07.27.20 – 08.02.20

Readings 

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 • Genesis 32:22-31 • Isaiah 55:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21 • Romans 9:1-5

Context

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Psalm 145 is used in more Jewish prayers than any other Psalm.  It is best described as a mini-summary of the Jewish faith – ‘God is to be praised from the beginning to the end’ everyday, good days and bad days. Whereas, in Christianity we often look at the concept of ‘blessing’ as being a ‘me thing’ – ‘I will get….’ Or ‘I will…..’, but Psalm 145 defines ‘blessing’ as being for others.

‘We praise God, for God has chosen you, to bless, not you, but all others.’

Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

Genesis 32:22-31

As I said last week, it is difficult to enjoy, and even to find redemption in any biblical story of Jacob. He has been horrible to his brother, deceived his dad, abused his mother’s favor, has been a horrible husband, and therefore a horrible example to his kids, now we see Jacob, for the second time 20 years after his first cowardice, running away to avoid the serious physical conflict. It is also difficult not to paint Jacob as a scoundrel in this story as well.  However, it is in this story that the Jewish faith sees a pivotal moment in which Jacob becomes a role model for the faithful – they would say that Jacob becomes an example of the practices of Judaism.

We will be diving into the intricacies of this passage on Sunday but, in the meantime, after you have chapter 32 and considered it, it will be helpful to read what happens next for Jacob in chapter 33.

Isaiah 5:1-5

As we approach these five verses it will help to understand these things:

  • The Israelites are living in a brutal time that is difficult for us to fully understand.  They (in Judah) have been militarily attacked by the surrounding nations (even attacked by Israel), often defeated and dominated by imperial powers. 
  • They lived an agrarian lifestyle, made more difficult by the fact that cultivating the land was difficult due to the climate of low rainfall, crazy heat and cold, and mediocre soil. Making matter worse, they used a barter system, in a time when the imperial powers were implementing a system of silver (money).
  • The words of Isaiah are on behalf of God warning the people of the coming Babylonian exile (still over a century away) – he is also speaking to their ultimate deliverance and hope. This passage is largely an effort to raise morale of a longing community,  They may not be listening to his message of ‘return to God’ but they are longing for hope during their immediate existence.  
  • The reference to ‘thirst’ and ‘water’ is probably a call to all (we all thirst – not just in desperate times). The metaphor, and reality, is that water is the solution.
  • Reference to David is much larger than just the King, it is the entire community of the Israelites.
  • Feast is the way wealth was revealed and shared.  Few actually had money, but a feast was a sharing (usually with everyone’s participation).  It was a mark of a recognition of abundance even when it seems to be a time of desperation. 
  • Money, wealth, and labor are privileges that should not be wasted on something other than bread.  Bread is a major part of feasts. Wealth and labor are a waste if they are not used to provide the essential things
  • Much of what Isaiah says in these first five verses, especially the beginning image, is of a Utopia which is an eschatological reference – it is still relevant to their current state.

Matthew 14:13-21

In the previous chapter we saw Jesus tell 8 parables – the final 6 of which were parables describing the Kingdom of heaven.  The first two of those parables, the wild sower of seed and the wicked sower of weeds among the wheat told how to live with a strong & growing faith, then, the final 6 parables Jesus reminds us where we live.  This week, in chapter 14 we could easily say that it is Jesus giving us a real life demonstration of both of those themes.

‘Jesus is living between the darkest moment and the dawn of a new movement of God’s healing work.’

Joy J. Moore, professor of biblical preaching, Luther seminary

In addition to the understanding of chapter 13, the first 12 verses of chapter 14 set up the immediate context of the story in our passage. John finds out that his relative who could possibly be described as a mentor, has just been brutally executed by King Herod. John was killed not because Herod chose to kill him but because Herod stupidly backed himself into a corner while attempting to impress others – the only way to avoid humiliation was to kill John.  As Jesus hears this devastating news, he decides a brief time of rest is required and withdraws to a ‘deserted place’.  This escape last only a short moment as the crowds find him and, once again, he is in the midst of addressing the physical needs of the people.

One note as you read: In verse 14 of this reading we see:

‘When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

This phrase ‘he had compassion’, in the greek is splagchnizomai, meaning ‘to be moved in the inward parts’.  This word, in verse 14 is a verb – meaning this is an action word, it involves more than emotions, it is a gut reaction that moves a person to do something in regard to that feeling.

Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9-11 are often used by those who are anti-Semitic (hateful and condemning towards Jews) to affirm their hateful rhetoric.  However, their interpretation and understanding of what Paul is saying in these three chapters could not be more egregiously wrong.  Our passage for this week is a prayer, prayed by Paul, questioning God. He is passionate about the Israelites, who are his people, and crushed by their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  His despondency is not an attack, or even criticism, of the those who come from his own heritage of faith – it is a question to God.  He is not asking ‘What is wrong with these people?’ instead, he is asking, ‘God, what are you doing about this situation?.  His question is about the past promises to the Israelites, ‘what happens to those promises and all that has taken place with their journey with God?’ Basically, he knows of the reliability of God but wondering how this will all work out now that most of the Jews have rejected Jesus. He is not accusing God of abandoning the Jews but intensely wanting to understand how this all fits together.  This is a prayer of great passion and love for his own people.

07.20.20 – 07.26.20

Readings

Psalm 119:129-136 • Genesis 29:15-29 • I Kings 3:5-12 • Romans 8:26-39 • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Context

Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 119 focuses largely on God’s Law – the Torah.  While we, post Resurrection followers of Jesus Christ, often look at the Law as a thing of the past, a tool of legalism, an oppressive list that confuse the faith.  We know Jesus fulfilled the Law, but seldom, do we really look at God’s generous act of giving the law.  The first verse (v. 129) is a counter to our, often, dismissive attitude toward the law.  The Psalmist proclaims the beauty and blessing of the law continuing through v. 31, then we see a transition to life lived in respect and observance of the law.  It is a psalm of praise for God’s loving interjection into our lives.

Genesis 29:15-29

Our Genesis passage for this week take us, again, to Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham.  Last week, I labeled Jacob as being ‘Shady’ at best – I hold to this description even more after this story of Genesis 29.  Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he ran away knowing that his brother Esau was angry and seeking revenge, he runs to Haran, the home city of Abraham, and the home of his mother Rebbekah and her ‘shady’ brother Laban.  There, he falls in love and marries Rachel, or so he thought, but wakes up the next morning to realize that he had been tricked by her father, shady Laban, and was now married to Leah, Rachel’s older sister.  Jacob begins plotting how to get Rachel for his wife – Jacob’s love for Rachel, and not Leah, is the constant for their marriage. Seven years later he marries Rachel, now two wives, sisters, bitter competitors for Jacob’s love and attention.

This is a horrible story, two horrible men who have a total disregard for the voice of these two women.  It is a tale of a culture that has completely devalued and dehumanized the female population – a cultural reality that is not challenged until the actions, and embrace, of Jesus.  It is an ironic story as we see the pain and misery inflicted on these two women because of these two men, yet it is these 2 unions, that provide the heads of the 12 tribes.

It is essential that we do not excuse this as just a cultural norm – it is not a norm from God.  Women were created to come alongside the man, not to cower behind them.  This cultural reality, that is still being challenged today was a result of life outside of the garden after we as humans chose to go it on our own, apart from God.

As you read this story, and probably all stories involving Jacob, do not let this cultural catastrophe distract you from this story, however, we must also  not allow the unGodly nature of this ingrained misogynistic cultural affliction to be excused or ignored.

I Kings 3:5-12

King Solomon was the third King of the Israelites, he was also the last King before the Kingdom split into Israel and Judah.  The first King, Saul, was given everything he needed to succeed by God.  However, Saul eventually was overtaken by his own insecurity and doubt and resorted to rule by trying to keep everyone happy and his own rapidly growing paranoia.  The second King was David, Solomon’s father.  David is heralded for having a heart that truly loved and followed God.  While most of David’s reign was done so under God’s direction and short stint of indiscretions tainted and cursed his family.  In I Kings 2 we see the crown move from David to Solomon, now a young adult.  As Solomon begins to rule, he reveals a great desire to know, and operate from, a depth of discernment and understanding which is his request of God in our focus passage.

Solomon has gone to Gibeon to offer a sacrifice to God.  Gibeon is significant in many ways, in this story, it is important to realize that it is the center of cultic worship, it is where the ‘high places’ draw worshipers of false gods – but it is also where many worshippers of the true God, including Solomon, go to offer sacrifices.  Solomon goes there to offer a sacrifice to God when God appears to Solomon.

