04.06.20 – 04.12.20

Readings

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  •  Acts 10:34-43  •  Colossians 3:1-4  •  Matthew 28:1-10

Context

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

“To read the Bible well, you have to keep flipping backwards. Christians tend to get stuck in the New Testament—evangelicals typically in John or Paul, mainline liberals in the Synoptic Gospels. But the New Testament is merely a reader’s guide to the Old. Hardly a word can be understood without flipping back. This psalm shows us how to read the Bible. It is a song of victory. Jesus embodies [Psalm 118:19-20, 26] of victory with his triumphal entry…….The Bible is a book of praise from back to front. Once you wander in there, you keep going deeper.”

Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

The writer of this Psalm, and the situation that served as the catalyst for this writing, was desperate.  This was most likely a time when all hope seemed to be lost and the people, as well as the author, can see no hope.  Reality offers not even a glimpse of light; all is darkness.  

Often times, in the Old Testament especially, the prayers of desperation seem to be a bit manipulative.  ‘God, you are great, you are mighty, you are, at this moment, my only hope.  So, I am going to praise you because I know you like that….’  While this may be a harsh assumption, God, regardless of the motivation, still responds with light and hope.

Byassee says that we must always flip back to the OT to understand, this is true – the reverse is true as well – we must also, always, flip forward.  As you read this Psalm also reread the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Triumphal Entry and let the New Testament help you also understand the OT.

Acts 10:34-43

It is impossible to fully grasp the message of the apostle Peter in this passage without remembering the transformation in his own life and faith.  Peter, has been challenged, since the resurrection and ascension – his complete view of his faith, and faith practice, has been altered.  Most significantly, he has realized that God’s message is for all, not just the Israelite.  He had a vision from God that said nothing is clean or unclean, then he was sent to share about Jesus to a gentile, a gentile who was a Roman official……and then he baptized him!  This was a huge change, a monumental enlargement of the audience God was sending him to preach to.

The second change we hear in this message from Peter is that he is not talking about God, or Jesus, in the past tense.  What is going on is just an extension of God’s work of rising Jesus from the dead.  You can hear it in his wording the first three verses of this message:

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. Acts 10:34-36

Observe the case of some of these words, ‘shows’ and ‘is’ are present tense.  He is not talking about what God has done or what Jesus did do, he is talking about what is being done, what is going on now – Peter is saying ‘Jesus is not in a tomb, however, he is now in the room!’

Peter points the listeners to his, and probably their, first person experience with the human Jesus and the responsibility that experience carries.  He is also talking about his ongoing experience and how that is transforming him constantly.

Colossians 3:1-4

This idea of ongoing transformation in the life of those who are believers and followers of Jesus continues here as Paul writes to the church at Colossae.  Flip back to chapter two and see what Paul is saying to the church in the last section of this chapter.  See the question that explains what he is addressing at the beginning of chapter three.

While we often think of God’s transformation in our lives as being somehow magical and mystical, Paul presents this change of thought as being a responsibility of the believer.  Look at the change he is specifically addressing in chapter two. After you see what prompted Paul’s words in our Colossians reading you may want to read all of chapter two to understand why the emphasis is on the regulations and practices.  If, you are up for more ‘searching’ see the specifics that Paul points out in the remainder of chapter three.  Much of the things he tells the church to put aside are the same thing the Roman philosophers are warning the people against.  Paul is pointing out the things that are on the forefront of the minds of the Romans and explaining the correlation, while pointing out the power from the risen Christ in that effort of change.

Matthew 28:1-10 (additional reading of John 20:1-18 is suggested)

It is after the Sabbath and the women are doing what you do after a death and burial, they return to the tomb.  It is a dark time for them, just as dealing with death always is, so they return to mourn.  Their hope is gone and they are attempting to deal with all of this the way they would always deal with this type of situation.  The male disciples are hiding out, not really sure of what to do next and not sure of how safe the world is for them now.  They are also keenly aware that they deserted Jesus, just as he said they would.

This Matthew passage is focused completely on the experience of the women at the tomb, in the John passage, however, we see the reaction of the men.  It is very interesting that as they, the men, hear the news from the women they automatically rise and run to the tomb.  They knew Jesus and his love, if there had been shame at their desertion they now threw it down as they ran to Jesus.

Returning to the Matthew passage we see Jesus, as he speaks to the women, pick up where he left off.  Jesus, who prior to the crucifixion, had told the disciples he would go before them to Galillee, now he simply reminds them to go to Galilee.

What does that tell you about Jesus?

