01.18.21 – 01.24.21

Readings

Jonah 3:1-5, 10  •  Psalm 62:5-12  •  1 Corinthians 7:29-31  •  Mark 1:14-20

Context

Jonah 3:1-10

Context: We usually assign the story of Jonah as being just a story about Jonah and his disdain for the people of Ninevah.  However, the story of Jonahhas so many layers to it.  It is definitely important to understand Jonah and his attitude. He was a called to speak for God – which he did, and he did it very effectively, even when he was trying to hide from God. It is also an amazing story of God’s miraculous work in Ninevah. To understand just how bad the situation was in Ninevah, take a moment to read the book of Nahum, it is only three chapters.  The literary form of Nahum makes it a bit tough to fully digest, but, you can get a good idea from the tone of the wording to understand the depths of degradation of this community.

Insight: Jonah loathed the people in Ninevah and he was angered by the very idea of God being merciful towards Ninevah.  Jonah’s mind was made up, he was not swayed by God’s love for this people or the miracle that took place.  Possibly, take a moment to consider your own attitudes towards people in this, our time of great national and world division.

Psalm 62:5-12

Context: The book of Psalms does not always give us a clear definite context, but we can always assign the Psalms to a human experience which which we can identify. Psalm 62 gives us a very clear contextual emotional state of being – it is written by someone who has been through, or is currently going through, a time of great crisis or difficulty.  A time when the person(s) is recognizing that hope lies only in God.

Insight: I am writing/recording this on the Tuesday before the Wednesday that we, in the United States, are awaiting with a certain amount of anxiety and dread.  In light of what has happened over the past few weeks, as well as the past couple of months, things we naively never imaged would happen in our nation (not to mention the past years) – we are looking for hope, we are looking for rescue. We are hopeful for the impact of vaccines but we are concerned about the new strain of Covid; we are hopeful for peace in our streets but we have to be honest that racial hatred still exists; we are encouraged by our economy but we are aware that things can change in an instant.  The question the Psalmist is asking is “What is our hope, where does our hope lie, on whom do we place our hope?’

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Context: To be honest, I thought “What the heck?!?’ when I first saw this was our epistle for this week.  Author Paul is writing to a church that is a mess. They are stuck in their way of thinking and the faith they are practicing.  In this passage we see Paul write “from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none’ – this is the same Paul who beautifully defines love in chapter 13! To put it simply, Paul is speaking to specific problems of the time for the Corinthians that, in a general sense, still address the world of 2021. We will live in a world where there is an urgency to address problems, a world where we still need to decide what our hope is founded on.

Insight: As you read, consider our current world atmosphere and the anxieties we live in.  What is the urgency? Are we still trying to find our peace in the normality of the past or are we living in the ‘newness’ of what God is doing in our world now?  This is deep stuff, and honestly, Paul is not making it much easier to digest – but this is a necessary prompt if we are to put truth into action.

Mark 1:14-20

Context: Mark crams a lot into the first chapter of his gospel.  He begins the story with a 30 years old Jesus.  This is important to recognize as he has already lived this human experience for 3 decades and he has likely gone through, and been groomed by, the religious education system.  He has already seen most of the elements of the human experience and has gained a full understanding of the religious institution, as well as the political systems. He is not naively idealistic about humanity.

This passage is considered by many to be Jesus own official declaration of his earthly public ministry.  The first words from Jesus are documented by Mark in verse 15 when he says, ‘It is time.’  And ‘time it is.’ While the verses that detail the happenings in the life of Jesus prior to this passage are much more personal, now we start to see and hear Jesus step into the ‘people.’  Before he makes this ‘It is time,’ proclamation he has been baptized by John the baptizer, affirmed by God, and spent 40 days in the wilderness with Satan who has engaged in an unprecedented attack directly on Jesus.  It has been a lot, it has been ‘enough’, and now he is ready to step forward onto a very public path.

Insight: There are 3 things to keep in mind as you look at this passage.  