Theopany is the term for this visitation of God to Solomon, an appearance in human form of God to a believer.  God interrupts Solomon from making the sacrifice and Solomon asks for wisdom, discernment, and understanding.  In the original Hebrew, verse 11 reveals that Solomon is primarily asking for the ability to make just and right decisions executing justice for all of the people.  God is heartened by this request and promises that Solomon will receive this, and more.

Two things to notice.  This Theopany results in a shift of Judaism’ holy city moving from Gibeon to Jerusalem.  The second is that Solomon receives great and just understanding, yet we see later that he does not always use it.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This is our third, and final, look at the parables crammed into this thirteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. I cannot help but laugh a little, squirm a lot, and squint my eyes in doubt when I read the response of the disciples to Jesus question after he has finished the final parable.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

Jesus (Matthew 13:51)

Remember, this is the same group that seemed, in verse 10, to chastise Jesus for using the parables to teach and preach.  We see, in Jesus’ response that he is using this form of teaching because the crowds have minds that have rejected the truth taught by Jesus.  The parables allow this truth to be planted in their mind, something that will possibly gnaw at them as they attempt to break it down and figure it out.  So, for the disciples to claim full understanding this quickly is suspect, at least to me…….I know I’ve had all of these stories gnawing at my mind for the past four weeks and am still dissecting them for better understanding.

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus (Matthew 13:34-35

So, if you are unable to answer, ‘Yes,’ as quickly as the disciples did, or if you are still working on understanding these, don’t fret, you are normal.  The fact that they are still bouncing around in our head is a good sign.

Remember the basic context as you read through these:

  1. Prior to chapter 13 we see Jesus, just returning from his own experience of seeing the pain and misery that existed among the Jewish people, send his disciples out to deliver, heal, cure, and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is Near – telling them to expect rejection and opposition.
  2. Jesus confronts his own generation – addressing their complacency in seeking a searching for truth.
  3. He is attacked by the religious leaders for not sticking with the status quo – they go so far as to proclaim that Jesus is from the devil.
  4. We arrive at chapter 13 where Jesus tells 8 parables that must be read with this context to all of all that has led up to these teachings.
  5. The first 2 parables, so far, have touched on faith and personal growth,  tending to our soil in which we are nurtured, growing strong roots, untangling our roots, remembering love rather than judgement and condemnation, the Kingdom of Heaven, Holy judgement, mercy and justice, God’s expansive and patient grace, and much more.  Keep all of this in your mind as you read the conclusion of the 8 teachings.

Romans 8:26-39

As we have read through Romans the past weeks, Paul has spoken of the enslavement of sin on our lives, the impact of a death when we live in the flesh.  Now, Paul has taken a turn to focus to the positive, the hope and freedom of a life lived in the Spirit.  In this passage he talks at being more than even conquerors.

As you read this, remember that Paul has spent much of this letter addressing the destructive nature of sin in our life, and the deeper reality of the inner struggle that presents itself in our sinful actions.  So, as you look at the idea that we are conquerors, focus on how that victory applies to the enslavement of sin.  Also, keep in mind what we have seen recently in the parables of Matthew 13, the idea from this week of the power of the small mustard seed, and the resolve of good soil.

This passage will be our primary focus, combined with the Matthew passage, for this week’s message – More Than Survivors.

07.13.20 – 07.19.20

Readings

Genesis 28:10-19a  •   Isaiah 44:6-8  •  Romans 8:12-25  •  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Context

Genesis 28:10-19a

‘Jacob is characterized, using the fundamental feature of the Hebrew narrative (the way the Old Testament is written), using the practice of ‘Show but Don’t Tell.’  So, you see a character do something, or not do something, and behave in a certain way that tells you about the action but the text usually will not comment about the action in the way that modern literature will so often do……Jacob is a profoundly gray character, morally, ethically, in terms of how he treats other people, in terms of how he treats his daughter Dinah…..in the way he treats his sons.  He gets mad at his sons who are full brothers of Dinah when they avenge her rape, because he, Jacob, is concerned how their actions will reflect on him.  Jacob takes advantage of his brother, taking his birthright, he also abuses his mother’s favoritism and fathers ill health to steal he brother’s (first born) blessing’

Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary

In our Bible Project on Tuesday nights, Mitch has instituted an opening discussion question in which we are to name the ‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains” of the passage we are looking at.  Sometimes this is easy, sometimes if is difficult.  Passages with Jacob alway present a challenge, how do you classify a very questionable person? A man who acts in ways that would, at best, be classified as ‘shady.’  

The basic context of our passage for this week is that Jacob is on the run, primarily from his brother Esau who has every reason to seek revenge on this brother who has now treated him in a very unbrotherly manner, Jacob has stolen Esau’s birthright and the blessing he was to receive from his dying father.

This passage begins as Jacob is on the tun and on his way to Haran, which is the city Abraham was living in when God called him to move, so, there are bound to be relatives there that will welcome him in, and, hopefully shelter him for as long as he needs to stay away from home, for as long as it takes to stay hidden and from his brother Esau.

Isaiah 44:6-8

To give us reference, Isaiah 44 takes place 84 years before the prophet Jeremiah begins his similar prophetic ministry, and, roughly 125 years before Judah and Jerusalem are conquered with most of the remaining Israelites taken to Babylon to be slaves.  This means that, at this time as Isaiah is warning the people to return to God, there will still be over a century before his prophecies will take place.  You can imagine the fatigue of the people continually hearing his doomsday message while life just keeps going on as usual. You can also image the frustration and questions of Isaiah, as he continues to preach a message that can not be envisioned by anyone because there is nothing they can see in reality to even begin to back up the proclamations being made by Isaiah.  There as surely a great amount of belittling of Isaiah from the people, it was a brutal time to be a prophet..…as it usually was.

Beginning in chapter 40, until the end of the book, Isaiah turns his focus to two things:

  1. The coming catastrophe that will take place when they are conquered.
  2. The restoration of the Hebrews that will ultimately take place decades after the exile and slavery.

It is a message of pain and promise, despair and hope. It is a message of hope, and a call to hold onto that hope.

In this short section we are looking at this week, God is identifying himself uniquely with the Israelites and, at the same time, identifying himself as the only, true, God.

Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.

Isaiah 44:7

Even though it is past our assigned reading, it is worth the time to go to the end of the chapter, verse 28, where Isaiah says:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please;he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

Isaiah 44:28

This is a prophesy voiced by Isaiah almost two centuries before the Persian King Cyrus, would actually conquer Babylon – long before Cyrus would be made King, and an even longer time before he would be born. When Cyrus conquered the Babylonians, it was the pivotal moment in the release of the Israelites allowing them to return home….as well as the help, given by King Cyrus, to support the rebuilding of Judah, Jerusalem, the wall, and even the temple.

Romans 8:12-25 

In our readings in the Paul’s letter to the churches at Rome, a great deal of his writings have dealt with the tension of sin and the law. ‘Sin works in us bearing fruit that is death’ he explains.  As we began reading chapter 8 last week, we saw Paul’s tone change from one of doom and gloom to an attitude of hope and affirmation.

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death.’

Romans 8:1-2

In verses 12-25 there are two things to be aware of as you read:

  1. When Paul uses the word ‘Flesh’ here, he is speaking to something far greater than just the actions of a person, he uses this word as a reference to the power of the total impact of all of flesh throughout the world.  He is speaking to the manner in which evil has taken the creation by God which was good and the flesh has made it bad.  That is the evil he calls us to be freed from.
  2. The second is Paul’s use of the term ‘suffering.’ While this is a reference to a sharing in the physical sufferings of Jesus, that we, followers of Christ will experience, it actually means much more.  This suffering has more to do with our understanding of how things were meant to be in God’s perfect creation and the waiting on that to be the case again, while we live a a world that has perverted and damaged God’s perfection, and now has the power that inflicts and hurts all of humanity. This fact may have already been on the mind of Christ when he instructed that we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’

It is, in a very lesser sense, this longing could be compared to taking a trip to the  mountains of Colorado. You cannot wait to get there, where the air is cool and crisp, hiking allows you to see sights foreign to your Oklahoma home, and, while there, you will not be melting in the humidity.  You finally leave Kansas on I-70 West crossing the state line into Colorado – you know that you are so very close.  Shortly after you pass Limon, CO, you begin to see the shapes and shadows of the mountains.  You crane your neck and head, you squint your eyes, it feels like you are there, but you are not, the waiting is now excruciating. You suffer until you finally step out of the vehicle and –  you are there.

This is a large portion of what Paul is talking about when he refers to suffering.  We know how life is meant to be, we can see it, but it is still hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries away, probably even longer than we will live.  Although knowing what is right, and close, can cause the living in the now imperfect world unbearable, knowing how things are meant to be frees us know the power we have to resist and to not be crushed by this imperfect world.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13:14-30, 36-43 is the quintessential Matthew parable. It has anxiety, counterfeits, a call to wait, and a comment on judgement.