03.29.20 – 04.05.20

Readings

Isaiah 50:4-9  •  Psalm 31:9-16  •  Philippians 2:5-11  •  Matthew 26:14-27:66

Context

Isaiah 50:4-9

The prophet Isaiah accepted God’s call to a prophet early in life and, it is important to note, this would be a call on him for the remainder of his earthly life.  This passage is a song of despair and grief while, at the same time,  a proclamation of an ultimate hope in God.  He proclaims his faithfulness to God and God’s calling while noting the opposition he is consistently facing publicly.  There is also a need to realize that, at this point, Isaiah is not just addressing a frequently hostile public but is also in the struggle to teach followers (teacher or disciples).  Verse four, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher (also translated ‘a tongue for teachers’), that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” – indicates that he is also attempting to encourage them as he seeks encouragement for himself.  Isaiah, much like Jesus upon entering Jerusalem for a week that would end up at the cross, knows that his public ministry is now subject to rejection and hatred. He also feels the weight of keeping up the spirits of those who are depending on him for nurturing.

Psalm 31:9-16

This vividly depressing Psalm is often, along with Psalms 22 and 69, to emphasis the physical and emotional aspects in the life of Jesus during this time of year.  It is a demonstration of the Passion of Christ.  This particular Psalm is most likely written by, or for, King David during an especially difficult time.  Although he does not name his adversaries, we can see the agony and pain faced by David.  This, as in the dialogue of Jesus and Father immediately prior to the arrest of Christ, is honest with the pain and grief but ends with a hope that flows from an acceptance and trust in God’s plan.

Philippians 2:5-11

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he was writing to believers who were surrounded by the followers of Political leaders and of the Roman gods, all of whom would use their power as need to feed their own selfish appetites.  Although the gods often took human form they also held on to their divine powers which they used whenever needed.  Paul addresses the difference between gods and leaders whose hold on, and use of, power and selfish ambition is what propels and sustains them, while, Jesus ‘humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.’  It was Jesus who was ultimately exalted, not because of his power but because he was truly a servant.

As you better understand what Paul is saying to the church, consider why this followed the first part of this teaching which said:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 1:1-4

Matthew 26:14-27:66

This passage needs very little context.  It is the days prior to the death of Jesus on the cross – the events, the emotions, the betrayals, the pleadings, the brutality, the pain, the death. It is an exhausting read, not just because of the length of the assigned passages but because of the picture that is painted for us as we experience this grueling week.

03.22.20 – 03.29.20

Readings

Ezekiel 37:1-14  •  Psalm 130  •  Romans 8:6-11  •  John 11:1-45

Context

Psalm 130

Much like Psalm 121, which we looked at on March 8, Psalm 130 is a ‘Song of Ascent’ – It was a song for a journey, especially a journey to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was built on a hill so no matter how travelers approached the city they would have to go up.  Imagine from a distance seeing Jerusalem sitting on a hill as Israelites were on a pilgrimage to the temple.  The image seen would differ drastically depending on the time of day and the weather.  This Psalm depicts a different tone and attitude of heart than Psalm 121, there seems to be a deeper depth of despair mixed with hope.  Both Psalms, however, come back to the same God and the same source of true hope.  Read both Psalms together and compare the two different attitudes conveyed – can you identify with one of these more than the other?  To where is your journey leading you in your searching for hope?

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The prophet Ezekiel is speaking hope to the Israelites who were in exile, and slavery, following the Babylonian defeat of Israel and Judah.  In this, the well known ‘Dry Bones’ story, Ezekiel is taken into a valley, by God, which is full of dry, lifeless, bones.  God brings the bones back together but there is no life until God breaths his spirit into the reconnected bones.  The story is not depicting a resurrection of passed individuals, but of the nation of Israel, including a reunification of the Judah and Israel.  However, the point is that apart from God, God’s spirit, life is impossible.  

Remember the state of the Israelites’ prior to the exile, they were going through the emotions of religion as their religious institutions and governmental institutions had become so intertwined in a nationalistic frenzy that it was difficult to tell the two apart apart. In their political agendas, the two usually opposing institutions, had turned to using each other to gain their own goals.  They had subscribed to a ‘the ends justifies the means’ philosophy removing God from their lives.

Ezekiel’s prophesy was a strategic recognition for a people hoping to go home, the home that they had known before the exile.  Ezekiel, tells them that God is going to bring it about but it cannot be just about them and their agenda, they must turn back to God fully and sincerely.