  1. Mark, before Jesus actually speaks, says that Jesus was ‘proclaiming the good news (gospel).’ This is significant because Jesus is actually calling the people to something much more revolutionary than the ‘you are bad and God is mad’ standard religious message.
  2. Jesus and John the baptizer do not use the typical Hebrew words for repentance.  Usually, the Hebrew word used would be ‘Teshuvah’ which is what we usually think of when we hear ‘Repent.’ That familiar word would have have held the standard meaning of ‘you have sinned against God or you have sinned against others.’ The Hebrew word used by John and Jesus was ‘metanoia’ which is a much deeper word meaning to ‘change one’s mind, a change of the inner person,’ – it is a message about the heart rather than just about our actions. Here we see the radical nature of Jesus’ message, as well as John’s call, it is a call to a new perspective, it is revolutionary!
  3. This opening proclamation of Jesus, combined with the immediate actions he takes (plus the plural nature of his words), signifies that he is going to begin by building community.

Message for this week is ‘Hardly Heart, Hardy Heart

01.11.21 – 01.17.21

Readings

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Psalm 139:1-18 

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 

John 1:43-51

Context

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Hannah prayed for a son, and as her prayers intensified, she promised God that, if he gave her a son, she would give him back to God.  She kept her promise and once the child was old enough she sent him to live with Eli the priests in the temple. The son, named Samuel, was very young when he was repeatedly awoken by a voice while attempting to sleep.  Eventually, with the help of the Eli the priest, Samuel recognizes that the voice is God and that God is actually calling Samuel to follow.  Right off the bat, Samuel is given the a monumental and frightening task, to fire Eli the priest.  Samuel’s response to God is ‘Here I am.’ What a way for this ‘up and coming’ prophet to begin his career, what a calling he received from God at such a young age, and, what a way to meet God.

Psalm 139:1-18 

To consider this Psalm, split it up into 4 distinct stanzas.  Verses 1-6 are the first stanza in which we see that God truly and fully ‘knows’ us, it is poetic and beautiful.  This we go to the 2nd stanza, verses 7-13, in which we begin to fathom the depths of what ‘being known’ by God fully means – he is always there, there is nothing about us that can remained hidden.  It can become a bit claustrophobic and intrusive. The 3rd stanza brings us back to a better understanding, we begin to see that being known by God is not a curse but it is a revelation of God and our relationship with him.  God knows us because he formed us, we weaved us together, we attempt to grasp the enormity of this reality and find that it is impossible and, at the same time, it is a full description of God’s Love.  Then, if we add in the verses 19-24 (which is not in our assigned reading) the whole thing takes an odd turn to the dark side – it takes a realistic turn as we recognizes and loves us even with the revelation of our own dark sides. This final stanza, the 4th stanza, is a unique challenge to each of us, what is God seeing, or more appropriately, what is God showing to us about us?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 

Paul, as he speaks to the church at Colossi, is confronting some selfish threads of thought.  ‘”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’ Paul is pointing out to the believers that there is a greater good for our bodies to present Christ to the world.  Sure, we have been forgiven but is that forgiveness really all about us, does it mean I can do, and I can abuse, others in my own freedom – how does that reflect Jesus to the world. We live in  a world where people are discriminated against because of their color, where young ladies are treated as slaves because of their gender, where our agendas take priority over the preciousness of other human beings created by God.  Paul’s challenge to the church is to redirect from a selfish, it is all about me, mindset to a “Jesus’ mindset that does not place my rights above the freedom and respect of others.

John 1:35-51

Jesus grew up in a time when a young man would begin his religious education at an early age.  At five years old he would begin the training which would involve learning Torah, learning the Law.  Memorization of the holy texts as well as understanding of Rabbinical interpretations would all be added to the process as the young man was capable of comprehension. Along the way, it would be determined by the teachers and parents if continued religious education was appropriate for the male, or if he was better suited to begin learning a trade. If, by the age of 16 or seventeen, there was still a propensity to be a qualification to be a religious leader, such as a rabbi, the young man would begin investigating the rabbis that would be a good fit to teach and train him  – this training would usually last from the ages of 17 to young twenties.  This selection of a Rabbi was very essential because different Rabbis had different interpretations, reputations, and leanings that the student would need to be in agreement with.  Ultimately, upon finding the right Rabbi, the young man would petition the Rabbi to accept him as a disciple.  

Jesus broke the disciple choosing protocol however, he sought out his disciples, he pursued and invited these young men to be trained under his tutelage.  He was looking for young men who were not just looking for religious training that would advance their vocations as religious teachers, but, he was searching for those who were looking, not just for truth, but were also looking for the Messiah. Jesus’ hunt was very specific because the disciples he would invest him would be the given the task of changing the world.