Pastor Matt Skinner

Known as the parable of the weeds and wheat takes place with the same context as our sower parable from last week.  The eight parable that are included in chapter 13 all come on the heals of Jesus sending our his disciples on a mission of mercy, a confrontation of Jesus generation for failing to seek and search for truth, and, it is a time where there is deep, deep, division among the Israelites, the Jews.

Polarization is a context that we, in the United States as well as being a part of the church in America, understand. We live in a very divisive time politically, religious, socially, economically, and academically.

Polarization usually comes because certain people will align themself with a political philosophy, a faith practice, as well as many other alignments, that lead to an inability to cooperate with, live among, it divides us.  For followers of Christ, times of polarization is particularly damaging as the first and second greatest commandments are impossible.  You cannot love God and despise those he created, and loving others that wear certain labels are completely off your radar.

The parable of the weeds and wheat is possibly one of the most applicable to our current situation and environments.

07.06.20 – 07.12.20

Readings

Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 55:10-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 11:16-30; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Context

Psalm 119:105-112

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm, it is the longest chapter in the Old and New Testament, and, as you would expect, it has the most verses and words. The 176 verses are divided into 22 sections.  In the original Hebrew, each chapter is assigned a letter forming an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet (this is not visible in our English versions). Psalm 119 also has two of the more recognizable verses in the entire Bible  – ‘Happy are those whose way is blameless,’ (v. 1), and ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,’ (v. 105).

The entire chapter is a proclamation of a life lived on the foundation of God’s truth. The Psalmist is not just applying God’s truth to the ‘churchy’ aspects of life, but to our entire life.

If you have time read the entire chapter, let the resolute nature of the Psalmist words sink in – ask yourself ‘Have I have freed truth to touch every area of my life?’

Also, this Psalm begins the thread that will string through all of our verses for this week. And, one more ‘also’, the message title this week is, ‘Deeply Rooted’ –  consider that title as you read through the passages.

Isaiah 55:10-13

As is the case with the prophets, their messages are usually multi-layered – meaning that it would have been appropriately interpreted by the listeners to be a prophesy that would be fulfilled in their lifetime, but there was also a much larger vision prophesy that would be fulfilled long after their lifetime.  Isaiah, as is true of most the other of the Old Testament prophets, their longer term prophesies would also be multi-layered foretelling the coming Messiah as well as the subsequent second coming of the Messiah (Jesus).  

We have spoken much of the prophetic mission of Isaiah, he warned the people of the coming devastation of their land, the destruction of their capital city of Jerusalem, their natural and man made resources,  their temple, and every aspect of their lives. This would take place through their own ‘turning away from God as well as the Babylonian conquest, exile to slavery, dissolution of their nation, and the end of life as they knew it.  They did not listen to Isaiah, just as they did not listen to Jeremiah, and they continued to ‘go their own way’, to ‘go astray’.

Our Isaiah passage today is a moment of hope as Isaiah prepares the people, after almost seven decades in exile, for their return home.  Isaiah uses the imagery of precipitation on the land and the positive growth that comes from that water.  He also uses the various aspects of nature, God’s creation, to paint the exiles a picture of their coming deliverance.  The picture is one of celebration, not just of the people, but a jubilant exaltation of God by humans and nature – all of God’s creation.

As you read this small passage take a moment to contemplate the significance of the words used in verse 11 – this catalyst of this celebration will be a return to, and of, God’s truth, his word. Also, do the same with verse 13, which gives the fruit that comes from God’s word as opposed to the fruit of living life our own way, on our own terms apart from God.

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul (Romans 8:1)

This is a remarkable tone change for the apostle Paul in his letter to the churches at Rome.  

Chapter 8 of Romans, marks Paul’s emergence from the ‘Shadowlands of the gospel –  where he has detailed ‘the darkness into which the light of the Gospel has shone and the challenge that that light has to stay bright.’

Professor L. Ann Jervis, Professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, Toronto

It is here, on the periphery of the shadows, that Paul proclaims what he has said before, but now, after the darkness of addressing sin and the Law, there is now a greater confidence in his voice.

‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’

Paul (Romans 8:2)

As he speaks in this passage of the Law, Paul has now enlarged his focus.  The law is no longer just the covenantal agreement between God and the Israelites, but now the law also touches on their (our) entire reality.  What is right and wrong, what is truth and what are lies?  Paul does not attempt to mislead the believers into thinking that their sin problem is behind them.  He reminds them that, in their reality, they will still have the issue of sin, but that the key is to remember how they live, not for the flesh but for the Spirit.  They live because Christ died their death.  He is their (our) resurrection.

Matthew 11:16-30

We read this passage last week, however, since it fits perfectly with our readings for this week, I have added it back in. I am repeating the primer from last week.

In the prior chapter, Matthew 10, we witnessed Jesus send the apostles out, but with a caution about most of the people they will engage.  They were going out on a compassionate mission to heal, cure, and release – and the were warned that there was going to be outrage and confrontation from those that are being helped.  Then, as we turn to chapter 11, Jesus is asked the question, by John the Baptist, asking for confirmation that Jesus is the coming Messiah.  Jesus responds by bemoaning the mistreatment that has been given to John while affirming that John, was the messenger sent to prepare the people for Jesus, the Messiah.

Then, after Jesus has been critical of the powers that be, he begins to call out his entire generation.  He accuses them of having truth right in front of them, yet, refusing to listen or accept.  In a fashion reminiscent of the response of the Israelites to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus confronts this generation for listening to only that which they want to hear.  

’John came neither eating nor drinking, and yet, about John, they said ,He has a demon’; and that Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus (Matthew 11:18-19

Jesus is confronting their identity, what they value, and, how they are determining what is true. The truth is that they their identity is dependent on the moment, their value is zero even though their presentation is of arrogance, and that, actually, they are not trying to find out what is true, they are very comfortable with the philosophy that anything that goes along with their own agendas politically and religiously, is what they accept as truth.

Jesus calls them to himself.  He confirms that his identity is in God and truth is easier way to follow; a truth that trusting God actually frees us.

Consider how you might see and interpret this passage, in this time of Sickness, Turmoil, and the approaching Elections,  differently than you would have last January.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Our Matthew 13 passage is two select sections of this chapter.  You may wonder why we have skipped a section of this story – the reason is that this chapter can be very frustrating and aggravating.  This is a very easy chapter to come away with a very confused image of Jesus.

For instance, the disciples ask Jesus why he keeps speaking to the people in confusing parables.  This chapter is basically one parable after another. Jesus responds by saying:

“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

Jesus (Matthew 13:11-15

Now, go back and read these five verses again, but with the knowledge that when Jesus, or Isaiah, is talking about people not receiving, not seeing, not hearing, not understanding – the statement is that they are doing this by choice.  For many, they have been rejecting truth for so long that they are now callous, they are close to being unable to receive, see, hear, understand, again, this is by their own choice.  Remember Jesus’ confrontation of the people in our other Matthew passage –  Jesus called out an entire generation who refused to receive, see, hear, and understand truth.

Secondly, Jesus is going after the ‘evil people’ with a great veracity.  This could seem like a contradiction of Paul’s letter to the Romans about grace, except when we read what came before this Matthew chapter.  In chapter 12, we see Jesus attacked by the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath and then when he frees a demon possessed man, they say that Jesus is from Satan.  The ‘evil’ that Jesus is addressing is those who pretend to be faithful followers of God but in reality they are not – they are in collusion with the politicians and together they are abusive to the people. The people trust them because of their position but in the end, Jesus says they are weeds that will need to be pulled at harvest (see Matthew 13:24-30).

In our select verses for today we see the story of the seeds that are sown, some in good soil and some in bad and not so good soil.  As you read consider what you are – Are you the sower or the soil…or are you both.  Also, as you read and think about the soil, think back to the mission Jesus sent the apostles out on to free the oppressed, heal the sick, cure diseases, and, while you have been there, tell the people that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  Can you find a relationship of the apostles mission and the soil in this story?

06.28.20 – 07.05.20

Readings

Psalm 145:8-15  •  Zechariah 9:9-12  •  Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67  •  Matthew 11:16-30  •  Romans 7:15-20

Context

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Our Genesis passage takes place after the story of God’s call to sacrifice Isaac (in case you have forgotten it was a faith ‘infinite resignation’ moment for Abraham and a miraculous/dramatic rescue for Isaac), and, this passage comes after the death and burial of Sarah, Isaac’s mother.  It could be said that this chapter is all about God keeping his promise to Sarah, a son, and descendants promised and coming after her. 