Romans 8:6-11

“Romans 8:6-11 fits into a larger discussion about the way believers take on the form of Christ. In these verses, Paul builds on his description of the believer’s life in Christ, for which he has laid the foundation in Romans 6. There, Paul exposes the incongruity of sin in the life of the believer (6:1-4), and then develops a series of contrasts to explain the radical new life in Christ: it is characterized by the movement from one state of being to another (death to life), from one master to another (sin to God), from one principle to another (law to grace), and one kind of activity to another (wickedness to righteousness). Robert Tanehill comments, ‘Christ’s death and resurrection are continuing aspects of the ‘form’ of Christ … so that believers take on the same ‘form.’ That is, believers become like Christ; they are transformed into his image by dying and rising with him.”

Elizabeth Shively, 

Lecturer in New Testament Studies, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland, UK

Compare and consider the message of Romans 8:6-11 with the message in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

John 11:1-45

We often fail to realize how few earthly resurrections, raisings from the dead, are actually listed in the Bible.  With the exception of the unknown saints that rose as Christ was crucified (Matthew 27:52-53), and the exception of resurrection of the Jesus, there are only nine resurrections in the entire Bible.  Of these, only three were completed through Jesus.  The resurrection of his good friend Lazarus was probably the third of the three. This is a significant context to understand as the conversation with Martha, and then Mary, just prior to the resurrection of their brother – both women were most likely aware, not only that Jesus could heal but that he had also given life to the dead twice before his arrival at Lazarus’ tomb.

Another essential context to consider as you read this account is the relationship of Mary, Martha, and brother Lazarus with Jesus.  They were his non-biological family.  Most will remember that it was at the house of the three that Martha scolded Jesus for not telling her sister Mary to come help in the kitchen.  Next, we see Martha, Mary, and Lazarus hosting a meal to honor Christ and later, Jesus will return to their home to rest during the heaviness of Holy Week.  To understand the closeness of this family and Jesus, and his attachment to them, we can better understand why Jesus wept when he saw the pain of the sisters Mary and Martha at the death of their brother.  

As you read this familiar passage attempt to change you viewpoint of the two women.  Don’t read Martha’s words of ‘If you had been here he would not have died,’ as accusatory but simply fact (possibly said in a loving sisterly manner); also consider the fact that resurrection does not seem to be a part of her considerations.  Next, look at the impact of the emotional response of Mary at the tomb on Jesus – go back and read her anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume (John 12:1-8).

03.16.20 – 03.22.20 (NT)

See previous post for the Old Testament Readings or this week as well as a list of all the readings for this week.

Ephesians 5:8-14

The book of Ephesians was most likely a circular letter, meaning that it was written to be passed around to many churches in many communities.  The letter itself was probably first sent to, and read by, the church in city of Ephesus.  The message of the letter is aimed at the believers – quite probably particularly to the Gentile population of believers.  It is a letter of how to live as the light of Jesus in a world of darkness.  An interesting foundational statement is made in Ephesians 2:6, and the surrounding verses, as we see that we ‘have been’ seated with Christ.  This indicates our ability to see from a ‘heavenly vantage point’ – we have the ability, because of what Christ has done on our behalf, to better see and understand life and God’s calling on us – to see, and to point towards, the light.  It is important to note that this is a letter to believers and the picture painted, the life instructions, and the purpose of the church in general is for those who have trusted in Christ.  Our passage for this week is especially a calling to the members of the local church. It calls for us to look at our own lives and how we are living – are we living in light or in darkness. Then, we are to assist and encourage each other, those within the church, to do the same.  It is not a call to judgement of others but, instead, a loving and sincere desire to encourage the believers to look at their own lives and then help others to do the same.

John 9:1-41

As we approach chapter nine in the gospel of John, it is essential to see that has happened since the experience of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in chapter four.  Among the many events and teachings that have happened in these five chapters, it would have to be Jesus’ teachings about himself and challenges to the true inner belief of the religious Jews that has drawn the greatest animosity.  Our gospel reading for this week begins immediately after this hostility has caused many to pick up stones to throw at Jesus.  

Chapter nine begins with Jesus’ own disciples falling back into a typical religious manner of thinking – ‘who is to blame for this man’s blindness’ they ask.  Looking to blame is not just a Jewish way of thinking, it is a human way of thinking.  We all, regardless of culture, religion, or nationality, instantly attempt to place blame.  It makes us much more comfortable to be able to point the finger at a person, or group of people, than to have to live uncomfortably with the unknown.  Blame allows us to stick with our divisions and hatred, the unknown forces us to see what would otherwise be ignored – it allows us to not ask, not seek, and not knock for answers.  Jesus does not attempt to sidestep the question, he very bluntly dismisses the thought that someone is to blame, instead, he challenges them see God in the midst of this moment. He challenges those paying attention to look for God in all that is about to take place.

