4th Sunday After Epiphany, January 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (Year A) 

Scripture Readings*: Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12, Psalm 15

Micah 6:1-8

The prophet condemns Israel’s leaders and shows the contrast between the corrupt society they had shaped and the glorious and peaceful kingdom to be formed by the coming Messiah/King. God yearns for His people to do good, and walk humbly with Him (vv.3-8). Anything less is displeasing to God. No society that is marked by violence, lying, and deceit will stand – especially when it is called by God’s Name.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Paul’s key focus in this passage is that we dare not mix man’s wisdom with God’s revealed message: The cross. God’s wisdom is revealed primarily in the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul points out three different attitudes people have toward the cross:

1) Some will stumble at the cross (v.23a). The Jews were more impressed with miraculous signs, and the cross appeared to be weakness. 2) Some will laugh at the cross (v. 23b). This was the response of the Greeks. To them, the cross was foolishness. It (the cross) defied human wisdom. 3) Some will experience the power and wisdom of the cross (v. 24). Those who have been called by God’s grace and who have responded by faith, realize that Christ is God’s power and wisdom. In the death of Christ, God reveals the foolishness of man’s wisdom and the weakness of man’s power.

Matthew 5:1-12sermon_on_the_mount

Matthew summarizes the preaching of Jesus in a passage known as the “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5–7). Jesus begins with a series of statements known as the “Beatitudes” (5:1–12). These surprising statements of blessing underline the difference between human values and God’s, and call us to view life and success God’s way.

What A Fool Believes

The Doobie Brothers had it right… “What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.”

Today’s readings might well borrow this popular song for its theme. Just listen to the words of Jesus. “Blessed are the poor… those who mourn… the meek…” Then and now, those words run counter to our get-ahead strategies and philosophies. In a “might makes right” world, there’s no value in being meek. “Happy at all costs” trumps those who mourn any day. And in our “he who dies with the most toys wins” world, there’s no glory in being poor in spirit.

The words of Jesus are no less difficult today than they were when He spoke them more than 2000 years ago. And they are no less true.

So… what do you see?

Prayer for Fourth Sunday After Epiphany – “Almighty God, give grace that I may see and know You, revealing your love and life to those around me. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

3rd Sunday After Epiphany, January 22, 2017

Third Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23, Psalm 27:1, 5-13

Isaiah 9:1-4

The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali (Northern Israel) had been conquered by Assyria. Isaiah sees a future time when a “great light will be revealed” and the nation will multiply and experience increased joy. This “great light” will be the Messiah, who will be human and deity: “A Child is born… A Son is given” (v. 6).

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Paul is concerned about the division in the church at Corinth. He stresses three Christian priorities: unity, allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel. He asks three questions: Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul (v. 13)? His intent is to have them focus solely upon Jesus so that only the gospel will be proclaimed.

Matthew 4:12-231024px-duccio_di_buoninsegna_036-crop_-715x450

Following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus begins his own ministry in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, in the region of Capernaum. Matthew quotes Isaiah, reinforcing that Jesus is the “great light” spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. At that time the population was mixed, with many Jews but also many Gentiles present. The great light dawning in this area (vv. 15–17) may foreshadow the fact that the salvation Jesus brings is for all.

What makes a disciple is his or her willingness to follow Jesus. Following Him produces people who share Christ’s concern for drawing others to God (v.19). People who are truly excited about Jesus are still the best way to communicate the Gospel.

Seeing Is Believing

Today’s readings reveal a future that is yet to be experienced. His nation in ruins, Isaiah’s words reveal a future when his people and nation are restored… prosperous… joyful. Paul’s words and admonition point to a unified Body of Christ. The ministry of Jesus in Zebulun and Naphtali touch the lives of Jews and Gentiles alike, foretelling a salvation for all people.

This season of Epiphany – as well as life’s seasons of epiphanies – does the same. Christ is revealed, as is our future found in Him. The Word enters our life and reveals healing even in the midst of sickness… peace as we wrestle with chaos and uncertainty… provision even as we hear headlines of economic and political turmoil.

As we read today’s scriptures, we recognize that even now, parts of the Word are yet to be fulfilled. The same is true in our lives. Epiphany offers the opportunity to see through eyes of faith the reality God is in the midst of creating. It is this faith – based on the Word of God – He uses to fashion our world and us into His ultimate image of restoration and wholeness.

Prayer for Third Sunday After Epiphany – “Gracious God, open my eyes to see Your glory and the good You are creating in my life and the world around me. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

2nd Sunday After Epiphany, January 15, 2017

Second Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 49:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42, Psalm 40:1-12

Isaiah 49:1-7

From before His birth, God’s Servant was called to His ministry (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15); and God prepared Him like a sharp sword and a polished arrow (Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16). Messiah came as both a Servant and a Warrior, serving those who trust Him and ultimately judging those who resist Him.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul confronts a dysfunctional church by reminding them of their high and holy position in Christ. He reminds them that they have been set apart by God (vv. 1-3) and enriched by God’s grace (vv.4-6). He tells them that they are to wait expectantly for Christ’s return (v. 7), and that they must be dependent upon God’s faithfulness (vv. 8-9).