As we enter this phase of life, we have a father and a son – it is a story of about moving forward, moving on (following this story, Abraham marries again, has several more children and then dies). 

It is also a story of fact that God sustains his people.  The Jews are still around over 4,000 years later, Christianity is still around over 2,000 years later – God has not forgotten, and, full disclosure, the descendants of Ishmael, who also received a promise, are still around.  God has not forgotten or forsaken.

To understand this story of Isaac gaining a wife, which is the subject of this passage, you need to read the entire chapter (Genesis 24). 

As you read notice that the entire wife choice is not Isaac’s, it is the decision of his dad’s servant, with the boundaries set by Abraham.  Actually, of the two betrothed, Rebecca ultimately has the greatest input in making the decision.

Psalm 145:8-15

Psalm 145 is a Psalm of praise.  Probably written by David remembering the miracle of the exiled Hebrews being freed from slavery and and heading towards the Promise of God.  Although this moment of freedom set them in an unknown category, what were freedom going to look like, how were they going to survive? Eventually they made it to the promised land, they were changed, it was a new generation.  This was a moment that came on the heels of Moses encountering God on the mountain side and now God is being proclaimed to all peoples.  

It is about recognizing God, his great works, his mercy, his power, his love, and his name.  He is God. It, in itself, comes after the return to home and their long-awaited return to God.  It is a very raw and sincere act of worship and praise.

Psalm 145 is a song of praise about a people who have recognized, and turned back to God.  It is a acclamation of God’s patience, grace, and mercy.  It is a proclamation that God of the nature and character of God as well of the truth that he is the eternal King.

Zechariah 9:9-12

The writings of Zechariah take place following the destruction of the temple.  People are in despair, and most have been taken into slavery.  Zechariah spends the first section of his writings reminding them of all that their nation, and the city of Jerusalem, was.  In this passage Zechariah is assuring the people that the glory of God will return and, at that time, God will put a stop to war, ‘he will cut off war.’  They will transition from being slaves in the desert to being slaves of hope.

Matthew 11:16-30

In the prior chapter, Matthew 10, we witnessed Jesus send the apostles out, but with a caution by most of the people they go to.  They were going out on a compassionate mission to heal, cure, and release – and that there was going to be outrage and confrontation from those that are being helped.  Then, as we turn to chapter 11, Jesus is asked the question, by John the Baptist, asking for confirmation that Jesus is the coming Messiah.  Jesus responds by bemoaning the mistreatment that has given to John the Baptist and affirming that John, was the messenger sent to prepare the people for Jesus.

Then, after he has been critical of the powers that be, he begins to call out his entire generation.  He accuses them of having truth right in front of them, yet, refusing to listen or accept.  In a fashion reminiscent of the response of the Israelites to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus confronts this generation for listening to only that which they want to hear.  

‘John came neither eating nor drinking, and yet, about John, they said ,He has a demon’; and that Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus

Jesus is confronting their identity, what they value, and, how they are determining what is true. The truth is that they their identity is dependent on the moment, their value is zero even though their presentation is of arrogance, and that, actually, they are not trying to find out what is true, they are very comfortable with the philosophy that anything that goes along with their own agendas politically and religiously, is what they accept as truth.

Jesus calls them to himself.  He confirms that his identity is in God and that it is the easier way to follow;  a truth that trusting God actually frees us.

Consider how you might see and interpret this passage in this time of Sickness, Turmoil, and the approaching Elections – differently than you would have last January.

Romans 7:15-20

Paul continues his writing to the churches in Rome and continues his focus on sin.  As we have seen, Paul sees sin with such a broader picture than just to say this is sinful, or that is a sin – Paul is talking much deeper, when sin takes hold, long before we every act.

Our Romans passage for this weeks follows these two verses:

Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.

Romans 7:13-14

As we go into this passage, where the impact of sin becomes very personal for the believer, we have learned that sin enslaves us. We also see that, even though we know this truth about sin, it is still a struggle for us to not sin.  We still turn away from God, we still hold on to sin, we still quickly and easily hand ourselves over to this enslavement.  Is it the dichotomy of being human.  We do what we do not want to do.

06.22.20 – 06.28.20

Readings

Psalm 13  •  Genesis 22:1-14  •  Jeremiah 28:5-9  •  Romans 6:12-23  •  Matthew 10:40-42

Context

Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is most likely words from King David to ‘the Song Leader’.  Some think  this ‘Song Leader’ is a direct reference to God, most, however, think he is directing his actual ‘Song Leader’ to write, or sing, a song with these words.  These words are David’s very honest and real words/emotions regarding his desperation at that moment. A is very human moment which is, most likely, very relatable to us all.  David is speaking out of desperation where it feels like God is absent and darkness has invaded his life. He describes himself as being ‘shaken’ and an easy target for his enemies.  Within a breath, however, David describes his method of handling times such as this – he takes a moment to remember all that God has done for him. David completes this reflection of his own dismal state by deciding that he will ‘sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.’

Matthew 10:40-42

Our context for this passage is simple, the words of this passage are not so simple.  The context is everything we have seen for the past two weeks in Matthew 9:35-10:40 (up to these three verses that conclude chapter 10).

  1. Jesus is deeply concerned about the state of life, and living, among the people he has ministered to.
  2. His concern prompts him to the action of sending his disciples out to help these people.  Help – free them from oppression, heal sickness, cure disease, comfort through compassion and love.  After, or as, they do this they are also to share that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is near.
  3. This journey for the disciples, now called apostles, will be difficult, painful, humiliating, and dangerous.

Our passage for this week closes out Jesus’ ‘sending out’ talk to his disciples. You can also envision, after he has finished speaking, Jesus gathering up the apostles in a huddle with arms around each other, saying an ‘I love you guys’ and then shouting ‘One, Two, Three, GO!’, followed by an enthusiastic yell of all the men with arms in the air then, turning away heading off excitedly to their calling.

While this may have been what happened, it is more likely that as Jesus finished speaking, they hesitantly arose, looked cautiously at each other and walked away, toward their journey, with fear and trepidation. 

There are a few words/phrases in this short passage to be ready for:

  1. ‘Welcome’ – this passage is often used in reference to immigrants, and that is not a false usage, but it does call for a deeper understanding of this word.  It is a challenge to our casual use of the word ‘Welcome’. This welcome comes on the heels of his warning about all the rejection they will encounter.  ‘Welcome’ in this context become much larger than a quick warm word and handshake.  This welcome is a message of life and safety, it is a message of hope and acceptance.  Such a greeting will come at a moment of great vulnerability and fear, at a time when the expected message will be rejection and hostility. This form of the word ‘welcome’ is only found in one other place in the new testament, in chapter 18 where the meaning is the same.  It is an important and deep use of the world ‘welcome’.  One question to ponder – with an understanding of the depth of the word ‘welcome’, along with our current environment of pandemic and distancing, plus protests, how has your view of this greeting changed? 
  2. In the name of…’ Although this is the best interpretation that the greek can offer, this is still a strange greeting.  The explanation requires a bit of deep thinking as well.  Jesus is specifically saying that the welcome that they are to receive is a very definite welcome, they are being welcomed because they are a prophet, and welcomed to be a prophet; they are welcomed because they are righteous and welcomed to be righteous. Their message of life and transformation is recognized as risky but hoped for.  The third greeting, word/phrases, ‘give a cold drink’ and ‘little one’ and may be turning it around and speaking about the mission of the disciples themselves – that they are the givers who will be rewarded (or it may still be speaking about those seekers that they are welcomed by).

As you read this, do not speed through it due to the shortness of the passage, take a moment and read it again.  Put yourself on both sides of the story, the welcomer as well as the welcomed.  Imagine how these three verses play out in the midst of Jesus call to you, his call to compassion, empathy, peace, and love. Consider this in the midst of our call to act.

Jeremiah 28:5-9

Our Jeremiah passage comes from a much larger, and significant story.  If you have the time, read chapters 27 and 28 for a full context.  We have spoken of this time period many times before in the past twelve months about these prophesies leading up to the invasion by Babylon. Jeremiah, along with the prophet Isaiah, and other prophets, have been called by God to warn the people who have turned away from God as their religion has become heartless. The people have consistently refused the warning of the true prophets of God and, instead, have chosen to listen to, believe and follow the words of false prophets. These false prophets have been named to be ‘prophets’ by the politicians and religious officials.  These false prophets are proclaiming very rosy and pleasant views of the future and therefore the people are remaining content and satisfied with the religious and political officials.