03.16.20-03.22.20 (OT)

Readings

1 Samuel 16:1-13  •  Psalm 23  •  Ephesians 5:8-14  •  John 9:1-41

Context

1 Samuel 16:1-13

It would appear that our old testament readings have been jumping all over the place these past couple of weeks.  We were in Genesis where we saw God lead Abram to pick up his family, and possessions, and travel to another land – a land that God does not immediately reveal.  Next we saw the Israelites as they were traveling to God’s promised land shortly after their miraculous, and dramatic, deliverance from slavery followed by a very quick parting of the seas to, once again, deliver them from Pharaoh’s soldiers, chariots, and death.  This week we jump to first Samuel where we can see a common thread weaving throughout all three of these readings.

One of the things I love most about preaching through the Lectionary readings is the common existence of threads that consistently affirm and confirm the nature of God and humans.  This thread is no different.  In each of these readings we see the consistency of God as well as the timeless consistency of our own human nature.

Our disdain for change is the element of our human nature woven in the thread of these three passages.  Abram, although he is quick to obey God’s call to move, reveals in the journey that the change he is confronted with is anything but easy and comfortable.  You would think that the Israelites would have been excited about the change that was in front of  them, but they knew nothing but living in slavery, their ancestors, possibly 17 generations back, only knew slavery.  Adjusting to the new normal was not, and is not, easy for anyone.

Samuel has to adjust and, he too, is finding it difficult.  Samuel had been the prophet leader of the Israelites before they demanded a King.  This was a blow to the prophet as he took it as a rejection of him – God corrected Samuel’s thinking informing him that their rejection was of God.  Now, after Samuel has accepted the new normal, a new King, he is, once again, having to face another new normal – another new King. It was a devastating blow, even though Samuel was thoroughly aware that a new King was a necessity for survival.

The book of Samuel does not just give us a detailed account and travelogue of the Israelites and their leaders.  Instead, in the books of first and second Samuel, we see deep into the hearts and minds of the humans depicted.  We see the emotional processes of Samuel, as well as the inner workings of other characters revealed later in these books.

It is a bit ironic that we would be looking at this thread of ‘adjusting to a new normal’ at this time.  The events currently facing our world have not just thrust a new normal upon each of us, they have also revealed to us that we will probably never go back to our same ‘normal’ again, our normal that existed less than a month ago.  It is okay.  We can always know that God is consistent even if our circumstances and situations are not, we can be assured that God will never let us enter any ‘normal’ alone.

Psalm 23

In a time where everything looks out of control, overwhelming us every time we hear the latest news, Psalm 23 takes us back the security of finding our stability, and peace, in God.  In times like our ‘new normal’ it can be quite challenging to, not only grasp the comfort of this Psalm, but also as we attempt to accept the challenge ‘dwell’ in God’s peace.

In America, and possibly elsewhere, most believers make an odd choice when reading and remembering this passage – they return to the King James Version of the Bible.  The King James remains the most common version of the Bible read by Christians in the United States with an estimated thirty-one percent usage.  While that is the largest percentage of the Bible reading public – it still leaves sixty-nine percent who read the other translations.  But when it comes to Psalm 23 (and possibly the Lord’s Prayer) the KJV choice balloons drastically.  It is a very poetic and comforting version that seems to convey the message of the Psalm best.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23 (KJV)

03.09.08 – 03.14.20

Readings

Luke 13:1-9 (children’s passage)  •  Exodus 17:1-7  •  Psalm 95  •  Romans 5:1-11  •  John 4:5-42

Context

Psalm 95 (responsive reading)

Psalms 47, 93, and 95-99 are all referred to as the ‘enthronement psalms’ as they  each celebrate that God is the King. Many of the other Psalms celebrate the work of victory from God through the earthly kings,  but Psalms 47, 93, and 95-99 refer to God as the ‘Cosmic King’.  Psalm 95 (and the other enthronement Psalms) begins with a recognition of God as King, followed by a call for repentant hearts and concluded with a warning of correction.

Exodus 17:1-7

This passage takes place shortly after the Israelites were released from slavery in Egypt.  While it was technically a short amount of time, it must have felt like an eternity to their leader Moses.  Even though they had been set free from slavery, the people complained about the conditions as well as the limited provisions of food and water.  With each complaint came a very patient and affirming answer from God, even though the people were combative towards Moses and often dismissive of God. Verse seven of this passage best sums up Moses’ frustration with the people and aggravation at their entire attitude toward God who had just rescued them. To get a full grasp of what has led Moses to such an attitude toward the people read the previous three chapters – in reading this, you will also see the patience of God in his every response.