John 1:29-42ottavio_vannini_san_giovanni_che_indica_il_cristo_a_santandrea

The title: “The Lamb of God” sums up the love, sacrifice, suffering, and triumph of Christ. What John is saying is not that he did not know who Jesus was, but that he did not know what Jesus was. It had suddenly been revealed to him that Jesus was none other than the Son of God.

What’s In a Name?

Ask a parent about their new baby’s name, and they’ll proudly tell you about its meaning or the relative or friend their child is named after. What we are called is important, even defining aspects of our personality or character traits.

Today’s readings remind us of this importance. Isaiah’s words state, “The Lord called me before I was born, while in my mother’s womb he named me.” Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is a call to live as those who bear the name of Christ, set apart, enriched by grace, expectantly waiting for Christ’s return, and dependent upon God’s faithfulness. In the Gospel, John declares of Jesus, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And Jesus Himself said to Simon, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (meaning Peter).”

We are not only made in the image and likeness of God, we bear the name of His Son. As Christians, we reveal to the watching world glimpses of God. In us – because of us – they see Him.

What are we showing them? In us, what do they see of Him?

We are called Christians, named after Jesus Christ. It’s important that we live in such a way as to invite from others the question,” Tell me about the One you’re named after?”

Prayer for Second Sunday After Epiphany – “Loving God, illumine my life by Your Word and sacraments so that You are known and worshiped by those around me. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

1st Sunday After Epiphany, January 8, 2017

First Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17, Psalm 29

Isaiah 42:1-9

The chapter begins with the first of several passages known as the “servant songs,” because they deal with a “servant of the Lord.” The ideal servant introduced here is the Messiah, whom God has empowered and called to establish justice on the Earth.

The servant of the Lord’s mission is to “[establish] justice in the earth” (vv. 1–4), and to be “a light to the nations” (vv. 5–9).

Acts 10:34-43

This brief summary of Peter’s sermon is in full harmony with the earlier evangelistic sermons recorded in Acts. The heart of the Gospel is the historic Christ, crucified and risen again, in accord with the teachings of Old Testament Scriptures.

Matthew 3:13-17baptismjesus

Jesus made a special trip from Galilee to be baptized by John. Although John saw no need for Christ to submit to a rite that implied a need for repentance (vv. 13–14), Jesus insisted, saying that it was right to identify Himself with John’s message (v. 15). After the baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended on Jesus, and the Father’s voice from heaven identified Jesus as “My Son.”

Everyday Graces

Often, we think of God as a “Grand Canyon” kind of God. Big. Deep. Vast. Awe-inspiring. He is. But most of us don’t live at the Grand Canyon. We live ordinary lives in ordinary communities under ordinary circumstances. What does God look like here?

Today’s readings remind us that God is seen in everyday graces. He is gentle and compassionate, “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench… I have taken you by the hand and kept you.” God is waiting to hold and comfort you.

To answer our questions and doubts, God finds practical ways to reassure us, “… to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” He knows that our faith is tested and He is waiting to reassure us of His presence and Lordship.

Why is this important? Because we are people who experience reality through our senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. God comes to us in the waters of baptism, the Body and Blood of the Eucharist, the fellowship of believers, the flickering of candlelight, and the sounds of hymns. It is these everyday graces that make God real and knowable in our everyday lives. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…”

Prayer for First Sunday After Epiphany – “Gracious Lord, who clothed Yourself in humanity, help me to meet and see You each day, remembering the covenant of salvation and confessing you as Lord and Savior. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

1st Sunday After Christmas, January 1, 2017

First Sunday After Christmas (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 61:10-62-3, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Being dressed in such garments showed the wearer to be an invited guest, with a right to join the celebration. Paul uses the image of salvation’s clothing in Romans 13:14 and Ephesians. 4:22–24. Christ used it in several parables, as in where the guests were dressed in special garments provided by the host (Matt. 22:11–14).

Only if we are clothed with God’s salvation will we enjoy life in the future kingdom of the Lord.

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Sonship has made a radical change in the situation of the believer. Under Old Testament Law Israel was held prisoner, “locked up” to keep them out of trouble until Jesus came (3:23). Now sons, God has given believers His Spirit. The cry “Abba, Father,” implies a clear distinction between slave and family member. Only a child has the privilege of such warm and direct address. Only a child has such immediate access to a parent. Paul’s point is that “sons” have no need to be locked up and no need of a guardian. As sons we have direct access to God and also a matchless resource that enables us to be holy—the Holy Spirit Himself.

John 1:1-18christ-898330_640

John reveals Jesus as God’s gift to us. He stresses that Jesus is both identical with the God of the Old Testament, yet uniquely distinct from Him. This concept, though mysterious, has become common to us. However, in the first-century, this revelation was shocking. The Jews emphasized the uniqueness and unity of the Old Testament’s “one God.” The pagans imagined a class of beings they called ‘”gods.” But John affirms that God is one, yet exists in distinct, separate personalities.

He reveals Christ as God’s gift to be received. Believing in Jesus involves seeing Him presented as God’s Son, accepting that description as real, and simply stretching our your hand to accept God’s gift of eternal life. You then become what you were not: a child of God.