This passage comes in the middle of a confrontation between God’s prophet Jeremiah and the false prophet Hananiah. The time period is shortly before Judah is conquered by the Babylonians, a time when the people are past the ability to avoid this fate. Jeremiah has been sent to the leaders wearing an oxen yoke that symbolizes the burden that is about to be placed on the people as they are conquered and exiled to slavery. God’s message, given through Jeremiah, is that God has already Judah and Jerusalem to Babylon and that they will now come and take the people away.  God’s instruction is that they are to accept the yoke and serve Babylon rather than die – resistance is futile and will result in death. It is doubtful that God could have given Jeremiah anything more miserable to say (remember our Jeremiah passage last week when the prophet was ‘chewing out God’ for making his be so hated).  However, it is actually a message of life – to surrender and wear the symbolic yoke, is the only way they will live and, in the eventual end, to return to their land and to God.

As Jeremiah finishes speaking before the leaders, the false prophet, Hananiah, disputes Jeremiah’s message from God. Hananiah says that they are to resist the Babylonians and that, in the end, Judah will be victorious. Hananiah even physically breaks the yoke which Jeremiah has brought in a very dramatic fashion to emphasize his point.

Jeremiah’s response should probably be read in a sarcastic tone, he is mocking Hananiah and the false message of Hananiah.  Within a month, Hananiah is dead and the Bablyonian troops are on the doorstep. 

Interestingly, after chapter 28, the message of God, through Jeremiah, turns to words of hope given to the now exiled and enslaved Israelites.

Genesis 22:1-14

This passage is an enormous dread by most preachers.  I will be using this text for the message this Sunday, and even now, as I am in study today, I am beginning to question my own wisdom in this choice.

Let’s begin with the basic context.  Abraham was called to take his wife, nephew, servants, and belongings, and leave his, most likely, idol worshipping family of origin and go to an undisclosed land.  He is repeatedly promised, by God, to have a son, to have a land, to father a nation, and to be a blessing on all peoples.  Sarai/Sarah is old and barren when this story begins so the idea of any children, not to mention many descendants, is a ridiculous thought.  Abraham is faithful to God except for when he isn’t.  He has a very human on/off faith. Eventually, he has a son by the maidservant of his wife and then Sarah actually gives birth to a son. This creates drama within the household and the life of Abraham.  Ishmael, the son by the maidservant, is ultimately sent away with his mother and Isaac is left as the only son of Sarah and Abraham.

Also, in context, it is important that many, if not all, nations around practice child sacrifice to ‘appease’ the gods.

Now, in this passage, we find the odd request from God to Abraham, that he make Isaac a sacrifice.  This is not a metaphorical act, God is calling on Abraham to kill his ‘only’ son who he dearly loves.

If we are honest, in reading and considering this story, we will ask the question – ‘Is this the revelation that God is a monstrous God who is challenging Abraham to a brutal game of chicken?!’

In addition to this we have the question of Isaac’s age at this time. How old was the boy who helped carry to wood for his own death? 

Make the reading of this passage a bit more challenging by reading two or three times, each time thinking of Isaac being a different age (young child, adolescent, grown teenager).

Romans 6:12-23

In our passage Romans passage, Paul continues on the topic of sin. He, himself, says that he is using terminology that we humans can understand because the truth about sin is so very difficult to explain and grasp. This is probably the reason that we, as humans, have attempted to simplify and maybe even diminish the concept of ‘sin’.  We are prone to define ‘sin’ simply as an action, a ‘bad’ action.  We usually have our own list of sins which we have allowed ourselves to become comfortable with, in as far as they are existent in our own life – or we have become comfortable with the uncomfortable nature of those sins being a part of our choices. Plus, we have our list of sins that we are very quick to judgmentally define, and condemn, in the lives of others.  Often all three of these lists overlap.  We have made sin, something that you do that you should not be doing.

Paul’s teaching on sin is much more complex and intricate.  Paul sees sin as an act of voluntary enslavement.  Sin enslaves and holds us while withholding our ability to live in freedom and peace.  Sin is the presenting symptom of a life not obediently trusting God, a life not experiencing freedom, light, peace, hope, and love.  It is a willful choice to live separately and apart from God.

Paul’s message point here is to move us from the reign of Adam to the reign of Christ, the reign of sin to the reign of grace – from being a slave to the things that enslave us (sin, fear, chaos, hatred), instead, to the things of freedom which (oddly) are the willful choice to be a ‘slave’ to Jesus (peace, love, hope). 

There is a good chance that you have sat through a teaching, or sermon, on this passage – it is probable that you will begin reading, with half attention, because of your past hearing from, and understanding of, this teaching.  This time, take a moment, as you read, to let yourself look at it fresh as if it is the first time you have read it – as you read, ask yourself, how does this change my own condemnation of others; and how does this alter my own view of my relationship with God?  

06.15.20 – 06.21.20

Readings

Genesis 21:8-21  •  Jeremiah 20:7-13  •  Psalm 69:7-18  •  Romans 6:1b-11  •  Matthew 10:24-39

Context

Matthew 10:24-39

First, let me proclaim that this is an odd and frustrating passage.  At first read (probably at second, third, and fourth read) this can seem like a very disjointed, and completely unconnected series of comments and statements.  Context is essential in reading, and comprehending, this passage. 

Don’t let the oddness, or strangeness, of this passage cause you to quickly dismiss it – it is a good, probably great, passage that is not only extremely applicable to all aspects of our life/faith, it is especially pertinent to our current circumstances and situation.

First, if you have been following the passage primer for the last couple of weeks, especially last week, you are aware of the context. In particular, if you caught the message this past Sunday (‘Being Loud’, 06.14.20) you are ready,  just start there.  If you were not able to catch that message you may watch, or even read, click here.

Before you read, take a moment, prior to reading this passage, to consider what we found in the Matthew 9:35-10:24.  Remember the shocking experience of Jesus as he was confronted by the pain and suffering of the human experience. Let that moment, in the life of Christ, be your starting point as you read this passage.

Matthew, in writing this gospel, does not attempt to sugarcoat or soften the reality of pain and suffering.  He is very upfront about warning of the difficulties that will likely take place when you make a decision to live ‘out loud,’ to let your life show what you stand on and stand for.

This primer will not seek to explain or interpret this passage from Matthew, we will be looking particularly at this this Sunday.  Still, with the context you know, read this passage, consider and contemplate why Matthew is sharing this and how it applies to Jesus experience with hurting people.

Genesis 21:8-21

Sarah is possibly the poster child for Fear and Insecurity.  She was abandoned by her husband, in a strange land, twice, as he sought to protect his own life.  She gave her husband to another woman when she leaned into her fears and accepted the paranoia that Abraham would abandon her yet again if she did not bear him a son.  In our passage for this week, Sarah’s plan was successful, however, so too has God’s promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son.  Now there are two sons, and two women, and a countless array of new reasons for Sarah to be paranoid and fearful – a virtual crescendo of insecurity.

When we are consumed by insecurities, doubts, and fear – this baggage cannot help but negatively influence our thoughts, decisions, and reactions.

Actually, it we are going to be honest, Sarah came into this story carrying the baggage of every woman up to this moment in history.  Think about this, since Eve, in the garden, there has been no other female noted for anything except childbearing.  We even have documentation of the bedroom timeline when son producing women, who came after Eve and before Sarah, fulfilled their obligation to procreate. So, Sarah enters this moment in history on the shoulders of the forbidden fruit eating Eve, the only can reproduce, usually named, women in between, and now her….the woman who is to be the mother of many descendants, a ancestor of many nations, and a blessings to all the people of the earth.  On top of all that baggage, now she is responsible for this new threat of another woman and a priority heir, that would be blessed over her own son, Isaac. 

The truth is that Sarah, in insisting that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, is proclaiming that their these two humans have no value.  The reality is that in sending them away, she is sending them to their death.  It takes a lot of baggage and pain to see another human being as being of no worth or value. Such is the danger in resentment and suffering where are self-preservation mindset leads us to fail to see the value and dignity of others.

It is easy to judge Sarah, and even to condemn her demands that Hagar and Isaac be sent away – until you are able to put your feet into her shoes.  This may be the reason that God is consistently patient with Sarah.  When she denies, in a response to God, laughing about having a son at her age, that she laughed – God still gives her a son.  Now, when she is abusive to Hagar and Ishmael, God does not correct her, he comforts her.  At the same time, God continues to work and comfort Hagar and Ishmael as well.

It is possible, that the story of this baggage carrying woman, is a lesson for us all about our own failures in humanity as well as an insight into God’s consistent/persistent love motivated faithful relationship with humanity.