Romans 5:1-11

The letter from Paul to the believers at Rome continues to provide them an education of the deep works of God.  As we look at this passage there are many ‘contexts’ that have come before which are essential to understand what God is saying and why he is saying these it.  Among these ‘context’ essentials we have the fact that Christ said to not only love others but to love our enemies, and even further, he said to love each other (which does not seem to be that big of a deal until we are honest about how difficult it can be to love those that are always around, those we work and worship with who often disagree with our genius, our ideas, and our agendas).  Paul is definite that forgiveness comes without any condition, we don’t have to work or labor for it, and he reminds us that forgiveness is offered solely because of the work and labor of Jesus Christ. We are ‘justified’ because of Jesus’ blood not ours and, the passage informs, that we are also rescued from God’s wrath.  Think about this phrase God’s wrath, two words that create a vision of a mean and unforgiving God who judges us by our actions and misdeeds.  Attempt, if you will, to repaint this picture by picturing God as an extravagant loving father who wants the best for us and therefore ‘hates’ those forces in our world that lead us to destruction.  Although not a perfect illustration, think of a parent that is furious, and deeply concerned, at the opposing football team/coach when an opposing player makes an illegal play causing the child of this mom and dad to be injured. Paul, takes this love of God and directs our attention to the true intentions of God – that we would experience the full power, even on earth, of God’s act of love through Christ.  Ultimately, taking us back to the issue of our love, even when someone is unloveable.  One last interesting note, look at verse eight ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ Think back to our Exodus passage where God provided for the Israelites even while they were being very unlovable human beings.

John 4:5-42

Only in the book of John do we see this story of the Samaritan woman at the well – only in the book of John do we see the story we looked at last week of the Jewish official named Nicodemus who came at night to ask questions of Jesus. Interestingly, John has this story of the woman come in the chapter following the chapter detailing the visit by Nicodemus.  One was a seeking devout Jew and the other was a seeking devout gentile.  Both were on a journey which was about to be reimagined taking them in a life altering direction.  In the story of Jesus and the woman, we see that he, along with his disciples, takes a journey to the area of Galilee.  During the life of Christ, this type of journey was routine, only this time Jesus chooses a route that takes the group through Samaria.  In the minds of good Jews, and surely in the minds of Jesus disciples, this was a very dubious and questionable direction to go. The story concludes with a woman running to share what she has heard after her encounter with Jesus – she could not help but want others in her community to know what had happened.  It is difficult to keep good news a secret.

Luke 13:1-9 (children’s lesson)

Our children’s lesson this week is entitled ‘Jesus teaches about God’s love.’  Luke 13:1-9 encompasses a great depth of truth.  In the first five verses you have Jesus confronting the attitudes of those present who were judging others leading Jesus to address the need of all people to turn back to God (repent).  While the first five verses may seem harsh, Jesus follows by teaching about God’s amazing love illustrating his provision of the opportunity for all to repent. Some would focus on the idea that the fig tree only has one more chance but the true lesson is in the current undeserved chance given.

03.02.08 – 03.08.20

Readings

Genesis 15:1-18 (children’s passage)  •  Genesis 12:1-4a  •  Psalm 121  •  Romans 4:1-17  •  John 3:1-17   •  Matthew 7

Context

Psalm 121 (responsive reading)

Psalms 120-134 are often referred to as the ‘Psalms of Ascent(s)’ as they were often used by Israelites facing a journey or pilgrimage – or, a new phase of life.  It is quite possible that these Psalms were said in a liturgical sense, meaning that the congregation said some parts and the priest said other parts – much like our responsive reading at the beginning of worship.  The use of these Psalms in this manner is still common among many Israelites today.  This Psalm begins with the first two verses being said by the person taking the journey or entering a new phase of life – it is said in first person and asks ‘who will help me?’  The question is then self-answered in a very general sense – ‘the Lord will help me.’  The remaining verses, said in second person, voiced by the priest who not only affirms that the answer is ‘the Lord’, but also makes the answer more specific giving something to look for in times of doubt and concern.  You may desire to go a little deeper with the Psalms of Ascent by reading some of the others and considering the the specific cry of the person and the answering help of truth.