This week, our gospel reading takes a temporary detour.  As I pointed out last week, this year we will spend the majority of our time through lent and Easter in the book of Mark, but this week we are looking at the book of John.  It is here that we see Jesus call to ‘follow me’ and the prompting of those following to call out to others with the challenge to ‘come and see.’  It may be helpful as you read this small passage to go back and read the preceding verses about John the Baptizer, and how he points to Jesus – then look at the basic experiences of the new disciples of Jesus’ after they make the decision to follow him.  Possibly take an overview look through chapter 6 and imagine the opening journey of these followers and the challenges revelations they encounter right away.

01.04.21 – 01.10.21

Readings

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Context

Genesis 1:1-5

Our Genesis, Psalm, and Acts passages affirm our gospel passage.  In Genesis we start ‘at the beginning’ in the same way the gospel of Mark begins – ‘at a beginning’. There is also the commonality of voice, particularly the power of voice.  Voice, especially the voice of God, is powerful, it can create, destroy, build up, tear down, voice can encourage, comfort, console, voice confronts, challenges, and often times creates fear.  It is not just a volume power, it is a very definite and intentional voice that is used purposely.

Psalm 29

The Psalmist is calling us to understand the glory of God as we see the majesty of his creation (not to worship the creation but to allow it to further reveal God).  To hear in the rain, thunder, wind, fire, and allow it to paint us a better picture of the voice of God.  If you lived through a spring in Oklahoma you are accustomed to an Oklahoma spring storm.  Picture yourself standing on flat land where you can see far to the horizon.  As you look it is obvious that a storm is moving in.  The colors are beautiful, the blues take on a new hue, and it is a hope rises that much needed rain will fall.  That hope that is accompanied by a cooler temperature and even begins to smell hopeful. As the storm gets closer, you see the lightening and hear the thunder, they are beautiful as well….until they get even closer.  Soon the lightening, the thunder, the wind, the ominous colors, and even the rain, reveals their power.  It is then that it becomes frightening but the hope is still there, at least a bit. We listen for tornado sirens, we invite the neighbors to our storm shelters, and we hope, and, we cower.  The Psalmist is calling us to let that reveal to us the glory of God.  Hopeful and frightening, refreshing and terrifying, replenishing and destructive all at the same time.

Acts 19:1-7

Apollos is an intriguing character in the development of the NT church.  Chapter 18 describes him as, ‘an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,’ but then the description becomes messy ‘he knew only the baptism of John.’ Honestly, it is difficult to understand how he had ‘taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’ without having moved beyond the baptism of John – John’s entire mission was to point to Jesus, to move those following him to follow Jesus. After believers Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos speak they stuck around and eventually pulled him aside to ‘explained the Way of God to him more accurately.’  After which we see him more boldly, and more accurately, share the good news, becoming a leader in the NT church. 

In chapter 19 the apostle Paul meets a group of followers that, much like Apollos, only knew of the baptism of John. Like Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos, Paul did the same for this group of believers.  He filled in the huge gap of their knowledge, understanding, and the ‘who’ of their belief.  John had directed them to look for Jesus, however, they did not move forward.  John pointed to Jesus, Jesus pointed to God – the Father, Son, and Spirit. Now they knew.  They had known theoretically about Jesus, now they knew God personally.

Mark 1:1-11

This week we begin our journey in the gospel of Mark – we will campout in this gospel through lent/Easter (except for a handful of Sundays). Mark’s gospel begins with an emotional introduction, ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!’ (I added the exclamation point, but I think Mark would have been good with that) This initial greeting is then followed by a prophetic necessity, affirming Jesus and providing credence by linking John the baptizer to the ‘messenger’ prophesy in Isaiah 40.  

The time span from Malachi (the last prophet of the Old Testament) to the birth of Jesus is roughly 400 years, a time period often described as ‘When God was silent’.  It was a time when there were no prophets speaking, or really anything else. So the arrival of John was very significant to the people.

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the first gospel written – probably around 70 years after the birth of Jesus. This time of writing correlates to the time just before the Jewish rebellion which brought on the invasion/oppression by the Romans and the destruction of the second Temple. 