One more thing to think on……The promise to Abraham was that he would be a ‘blessing’ to all the nations of the world.  Now we have this son, Ishmael, who was not born according to the promise, his birth was the result of Sarah and Abraham’s lack of trust and patience.  However, as Hagar is sent way, along with her son Ishmael, we hear God promise blessing on/to Ishmael and all of his descendants.  God is fulfilling his promise to all nations even as it would see his original plan was hijacked momentarily along the way, but sinful humans.

One other thing to ponder – the name Ishmael means ‘God will hear’, and/or ‘God heard, now look back at Genesis 21:16-17.

No one is forgotten.

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah carries on the thread we see in our readings for this week – the thread of pain and misery, baggage and exhaustion, insecurity and fear.

A basic summary reading of this passage is that the prophet Jeremiah is giving God a ‘good old chewing out.’  The basic context, for Jeremiah’s life up to this point, is forty plus years of proclaiming God’s message and, in return receiving nothing but rejection, ridicule, and retaliation – and this is from those he considers friends.  The reason for this misery, according to Jeremiah, is the fact that God has only given him messages of doom and gloom.

Remember from our many looks at Jeremiah over the past twelve months, this is the prophet that spent the entirety of his life warning the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem of the need to return to God.  In return, the people rejected his message and listened, instead, to the false prophets of the politicians and religious leaders.  Jeremiah was rejected, scorned, and even arrested as he relayed the message from God to the people.

What makes his outrage at God even more more interesting is the words and images that he uses to describe complaints.  Jeremiah describes God has having ‘seduced’ him into being a prophet – that he manipulated him in the same manner a man seduces a woman sexually.  In addition to this he refers to God as having been a foe throughout Jeremiah’s life of being a prophet.  The manner in which Jeremiah confronts is gutsy, and many would consider risky, but it also is the thoughts of many when life does not go how we think it should.

In the end, Jeremiah, has changed his thought process.  He remembers that God is always with him and faithfully along side of him.  In the midst of his honest outrage he begins to see clearly and returns to take another ‘miserable’ message to the people. He also notes that there is a burning within him to give God’s message to all that is even deeper than his soul – his proclamation could actually be described a burning that went down to the soles of his feet.

Psalm 69

British pastor Charles H. Spurgeon, who is often called the Prince of Preachers, looked at Psalm 69 from two different perspectives.  He saw two different perspective of the passage to be presented to one audience where all would apply both equally.  One approach was to look at the lament on personal pain as being a very real identifier of all people, everyone has moments in life where we feel this pain.  The other perspective is of the one who has caused this pain to another.  Where as one approach will gain a quick ‘me too’ reply and the other a defensive ‘I’ve never!’ response. 

Although Psalm 69 is attributed to King David, the words could easily have penned by Jeremiah or even to Sarah.

Romans 6:1b-11

‘Participation with Christ’ is a theme, or heart, of the apostle Pauls’ message to the new testament church.  It could be due to the face that he had such a dramatic conversion which, when picked apart, was the natural outcome of a sincere and passionate seeker.  Paul, undoubtedly, could look at his entire life and see how God had guided him all the way to his realization, and acceptance, of the person and work of Jesus. His perspective, therefore, was that the work of God in our life is a constant act of participation with God in our life. We constantly face the choice to follow Jesus, or to go our own way.

It is no surprise, then, that this participatory philosophy leads Paul to see our relationship with Jesus as being an ‘all in’ choice.  If we are a part of the life and resurrection of Christ we also share in his death.  

In this passage, as in his other writings, Paul see sin as being an ‘all in’ as well.  He compares sin to enslavement where the acts of sin, and the turning from God, becomes our master.  This enslavement keeps us from sharing in the life and resurrection of Christ.  So, a sharing in the death of Jesus is essential in order that we, can die to the sinful ways of life, we can turn away from the sin and back to God.

The participatory aspect, in regard to sharing in the life and resurrection with Jesus, is that as more and more live out a life that has died to sin, we are able to more and more understand the truth of resurrection and life.  We can only live for sin or Christ, our journey has to be in one of these two direction (serving only one of these two masters).

06.08.20 – 06.14.20

Readings

Psalm 100 • Exodus 19:2-8 • Matthew 9:35-10:25 • Romans 5:1-8

Context

Psalm 100

Psalm 100 is a familiar text regardless of the type of Christian faith tradition you may come from.  All practices of the Christian faith, as seen throughout different denominations, various worship practices, and even in churches that carry labels (self assigned or given to them) that lead them toward or away from each other (conservative, liberal, fundamental, progressive, etc), they do, however, all in some form look to this Psalm as a template of what it means to worship and praise God.  This is a ‘loud’ Psalm that leads the believer to proclaim God in a very personal, yet public, manner.

It is also a revelation of unity in the midst of separation. In the times that the Psalmist wrote this Psalm, the faith community had their divisions in the same way that the church does now, thousands of years later.  Currently, the church (communities of Christian faith worldwide as well as in our communities) are possibly more fractured, and often more hostile towards each other, than every before.

As you read and reflect on this Psalm note two things that are very revealing and pertinent.  First, the word ‘Know’ found in verse three. It is possible to read this English word used in this passage and interpret it is a very passive act of ‘knowing’ something.  This understanding greatly minimizes the immense call that this ‘Know’ actually is referring to.  The Hebrew word, intentionally used here by the Psalmist, is the same intentional word used in several other passages (including Genesis 4:1 and I Kings 1:4) to describe the intimacy of the sexual act of intercourse.  It is a very purposeful which requires the parties involved to be totally connected, and fully vulnerable.  While the aim of this Psalmist is not to compare the act of sexual intercourse with praising and worshipping God, it is meant to take us to a fully engaged and driven relationship with God and each other.  Secondly, this word ‘Know’ is a very purposefully chosen activity.  Praising God, worshipping God, is not a go through the motions activity, it is done with full intent and passion – not an emotional response or even an outward position such as raising your hands.  The ‘loudness’ is not a call to actually be verbally loud, although that may be the way the Spirit sometimes leads, the Psalm is calling us to a very sincere form of worship in all of our life, a ‘loud and loving’ life through which the world can see our praise in the intentional way we live, how we strive for all to be treated with justice, how we exhibit kindness and mercy through all our interactions and engagements.

Exodus 19:2-8

‘maximally responsive’

Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim’s description of the relationship between God and humans, as depicted in Exodus 19:2-8. It is the same call that the Psalmist writes about in our Psalm 100 reading this week. It is a call of a full and intimate following and obedience.

The Israelites, after their miraculous rescue from slavery and then the difficult time in the wilderness – a time when God met every need of the people, are now at Mount Sinai where they will soon receive the law, the ‘how to live’ instructions and covenant.  Everything in the book of Exodus up to this point has brought the people to this moment, to this time of commitment.  This short passage reveals a very essential moment in the life of the Israelites – an ‘are you ready for this, really ready for this?’ moment.  God is requiring that the people are for certain they want to fully follow God, to completely trust God, to obey God.  It is in this moment that they accept, not only the honor of being a ‘treasured people’, but even more, it is the moment they accept the full weight of this commitment, the full acceptance of this covenant, a covenant with God.

One thing to notice, God’s call in this Exodus passage is a call to commit to following God, it is not based on anything they have done, or even on their actions and belief up to this point. It is a commitment to follow based solely on God’s commitment to them throughout their journey.  It is call to individual, and corporate, acceptance of their responsibility to follow.  In the our Romans passage for this week (this is the fourth reading which is covered later in this primer) we see Paul make a statement that compares to this call made in Exodus.  Paul tells the Christ followers that the commitment and sacrifice made of Christ for them was made before they had committed to God.  The death of Christ came while the people were still in disobedience, before they truly made a commitment to follow God.  God’s actions and faithfulness always come before we choose to follow him.

Matthew 9:35-10:25

As a student at an ‘Agricultural/Mechanical’ State University, topics such as Philosophy/Religion were confined to one of the older, less maintained, buildings on campus. So, as a student at such an institution I was always surprised to find religious themed class offerings.  I was first introduced to the writings, and life, of C.S. Lewis in an English class and I fulfilled a Humanities credit by taking a class focused entirely on comparing the four different gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

While realizing that the four gospels do not always follow a strict and standard detailed account of the life of Jesus, sometimes the sameness/differences  can give us a front row seat of, and to, the particular writers.  Seeing these differences permits us to better understand the unique ways these four followers experienced their own personal, face to face, journey with ‘God in the flesh.’  For instance, the story of the wedding at Cana (water into wine), the Samaritan woman story, and the resurrection of Lazarus account is only told in the gospel of John; the story of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is not in John but is in the other three gospels;  the Beatitudes is only found in gospels of Matthew and Luke (although some claim that these are actually two different moments); however, the account of Peter cutting off the ear of the guard who came to arrest Jesus is documented in all four gospel narratives – all four writer are all males and males always have a little bit of middler school boy remaining, regardless of their age. These omissions and submissions in these four accounts of the life of Jesus can be frustrating but, even more, they can be enlightening.