Genesis 12:1-4a

We have very little context for this passage except for the lineage description in the prior chapter that takes us from Shem, the blessed son of Noah, to Abram, whose family has recently moved from a place called Ur to the land of Canaan.  It is also important to note that this lineage comes after the story of the Tower of Babel and the scattering on the descendants of Noah.  No reason is given for the relocation of Abram’s family (which is lead by Abram’s father, Terah).  Many speculative reasons have been offered including the fact that Ur was a central location for the worship of false gods and idols – a religious move that was prompted by God. Whatever the reason, this was a geographical move of a man named Abram led by the one true God – a journey that would last long beyond the life of this one man. After Abram moves, with his father and family, God calls him to his own move.  This move led him to leave his father and take his own family forward with a promise of a future.  This promise is about Abram, his family, a people (a new nation formed by his descendants), and a blessing or curse on other nations depending on their response to this new nation.  

Genesis 15:1-18

As we approach chapter 15 we see that Abram has already become a force in the land where he now lives.  As the previous chapter closes he has been victorious in battle, rescued his nephew Lot, and received a blessing from a very important priest named Melchizedek.  In chapter 15, the focus of our children’s lesson, we see God expand the promise the had been given in chapter 12, God had promised that the descendants of Abram would be a people, a great nation.  A promise of descendants was a very odd promise since Abraham and his wife Sarai, were far beyond child bearing years and had no children prior.  Now, in this passage, we see God get specific, telling Abram that he, and Sarai will have a child.  The children’s lesson will focus on this promise and the assurance that God keeps his promises.

Romans 4:1-17

The letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome is possibly the most used epistle (letter) when dealing with, and understanding, the Christian faith.  In this letter, Paul is addressing the typical concerns of many of his letters as well as a concern for the church thousands of years later (as in now).  There is great division in the church at Rome, they are divided on social and economic lines, but there seems to be an emphasis on addressing the division between the Jews and the Non-Jews.  The first four chapters of the book stress the supreme righteousness of God and then, as our focus passage arrives, the message narrows in on faith and the law, or faith and works, in light of God’s supreme righteousness.  This section looks back at the Old Testament, particularly the follower Abraham, to better understand the relevance of faith now, but also that faith was a necessity then as well as now.

John 3:1-17

John takes a different approach in telling the story of Jesus’ earthly, and in the flesh, life than we have seen in the other gospels.  In the short time of the two chapters prior to this week’s passage, Jesus had been baptized, chosen disciples, performed his first (semi) public miracle at a wedding attended with his mother and the disciples, cleansed the temple of those abusing the faithful, and now he visited by a religious official who is very interested in the mission and message of Jesus.  Nicodemus, the religious official, comes to Jesus after dark – remember that Jesus said that the ‘darkness cannot overcome the light’.  The visit by Nicodemus, as well as his faith journey following this visit, is a prime example of how we seek, and eventually accept, truth.  Nicodemus has difficulties understanding what Jesus says when it seems counterintuitive to what the religious institution taught.  He also was conflicted when the teaching seems to contradict his understanding of the natural realities of the world.  While a miracle is part of the context leading to this encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus, the exchange that takes place between these two men is probably the most common and ordinary – much the same as own journey in coming to Jesus, a journey that frequently holds certain risks and uncertainties.  We come out of darkness and then slowly come to a place where we understand and accept the truth.  The story of Nicodemus does not come to dramatic conclusion in this passage, actually we never see the expected climax that we would expect.  We never see Nicodemus come to a salvific moment where he proclaims his own acceptance of Christ, instead, we see Nicodemus, in the midst of his religious contemporaries, take the risk of defending Jesus (John 7:45-52).  We also see Nicodemus, along with another religious official, Joseph of Arimathea, carrying the lifeless body of Jesus to the grave prepared to anoint and honor the crucified Christ.  While the miracles get attention, it is the personal seeking and journey out of the darkness that brings us to a true and lasting commitment to Christ.

Matthew 7

In Matthew 7 – Jesus bring his sermon to a close with powerful instructions to all believers about seeking God, treating others with love and respect, and, consistently being salt and light that gives all others a taste and revelation of Jesus in, and through, our lives.

02.24.20 – 03.01.20

Readings

Luke 4:1-13 (Children’s Scripture)  •  Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7  •  Psalm 32  •  Romans 5:12-19  •  Matthew 6

Context

Psalm 32 (Responsive Reading)

This is the first week of Lent, the beginning of our approach to a recognition of the cross and empty grave – it is the beginning of our official preparation, through repentance and discipline, to take our own journey to further grasp and celebrate the truth of God’s love and sacrifice for us.  This Psalm addresses the essential nature of, and relief in, the personal act of repentance.  Just prior to the start of Jesus ministry, the people were physically in preparation for the coming Messiah as John called for them to ‘repent’, to gain a ‘new perspective’, a calling that Jesus continued as he stepped out of the desert following his time in the wilderness.