Mark begins the story with the ministry of John the Baptizer beginning with details about John’s clothing, diet, and chosen location to preach… and then Jesus show up and John points.

12.28.20 – 01.03.21

Readings

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:1-18

Context

Jeremiah 31:7-14

We have spoken much over the past couple of years about the prophet Jeremiah. We have predominantly seen him as he preached to the Israelites before Babylon conquered Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took the Hebrews as slaves.  His message was ‘repent and return to God…NOW!’ This week’s passage, however, is later, after the destruction and the exile has taken place.  In chapter 29, Jeremiah has informed the people that they need to settle into life in Babylon for they are going to be there for 72 years – he even said to work to make their masters succeed(!?). They are now in slavery, in exile, and, as a people, they are scattered.  It is a tough time to be a people, it is a tough time to possess a land, and it is a tough time to be a blessing, it is a tough time.

Now, in a time when it seems to be hopeless, a time when it would certainly be justifiable for Jeremiah to begin with ‘I told you so….’, instead, at this time, when they are facing decades of exile and slavery, he is speaking hope, reunion, and even restoration. God has not abandoned them nor has he forgotten them, life is not over even though, as yet, they cannot see the hope.

This is also a note to us, in this time of hopelessness, God has not abandoned us nor has he forgotten us.

Psalm 147:12-20

This Psalm is called a ‘Community Psalm of Praise’, in its emphasis on community, protection and praise – if you look at the entire Psalm you will see references to Praise listed several times. This is a call to praise. The Psalmist directs this to God’s people in the verse 19 reference to Jacob (which we also saw on the Jeremiah passage).  The Psalm is also a prophetic message as we see details to restoration of Judah and Jerusalem and an emphasis on deliverance of the oppressed Then, in verse 18 we see the use of ‘word’ and ‘spirit’ – linking to the incarnation as well as the giving of the Spirit.

Ephesians 1:3-14

This Ephesians passage resonates with our John passage, especially in the manner in which they both start us at the beginning, at creation and before. We have echoes of the adoption, sonship, inheritance, and the fullness of time – which was seen last week in Galatians.  Most importantly, though, is the link between adoption through Jesus Christ – those that believe are destined to be children of God.

John 1:1-18

While the gospels of Matthew and Luke begin with the Birth and Nativity stories, the gospel of Mark begins with John the baptizer and the baptism of Jesus, and John’s gospel begins with a hybrid of these three but in a very different literary form. The first three (even with the slight differences found in Mark) are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels, meaning they share a common storyline, timeline, and overall common view, John’s view often places events at different points in the timeline as well as stories not found in the other gospels – John also does not include many experiences found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The author, John the disciple, had a very unique relationship with Jesus which reveals things about Jesus we do not see in the other gospels.

This John passage is basically a prologue for John’s reporting of the life of Jesus. A prologue is a moment in a book, or play, or even a movie, where essential details pertinent to the story are covered in spoken or written form prior to the beginning of the actual story.  Think, the rolling words that we always view before any Star Wars movie, words that bring us up to date on anything we may have missed but still need to know, before the story actually begins. In a unique literary form, using metaphors such as ‘light’, ‘darkness’, and ‘word’, John prepares us for his perspective of the story of Jesus. This prologue begins at creation and brings us to the arrival of the Messiah, and adds a hint of the response Jesus receives from his people, and what his life means to all humans.

12.21.20 – 12.27.20

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

The later chapters of Isaiah have always held a place in the Christmas story.  In this, the third section of Isaiah, Israelites have returned to Judah as the prophet continues to speak hope, even though it all looks hopeless. It is tough to grab ahold of a promise of hope when all you see is hopelessness. However, these words of hope are not just a promise to the returning Israelites, it is a hope that applies to us as well.  We too look at the impossibility of transforming our world, we see the evil, we see the disregard of truth, we even see our religious institutions falling prey to the lures of lies and deceit.  Just as Isaiah prophesied to a people who could see no hope – hope was there, it had always been and will aways be there, we just have to realize that hope does not come in our ability or power, or even the ability and power of another – it is already present in God.

Isaiah is proclaiming very extravagant promises to the hopeless.  There is a huge difference between Isaiah’s words and the destruction that they see. There is a huge gap between hope and the realities of their history.  