For our particular context, let’s begin with an account of Matthew’s description of his experience with Jesus that precedes our passage for this week.

  • Chapter three – John the Baptist proclaims that everyone needs to prepare for the coming Messiah, Jesus is Baptized by John, God’s voice is heard proclaiming that Jesus is his son and that he, God, is pleased that Jesus has, as proclaimed through the baptism, sacrificially accepted his mission from God.
  • Chapter four – Jesus fasts for forty days leaving him famished and weak, then he is severely tempted and tested directly by Satan; Jesus returns to Galilee (home) as he hears of John’s arrest and imminent doom; Jesus takes up John’s message that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven is near’ (as prophesied in Isaiah 9); Jesus calls first four disciples; great crowds descend on Jesus as he proclaims Kingdom, he heals the sick and cures disease.
  • Chapter five-seven – Jesus preaches the radical Beatitudes.
  • Chapter eight – Jesus teaches about the ‘almost believers’; Jesus’ miracles add casting out demons to the healings;  Jesus teaches his disciples about fear and peace.
  • Chapter nine (through verse 34) – Jesus teaches about the ‘new’ of his mission and teaching; he continues to heal, plus, something new, Jesus brings a girl from death back to life; 

As we arrive at our gospel passage for this week we are struck by the description of how Jesus felt upon seeing the needs of the people that came to him for help.  Look, and consider, the different chosen wordings used in a few of the more popular versions of the Bible (consider the fact that these words describe what motivates Jesus to send out his twelve disciples as we see in the chapter ten verses of our gospel passage):

  • NASVdistressed and dispirited
  • KJVfainted, and were scattered abroad
  • NIV and NRSVharassed and helpless
  • Living Bible Paraphrasetheir problems were so great and they didn’t know what to do or where to go for help
  • The Message Paraphrasehis heart broke. So confused and aimless

Romans 5:1-8

The context of our Romans passage, actually of the book of Romans, can be found in the three other readings for this week.  All three call for a full following of God, all offer following as a choice and a gift, and all intimate and, at the same time, public.  

Paul, uses two words to describe the life of following Christ, ‘Peace’ and ‘Boast’. A very strange collection of words, two words that seem to be contradictory to each other.  Paul, however proclaims that they are as natural together as the idea of ‘loud worship’ seen in our Psalm passage. 

Pauls’ argument is that once we have made the commitment to follow Christ we have peace – we no longer have to decide what, and who, we will follow, our decision has been made, our core belief and values have been determined and decided.  This peace comes like the anchor of a boat which keeps the vessel from drifting away.  This peace is one of stability and a freedom from the chaos that exists without this anchor.   

Paul also uses the strange proclamation of the hope that comes from this peace as being something the we are to boast about.  Paul loves to talk about hope, for him, ‘hope’ is a reflection of an ‘absolute certainty.’  The boast, is not a loud and obnoxious thing, it is, however, a shouting of our lives.  A shout, or proclamation, of our lives seen in how we treat others, how we respond and love, the mercy we give and the justice for others that we seek.  It is a boasting of a sound that may never be heard – but is more powerful in that it is consistently witnessed (remember glory – bearing witness to Jesus life through our own lives).

Paul sums it all up as he says:’ For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

06.01.20 – 06.07.20

Readings

Psalm 8 • Micah 6:6-16 • John 8:1-11 • Acts 4:32-5:16

Context

Psalm 8

In the early 1980s a young musician/writer named Michael Smith wrote the song ‘How Majestic Is Your Name’ which was recorded, and made famous, by singer Sandi Patty.  This very simple song, which has become a classic that is still used in contemporary and traditional worship services, chronicles the message of Psalm 8.

O Lord, our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth. O Lord, our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth. O Lord, we praise Your name. O Lord, we magnify Your name, Prince of peace, mighty God, O Lord, God Almighty

Michael W. Smith

The Psalmist, in writing this Psalm, connects creation and the present.  Psalm 8 speaks of things as they were created to be.  Beautiful and harmonious, a strong connection between God’s creation and the humans he created.  It is a painted picture of God’s gift to us of life and creation.

The Psalm speaks of the creation of humans who were created ‘a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor’ (remember that ‘glory’ is living out the life and words of Jesus – being witness) and given dominion over all of creation.  While this thread between creation and the present is a hope for a perfect symbiotic relation, the truth is that, as we see in all of creation involving humans, this perfect picture is not what we have seen play out.  

A problem with our hearing of Psalm 8, as with so many other biblical texts, may be our affluence. Most of us are so used to being more or less well off and more or less comfortable that we have difficulty hearing the text from the margin, from the perspective of the underdog or the endangered. The result is not only confusion, but potentially destructive misuse. The issue in Psalm 8, as in Genesis 1 to which it refers, is the relationship between humanity (us!) and the rest of creation. The psalm sings the old creation story into the present, rejoicing again in being made “little less than divine”, which means having “dominion” over the works of God’s hands, over all creation. Creation is not merely a one-time act “in the beginning,” but an ongoing work and gift of God that makes us realize ever anew “how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The problem, as we have heard often, is that one generation’s “dominion” becomes a later generation’s exploitation, and woe to the earth and woe to us if we think the psalms gives us license to do whatever is now in our power to ravish the earth and use up its resources.

Fred Gaiser, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.

This was one of the problems Charles Darwin had with the teachings of the church.  There would be a focus on the beauty and harmony of God’s creation yet, when he as a scientist took a serious and deep look at the creation, while it was harmonious, that harmony was/is often brutal and far from beautiful.

Is this a call to just throw away a message of beauty and harmony in creation? Is this our catalyst to forget the idea of God and creation completely?

No.

It is a call, as it is anytime there seems to be a conflict with truth and reality, to keep searching and to keep seeking. Mathematicians don’t quit math when they can’t solve an equation, nor are we to give up when something does not seem to make sense.  We keep seeking truth and searching for truth.

A few helps in this continuation of searching:

First, notice that the climax of the Psalm is actually a question, ‘what are human beings that you, God, are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?’ (v. 4).  We see that the poetic nature of the Psalm is not really about the dynamics of the science of creation but rather the fact that the creation is a continuous gift from the creator himself to humans, to us.

Second, while some take this word ‘dominion’ to interpret such words as license to use and abuse, the Psalm actually creates the setting where we, human with dominion, are surrounded by the creation which constantly, if our focus is correct, points us to the creator, to God.

Third, always remember the whole of truth when seeking to understand just a section of the truth.  Look at Psalm 72, in which this same message of the beauty of creation is given.  This similar passage, however, focuses on the perfect King, ruler, that sets the example of living God’s plan for humans in creation.  This is also the introduction of have of Jesus, in the synogogue in Galilee, as he reads from the book of Isaiah explaining the mission and calling of the coming Messiah.

‘For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.’

Psalm 72:12-14

How, then, do we live, as humans a little lower than God, is the question….the answer begins as we recognize the creator.  Take a moment to step outside and remember.

Micah 6:6-16

We looked at this passage in January of this year as we spent time with the prophet Micah.  Here is the context you were given at that time:

Micah is a prophet speaking largely to the area of Samaria (Northern Kingdom) shortly before it falls to the Assyrians (the conquering of the Southern Kingdom, Judea which includes Jerusalem, will fall to the Babylonians next).  Micah’s message accompanies the messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah and shares the same themes. The message of Micah alternates between judgement and hope, condemnation and correction.  The mode of the message is one of a courtroom where God is the prosecutor presenting the case against the people.  In chapter six, God confronts the case of the people who are making a claim of mistreatment by an unjust and unmerciful God.  God responds (rhetorically and somewhat sarcastically) by asking if it was the fact that he rescued them from slavery in Egypt or that he shielded them from the curse of Balak and Balaam (see Numbers 22) that offends them most.  God explains to the people that he is not looking for the religiosity or sacrifices that their false gods demand – practices and sacrifices that include sacrificing their children.  God, instead, calls on the people to change the way they look at life and how they live life.  In verse  eight God sets a new (and old) base line for the people, a base line that calls on the people to act in a way that is just, kind, and humble (three very competing human emotions and characteristics). 

John 8:1-11

In the preceding chapter that leads into the focus story of chapter 8 we see a very enlightening dialogue between the temple police, who had been sent to arrest Jesus, and the religious leaders who had sent them.  The police had returned without Jesus and are quickly interrogated as to why they have not arrested Jesus.

The temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?