Genesis 22:15-17, 3:1-7

There are many ‘why?’ questions we surely want to ask when we read these verses.  Why did God place a tree in the garden on which held the forbidden fruit. Why was a serpent talking? Why did the serpent want Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Why did she eat it? Why did Adam not stop her? Why did Adam eat it?  WHY?!?  Good question…. Some answer by saying that God put the tree there for the same reason he gave humans the ability to make our own choices.  Others label Eve, and therefore all women, as being the cause of evil in the garden and in all of humanity because Eve ate first.  There are many answers proposed, some given as fact when they may not be, others answers proposed that seem very viable. First, the serpent is never labeled as being Satan or a fallen angel, he is called the  ‘most crafty’ of the animals but he does use the same tactics we see Satan use in the Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness – a tactic of using the truth to deceive.  Second, Adam was standing right beside Eve during the entire engagement with the serpent – Eve was no more guilty than was Adam – they both made their own choice. While this passage is replete with ‘why’ questions, it is also full of opportunity to think about, and to seek truth, about God and ourselves. 

Romans 5:12-19

This section of Paul’s letter to the Romans is an explanation of the events of our Genesis passage for this week – the introduction of sin as compared with the work of Jesus.  While the ‘man’, Adam and Eve, gave sin and death the power over man when they chose to disobey God – Jesus gives us the opportunity to return to life through reconciliation with God.  Paul explains that sin was in total control until, through Moses, God gave the law – the explanation and boundaries of ‘how to live in freedom (with a choice)’.  This opportunity of grace through Jesus is a gift bonding all believers regardless of labels and other distinctions.

Matthew 6

As Jesus comes near to the end of his first official message to his followers, he turns the conversation in a more personal and intimate direction. No longer is the main emphasis on what is seen but is now directed at what is inside of us, what motivates us, our central core.  In this section, Jesus addresses the practice of our faith and the true motivation that leads us to these practices.

Luke 4:1-13

Following the baptism of Jesus, we see that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for a time of fasting and prayer.  This time was a time of preparation for what was immediately ahead as well as the entirety of his journey.  This section of Luke details the experience of Jesus as he completed the fasting and prayer for an equally intense and exhausting time of temptation, face to face with Satan.  As he entered this time, Jesus was understandably famished and exhausted, it was Satan’s most preferred time to confront and tempt people – Satan felt sure that it was the perfect time to tempt Jesus.  The three temptations all included truth used in a deceptive way – each attempt failed.  As Jesus resists all three of the Satan’s maneuvers, the passage tells us that Satan left for a more opportune time, a time when Jesus may be even more exhausted and famished.

02.17.20 to 02.26.20

Readings

Exodus 24:12-18  •  Psalm 2 and Psalm 99  •  2 Peter 1:16-21  •  Matthew 5:43-48

Context

Exodus 24:12-18

On the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom they witnessed God deliver them from slavery and then crush their pursuing enemies under the weight of the Red Sea; experienced their first overt celebration of thanks in, and for, God’s gift of freedom; they literally tasted of God’s provisions and went to battle against the brutal Amalekites and won in a manner that could only be attributed to God.  It had been quite a journey, quite an experience.  After all of this, in chapter 19 of Exodus, we see the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where they are going to learn how to live with each other and with God.  God had prepared them for the journey (see chapters 11 &12), he had used the journey to prepare them for this moment. It is here that God’s covenant with the people is explained and established.  Moses verbally explains the commandments from God to the people , and then God calls Moses alone to come further up towards God where he will receive the tablets with the commandments written on them along with more extensive instructions regarding worship. Moses enters a cloud for a holy moment with God, a moment that last forty days. To the people below the mountain, the cloud looked like a roaring fire, but inside the cloud, Moses experienced this holy prolonged moment with God.  Don’t forget that later, near the end of this holy moment, the Israelites became impatient and returned to the Gods they had known in their Egyptian slavery.  Note: think about the comparison of this holy moment between God, Moses and the commandments  with the experience of the Jesus with his followers as he refers them to reconsider their depth of understanding of the same commandments God gave to Moses (Matthew 5-8).

Psalm 2 and Psalm 99 (Responsive Reading)

Both of these Psalms speak of human Kings and leaders, good and bad – and very bad (‘conspire against’ God), who either lead pointing to God or lead pointing to themself.  In the end, the Psalmist reminds those who follow, or are somehow subject to these leaders, to always find refuge in God and not any human human ruler or leader (including those who present in a religious manner).

