These precepts are the basis for all Jewish and moral law. These statutes are not mans’, they are God’s law. We belong to God, and because God is holy, we must be a holy people (vv. 1-2).

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

The source of power for the Christian life is realized because the Holy Spirit dwells within the follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables us to serve God and live the holy and good life that we are called to. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are God’s “holy temple,” and as a result we can be holy. Paul warns those who follow Christ not to bring ruin on God’s temple.

Matthew 5:38-48

The Law was not given to exact revenge, but rather to legislate justice. Jesus clarifies that – though the Law supported retaliation – mercy was always the acceptable intention underlying these laws. For followers of Christ, insisting upon a “pound of flesh” falls short. Mercy goes beyond the accepted requirement of going one mile. We’re to go two. It’s easy to love those who love you.   But to love your enemies is to imitate the love of God.

And the Greatest of These Is Love

The common denominator of today’s readings is love. Leviticus instructs the people to leave portions of their harvest available for the poor, an act of loving and dignified compassion. Paul urges believers to build carefully on the foundation of Christ and to care for each other and themselves as temples in which God’s spirit dwells. And Jesus Himself urges His followers to go the extra mile, praying for their enemies.

Through love, God is revealed – to others and to ourselves. Practicing compassion, treating others and ourselves with respect, and praying for our enemy changes us. It forces us to confront our own need for salvation and restoration.

Only when our hearts have been changed can we then reflect that love to others. Only when we have learned to love ourselves as Christ loves us can we truly love our neighbor in ways that reveal God’s love.

Prayer for Seventh Sunday After Epiphany – “Loving God, send Your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart Your greatest gift, that everything I do is rooted in Your love. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”


*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

6th Sunday After Epiphany, February 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37, Psalm 119:1-8

Deuteronomy 30:15-20showimage

The nature of a covenant relationship is predicated upon trust. God promises blessings to be poured out upon Israel, contingent upon Israel’s trust, demonstrated through obedience to God’s commandments. As long as Israel remains faithful, or if a future generation returns to God after straying, God will restore and bless.

The choice for Israel – and each of us – is whether we will choose God or emptiness, blessing or disaster, life or death.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

It is easy to become distracted and to get our eyes off of Christ. The Corinthians argued over the merits of mere human leaders; becoming jealous and bickering over human capacities. They lost the spiritual insight that had been given to them by the Spirit of God.

Paul reminds us: Human leaders are servants of God, God is the source of all growth, and God’s priority is the congregation. He stresses that leaders are simply workers in God’s field, and that the church is the field. Ultimately, Christ is the foundation and the church is God’s temple.

Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus uses the subjects of murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths to reveal how deceptive our own hearts can be.

While the Pharisees understood murder in the literal sense, Jesus reminds them – and us – that even harmful words can kill a person’s spirit, and lustful attitudes can constitute adultery. Although the Old Testament allowed divorce, it was not commanding divorce. The Pharisees were experts in manipulating the oaths they had made to God. Jesus insists upon straightforward truthfulness, and reminded them that the breaking of a vow is subject to God’s punishment.

Life Is Beautiful

A Holocaust survivor was interviewed shortly before his death and asked to comment about his life. “Life is beautiful,” the old man replied. The journalist pointed out that this man lost his entire family in the concentration camps and witnessed the evils of the Nazis firsthand.

The old man insisted, stating he had also experienced the power of kindness as he was rescued. He went on to point out the freedom of forgiveness, the joy of marrying and raising his own family, and leaving a legacy for others.

This old man chose life, prosperity, and the power of blessing. He understood the potential of evil in his own heart and, instead, opened his heart to God’s goodness. Today’s readings are the basis for this wisdom. We, too, can recognize how quickly our own hearts can become darkened by sin as Jesus points out. Instead, we can daily choose life, experiencing God’s blessing and goodness.

Prayer for Sixth Sunday After Epiphany – “Gracious God, outside of You there is no good in me. Give me grace to keep your commandments and experience Your life. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

5th Sunday After Epiphany, February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany (Year A) 

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12), 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16), Matthew 5:13-20, Psalm 112:1-9, (10)

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

Isaiah pleads with his listeners to grasp the reality of sin. He describes a superficial religiousness (vv. 1-3a) that uncovers the hypocrisy of a people whose personal lives – and society – are corrupt (vv. 3b-7). However, if Israel desires a spiritual reformation and puts away “the yoke of oppression,” God will answer His people’s prayers and sustain them.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)

Paul abandoned the approach taken by itinerant philosophers and teachers when he came to Corinth, to rely totally on God’s Spirit in his presentation of the Gospel (2:1–5). Paul’s present appeal does display “wisdom,” but a secret wisdom, which is beyond the comprehension of mankind (vv. 6–10a). The Spirit of God (who, being God knows the thoughts of God) has revealed that wisdom in words. And these spiritual truths (contained in those Spirit–shaped words) are interpreted by the Spirit to those, who through faith in Christ possess the Spirit.

Matthew 5:13-20salt-07

When we wish to stress someone’s solid worth and usefulness, we say of that person: “People like that are the salt of the earth.” In the ancient world salt was highly valued; often connected with purity. Salt was a common preservative, used to keep things from going bad. As followers of Christ, we have a certain antiseptic influence on life.

People need light to see. As followers of Christ, our lights are to shine before others so that others will see the glory of our Father in heaven.

Taste and See That the Lord Is Good

Good parents live out and model for their children how to live. Children learn to be honest by observing the honesty of their parents. They learn responsibility, kindness, and compassion the same way.

In a very similar way, people around us learn about God. If they see hypocrisy and “religiosity,” it is the same as a parent who instructs, “Do as I say and not as I do.” That’s why today’s readings are full of concrete examples of how we are to live, revealing God to the world around us.

Isaiah’s words tell God’s people – and us – to break the bonds of injustice, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. Jesus tells us to bring flavor and preservation to the world – to shine a light that reveals both a dwelling place and the glory of God.

Through us, the world can taste and see the goodness of God. Through us, God is revealed and the world restored.

Prayer for Fifth Sunday After Epiphany – “Set me free, O God, from my sin and free me to live out the abundance of Your life through Jesus Christ. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

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