John 7:45-48

Jesus was often labeled as a ‘liberal’, an unhinged radical who was speaking and acting in a way that was very unbecoming to a religious leader.  His very message, not to mention his life, was an offense to the leadership of the religious institution.  Jesus was a challenge to the leaders, a challenge to their control and power, a challenge to their privileged position, and mostly Jesus was different, an uncomfortable ‘different’ that they could not understand.

Established, privileged, and comfortable religious people, along with established, privileged, and comfortable political people, do not like the lives and action of people who are different.  It is hard to like, and live with, people who are ‘different’.  We prefer everyone to be the same, to be the same as ‘our same’.

This story of the aggravated and uncomfortable leaders to the reason for not arresting Jesus given by the police sets up the next aggravating and uncomfortable situation between Jesus and another group of established, privileged, and comfortable men.  A woman, who had been found guilty of adultery, was about to be stoned to death by this mob of established, privileged, and comfortable men.  Since the other guilty party to the adultery is not present, or even accused in this moment, we assume that the woman was actually guilty of two sins, adultery and of being a woman.

Ironically, this story is not really about the woman, it is about the mob, the condemning group of people who have taken it upon themselves to judge and condemn this woman.  It is actually a moment of a transformational opportunity for the crowd as Jesus turns the topic back to the accusers asking them to turn their own judgment inwards, to recognize their own need for redemption.  It was their opportunity to recognize that their calling is not to judge, nor is it to condemn, it is to love, to encourage, to show mercy, and act, at the same time in a just manner – meaning they don’t get to pick and choose  the sins they judge and the sins they commit. This is why they (and ‘we’) are not tasked with judging or condemning.

We only see one person that seems to experience that transformation in that moment, the woman.  Everyone else disappeared when given the call of transformation.  Jesus tells the woman that, just as her accusers have left without following through on their judgement and sentence, he does not condemn her either.

Frequently Christians, especially preachers, will make sure to point out that Jesus’ final word to the woman is: ‘do not sin anymore.’  We often take this to mean that it is our obligation to point out the restrictions placed on a transformed soul – not true.  Jesus, in this moment, is speaking to a human who has been experienced standing before God.  It is God’s desire to lead us away from the things that ‘steal, kill, and destroy’ and instead to lead us to life.

‘Go and sin no more,’ was not a warning given by another judgmental and condemning human, it was words of life given by a savior who was about to make the ultimate self sacrifice for this woman.

Acts 4:32-5:16

It was a supernatural time in the life of the early believers of Jesus Christ.  Not long after Pentecost we see this group of people, whose only connection to each other was Jesus, now living out a self sacrificing love for each other naturally mimicking the actions and words of Jesus Christ.  Automatically, they wanted to learn and understand about Jesus, and even more naturally, we see this sacrificial actions of love for each other, and Jesus, flowing from them.  They had not lost their excitement for the resurrection and the life.

In the midst of this we see something about humanity.  Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who had become a part of the church who had lost their focus.  It could be that it was the excitement of the beginning that attracted them to this group of people, the church, but that excitement began to wane, it had become ordinary.  It could be that, in the beginning, they truly believed but as they began the sacrificial attitude of  the group, and the response that sacrifice brought, these two began to be jealous.  Regardless of their original motivation, now they had turned back to their old was of thinking and living, they wanted to be recognized and proclaimed.  This may have been their next ‘excitement’ replacing the original impact of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, they didn’t want to actually make the sacrifices that were bringing the attention to the others. So they lied, and then they died.

The verses that follow, after this story, point to the continued Holy Spirit work in the church. The believers had not been fazed by this unfortunate moment with Ananias and Sapphira, the other believers had not returned to their own ways of thinking and living.

05.25.20 – 05.31.20

Notation for This Sunday

Following the resurrection of Jesus, he spent forty days exclusively with his followers who would then be the ones to lead the new followers to the ‘Be the Church.’  Then after those forty days Jesus ascended to Heaven but not before he told his followers to return to Jerusalem and wait for the arrival of the Paraclete (the helper, the advocate, the one comes along side, the Holy Spirit). The followers, who were more than glad to go and hide out as they waited (they were already targets for the religious institution leaders as well as the Roman authorities).  This Sunday is the recognition of the day that the followers were pushed out of hiding and into the streets by the Paraclete (Holy Spirit).  This was the day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came to those who were willing and ready to receive.  Our readings this week all address the Paraclete, – the prophesies and promises about the Spirit and the actual events of the Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is not unique to the New Testament.  There are many references to the Spirit beginning with the Genesis story of creation.  Probably one of the most significant and visually portrayed is the experience in the desert of the dry bones where the Spirit brings life through breath. It may be of assistance to read Ezekiel 37:1-14 before you read the assigned readings for this week.  As you read this Ezekiel account look for the power and actions of the Spirit as well as the promise about the Spirit.

Readings

Psalm 104:24-34, 35 • John 20:19-23 • Acts 2:1-21 • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Context

Psalm 104:24-34, 35

Our Psalm reading continues our look at the Spirit, here we see the Spirit in the creation.  In this passage we see in verses 24-28 that God delights in the giving of life in his creation.  Verses 29-32 reveal that the Spirit is the sustainer of creation and recreation (use the understanding of ‘recreation’ when reading the word ‘creation’ in verse 30 – it points to our understanding of the resurrection).  Then, verses 33-35 we witness our response to the work of the Spirit in our lives and in our community.

FYI: The  Leviathan in verse 26 is a creature with the form of a sea serpent from Jewish belief, referenced in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and Amos.

John 20:19-23

As is common with the gospel of John, in this account of Jesus with his disciples following the resurrection but before the ascension, Jesus breathes the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) on them.  Consider also, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene prior to his appearance to the disciples, in which she recognized who Jesus was – many experts believe that Mary was actually the first to receive the Spirit which was the catalyst for he recognizing Jesus.  This also was the reason for her immediate act of telling/witnessing to the disciples.

Another particularity about the gospel of John is his understanding of sin.  While most of our reference to the topic of ‘sin’ is to immediately think of our list of top ranking sins, often a list that leads us to judge and condemn others – John’s depiction of sin is much larger.  To John, sin is not necessarily areas of immorality and other grave matters of forbidden behaviors, instead, John sees sin as being anything and everything that disrupts, or restricts, our relationship with God.  This is why Jesus died for our sins – to free us up to have relationship with him.  John does not speak of sin for the believers, or the church, to become the sin police to their community and their world.  John brings the negative impact of sin to the believers in order that we will experience the freedom of forgiveness in regard to our own sin and also in regard to our own practice of faith and relationship in the world.  That will not only receive forgiveness but, of equal importance, that we will give forgiveness so that sin does not continue to be a roadblock in our relationship with God. 

‘Forgiveness of sins is the community’s spirit powered mission to continue Jesus’ work of making Jesus known in the world.’

Gail R. O’Day, Biblical Scholar, and former Dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity

See, in verse 23 of this passage, the how the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is intrinsically connected with the forgiveness we receive as well as the forgiveness we give.

Acts 2:1-21

On the day of Pentecost, a small crowd gathered in a room on the highest floor of a house in Jerusalem to wait for the manifestation of the promise Jesus made before his ascension. The promise was that the followers of Jesus would be baptized, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit would give the people power to be witnesses of Jesus, in word or deed, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Debra J. Mumford, Professor of Homiletics at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY

This promise that they were waiting for was not a new promise, long before this day they it had been given by the Prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29) among many others.  A promise of power for all and a promise that would go beyond the lines of division that existed in their own culture.

If you read beyond our passage for this week, to the end of chapter two, you will see the power given by the Spirit, the power to be witnesses, as well as the creation of a new community that flowed out of the power. 

The appearance of the Spirit, in Acts 2, is an entirely new presentation of the Spirit than we see anywhere else.  This appearance of the Spirit is only possible because of the work of Jesus that took place prior to this day.

I Corinthians 12:3b-13

This passage is considered Paul’s greatest writing on the work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul points to salvation and community as the two essential works of the Spirit.

Salvation – Paul just uses one sentence to explain the role of the Paraclete in our acceptance of Jesus.  He proclaims that a decision to become a follower of Jesus is only possible through the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit that reveals to us our need for the Salvation and that only way to follow is by the prompting of the Spirit.

Community – Paul teaches the different way the Spirit enables us play different roles in our faith community, the Church.  Gifts, as they are referred to are the individual roles given to us by the Spirit to empower and enable the church.  Paul specifically does communicates the importance of each and every gift noting that all are essential and necessary.  

Paul’s teaching about he work of the Spirit is not a blueprint of a well operating machine but of a community of believers commissioned and called to reflect the unity of God through our differing roles in the community.