2 Peter 1:16-2

The book of second Peter is taking the congregation back to their core and basic beliefs as a reminder and the anchor of truth.  False teachers/prophets have entered the church and taught  that since Jesus has not yet returned – the prophesy of his return must be incorrect – casting doubt on Jesus himself.  Their reasoning follows that they need to disregard the calls to follow God.  Basically, they are attempting to rewrite the truth in a manner that changes the facts and history – a rewrite that matches the false prophets’ agendas and plans.  Peter begins this letter by reminding the church of the first hand testimony they have heard and received, testimony that qualifies Jesus as the Messiah. The testimony of the experience of Peter, John, and James as they witnessed Moses, Elijah, and God proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior (the transfiguration).  This first hand testimony is also a repudiation of the teachings of the false prophets.

Matthew 5:43-48

As Christ preached his foundational sermon to his hodgepodge group of followers we have seen him challenge their understanding of being blessed, assure them that he did not come to abolish the law but instead to fulfill it, and raise the bar, and calling, of the law.  He has taken the basics of being a good person and the ways in which we measure ‘goodness’ and ‘rightness’ and moved it to a much less measurable factor that looks at what is inside us, what is our center, our core.  As he continues in our passage this week he has the audacity of saying that we need to be perfect, and that we should never settle for anything less.

02.10.20 to 02.16.20

Readings

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  •  Psalm 119:1-8  •  1 Corinthians 3:1-9  •  Matthew 5:21-37

Context

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The book of Deuteronomy is considered to be one of the most influential books of the Old Testament.  Christ quotes from Deuteronomy when refuting Satan during the temptation and then, again, he uses Deuteronomy when citing the greatest commandment (love the Lord your God).  The book is basically a reminder of what took place in the history of the Israelites as seen in the book of Exodus along with a reminder of the Law that had been given to the Israelites.  In our passage for this week, the people, after hearing these historical reminders, are reminded of the choice that faces them – Obey and Love God or Do Not Obey – along with the blessings or destruction that follows each choice.

Psalm 119:1-8 (Responsive Reading)

The eight verses from the very long Psalm 119 must sound very familiar when compared to the nine verses that make up the ‘blesseds’ we recently saw in Jesus address to the very hodgepodge crowd in Matthew 5.  The term ‘blessed’ (or as we have also seen it interpreted – ‘enviable’) can be swapped for the word ‘happy’ making this an even more poignant comparison.  Poignant, especially when we remember that the ‘blessed’ point to states of being that are not that ‘happiness’ inducing – words such as poor, mourn, hunger and thirst, meek, etc.  We also must remember our look last week at Psalm 112 which delayed the ‘blessings’ or ‘happiness’ from the actions of one to their descendants instead.  The truth is that, just as we are seeing in the sermon that Jesus gives in Matthew 5-7, the call of Christ is not a call that appeals to our self-centeredness.  It is a call that, instead, is the core of our being.  It is call to a life that has Christ at the center of our life and so the result (the salt and light) that comes forth is as much, or more, for others than ourselves.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The church at Corinth is still divided and self centered – now, the apostle Paul, is pointing out their immaturity.  The immaturity is actually a key as to why they (individually and personally) are such a mess, they have quit trying to mature in their lives and in their faith.  The faith that they hold to it totally dependent on the person(s) that first told and taught them about Jesus. They heard, followed, and quit trying.  What they learned and knew from that person, in the beginning of their faith, is what they still are.  They have taken no responsibility for their faith and are still allowing one person(s) to determine what they believe and how it applies. This is a far too familiar element of stuckness in Christians, we live our faith on the coattails of another rather than permitting God to let us constantly and consistently see and hear all that he want to tell and show us.

Matthew 5:21-37

As Jesus is speaking to the hodgepodge group of followers, some who are merely considering following Jesus and others full followers, he has been teaching them how to live, how to think, and how to have a core, a center, that is founded on God. A core that is seen through us as salt, light, and a relentlessly visible city.  Jesus has done this by challenging the way they think about blessings as well as what it means to be a blessing.  In our passage this week, as Jesus continues with his sermon on the ‘mount’, we see him began to expand that challenge to raise the bar on how we live, how we worship, and how we relate to others.  He takes the bar set by the law and raises it to a higher level, a level that is a major challenge (some would say an impossibility) to all his listeners on that hillside.

If you have not been with us at Grace Fellowship on the Sundays of February 2 and/or February 9 (2020) you will find the messages videos below that cover Matthew 5:1-20.