Start at the Very Beginning

In the beginning. What powerful words! Before the worlds were created, He was there. Before Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, Christ was there as the moon was spoken into existence. Christ was there before Abraham and the establishment of God’s people. Before the Plague and penicillin. Before Einstein and E=mc2. Before you and me.

God is the author of beginnings. And in Jesus Christ, He authors our new beginnings. Through Christ, we are no longer slaves but children. We are freed from sin and death, invited to begin a new life in Jesus Christ that leads to eternal and unending life. And when we fail, when we fall, Christ is waiting for us, extending His hand and offering to help us begin again. In the beginning – in our beginning – was the Word… and we have seen His glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer for First Sunday After Christmas – “Gracious God, through the Gift of Your Son, You give me new and unending life. Pour out this life in and through me. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

Christmas Day, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12), John 1:1-14, Psalm 78

Isaiah 52:7-10

For decades, Israel’s remnant had suffered in a foreign country without an altar or priesthood. Isaiah foresees the day when the people will return to Jerusalem, rebuild their temple, and restore their God-given ministry.

Good news is worth sharing. Isaiah sees the messenger announcing peace and salvation… a message of joy and comfort.

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

Old Testament prophets spoke their message out of their own life experience and Israel’s. Their message was applicable to their age, and often characterized by one idea. Amos’ focused upon the need for social justice. Isaiah grasped the holiness of God. Hosea’s own bitter experience revealed the forgiving love of God. Each of these messages, though important parts of the revelation of the Messiah, are fragmented portions.

With Jesus it is different. He was not a fragment of the truth; he was the whole truth. In Christ, God displays not some fragmented part of himself, but all of himself.

John 1:1-14

John allows us to see that even before Creation, Jesus was God the Son. He existed before His birth, is coequal with God the Father, and the source of light and of life itself (1:1–5). John emphasizes that Jesus is the preexistent Word (vv.6-9). To the Jew a word was far more than a mere sound; it was something which had an independent existence and which actually did things.

The awesome revelation is this: In Jesus, God Himself became flesh and lives among us (v.14).

What’s the Word?dp207823

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! The mere words of this carol shine hope into the darkened portions of our souls. They point out the power our words have to inspire… encourage… transform. This is the message of today’s readings.

Isaiah’s words envisioned a world reflecting the comfort and salvation of the Lord. To a people weary with oppression, those words inspired them to remain faithful. To the second generation of Christians receiving the letter of Hebrews, the words reminded them that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets’ words – encouragement during a time of persecution and martyrdom. John’s gospel presents the ultimate Word, Jesus Christ. In Him, we have more than hope and encouragement – we have the very presence of God made flesh, dwelling among and within us.

Joy to the world, indeed!

Prayer for Christmas Day – “Almighty God, as I celebrate the Gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, help me both receive and proclaim Your Word with the confidence of His redemption and salvation. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

4th Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz was commanded to ask for a sign: some clear supernatural event that would confirm Isaiah’s promise. His disobedience was a demonstration of unbelief, not piety. So, the Lord turned from Ahaz and gave a sign to the entire house of David (vs. 13). This sign was fulfilled ultimately in the birth of Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:23).

The name “Immanuel” means “God with us” and reinforces the emphatic position of the words to show that “With Us is God!” “Immanuel” captures the awe and wonder of the incarnation – the unimaginable fact that the God of the universe entered the stream of time to become one with us.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul defines his ministry as that of the Gospel, which he calls “the Gospel of God” (vs. 1), “the Gospel of His Son” (vs. 9), and “the Gospel of Christ” (vs. 16). This “Good News” is not something that Paul invented, but is what the Old Testament promised concerning Jesus’ coming, death, and resurrection.

Paul reminds his readers that they (we) are also “called by Christ to be ‘saints’” (living believers in Jesus Christ), and that only God can make saints out of sinners. And, he reminds them (and us) that they (we) are “beloved of God,” just as Christ is loved by the Father.

Matthew 1:18-25

Both the reality and the supernatural nature of Jesus’ conception are highlighted in Matthew’s account. The incarnation is the real “enfleshment” of the Son of God. Jesus took our human nature and entered into our world through the door of the virginal conception. The ministry of the Holy Spirit, which will be an important motif in Matthew’s Gospel, is highlighted first in relation to the incarnation of Jesus.

“Immanuel” means “God with us,” and finds its echo in Jesus’ promise at the very end of the Gospel: “I am with you always” (28:20). Matthew also tells us that Joseph and Mary had no sexual relations until after the birth of Jesus.

Love Came Down

During times of darkness and suffering, there’s something comforting about the presence of a loved one. A gentle touch, a quiet word makes all the difference in letting us know we are not alone. This is what God has done for us.

In the ultimate act of love, He entered our darkness and suffering, stretching out His hands to – and for – us. Emmanuel, God with us. Let every heart prepare Him room. Let earth receive her King.

4th-week-of-adventPrayer when lighting the fourth candle of the Advent wreath – “God of love, by Your Holy Spirit, prepare my heart as Your dwelling place. Be born anew in me, and through me, let Your love be known. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

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