Michael J. Chan, Luther Seminary, takes this moment that occurred over 500 years before the birth of Christ and explains the connection to us over 2,500 years later.

‘For centuries, Christians have waited for the second “Advent” of their lord. They give voice to this longing in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And while Advent and Christmas are typically seasons of joy, careful thought reveals that Advent is also a season of sighing: Celebrating Christ’s first Advent is fine, but what about the second Advent? Where is our Lord [now]? Where has God been while disease, poverty, violence, and hunger afflict creation? Sure, humanity can do more, but the eschatological and apocalyptic texts of the Bible indicate that humanity cannot do it all. God is needed. The world is constantly changing but will it ever be transformed? Where are you God? … ”’

This season of focus on the birth of a baby is a reminder to us all that God’s extravagant hope is present even though all we can see is a powerless baby lying in a stable surrounded by nothing that looks hopeful.  But, it is in the impossibility of that baby that we rest, work, and wait – we wait on that baby until right time when what we cannot do is done for us.

Psalm 148

Why did God make a garment of skin for Adam and Eve before they were sent out of the garden? Because they were about the face the reality of creation, an intentionally engineered plan where things work together to sustain humans but also to sustain itself.  Sometime this reality means that place and seasons on this planet can be everything but inviting.  Adam and Eve were about to learn of cold days and a sun that can parch the skin.  While this was all necessary for the planet, it is sometimes miserable for humans.  Whey did God tell them to till the ground and take care of the creation? Because they needed this functioning earth for their own survival – ‘take care of this creation’ commanded the creator.  

Our Psalm for this week can easily be dismissed as a simple Psalm of praise, but it is actually much more, it is a reality check.  There are going to be miserable and tough days on this earth, because that is how the earth works, it is how crops grow, how animals survive, and how we exist. Creation is a gift that must to be recognized, attended to, investigated, protected, and appreciated. At the same time, we have to recognize that a bad day on earth is still a day of hope. We, who live in the state of Oklahoma are all too aware of almost every natural calamity known to humans – we also have seen the hope of humanity acted out in the midst of those calamities.  This Psalm is a reminder that even though we may be attending to newborn in the depths of a cave surrounded by farm animals, we still have hope, it is actually lying right in front of us.

Galatians 4:4-7

The context of these words from the apostle Paul are much better understood if we first read the preceding 3 verses.

Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.

Galatians 4:1-3

This can now be a metaphor for what Christ did.  Just like heirs who owned the property and riches, as minors, are unable to make decisions without the guidance and approval of their guardians – we now have the Spirit as our guardian guiding us as we process the riches of God.

Luke 2:22-40

Eight days after Jesus was born he was circumcised, probably by Joseph in the stable.  Then, 40 days after he was birthed, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the sacrifice and rite of purification.  We see that they offer a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons, because they were unable financially to afford the lamb that was needed for the standard sacrifice.  While at the temple they have two different individuals engagements, Simeon and Anna.  The story behind these two encounters is telling, precious, treasured, and above all, prophetic, and maybe terrifying. It was a treasuring experience for these two exhausted individuals.

12.14.20 – 12.20.20

Readings

2 Samuel 7:1-16
Psalm 89:1-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38
I John 4:7-21

Context

Luke 1:26-38

This week, in Luke, we go back to the announcement by the angel to Mary, announcing her pregnancy.  This passage is commonly call the Annunciation. Context for this is very important, it sets us up for a proper understanding, not only of the birth narrative, but also for the full human life of Jesus. 

Mary is a virgin but going to be pregnant while still a virgin – immaculate conception.  She asks the logical question, “How?’ Even though she proclaims that ‘with God nothing is impossible’ she still had a huge question, ‘How?’. This is the first moment when reality and eternity collide in this story, ‘but HOW?’  This is all going to happen in the reality that Mary lives in, it is the reality everyone on earth lives in, it is that reality that we live in – it a reality that demands we say ‘HOW?’ 

Mary lives in the agrarian town of Nazareth, population 50-75 families. The community survives by living off the land, the earth.  Farming and fishing are their resources of survival.  There were three essential elements of survival that must take place in each community.  First, there had to be procreation/reproduction, this was the job of the women.  Second, they had to have protection/defense, generally this job was expected of the men.  Third, was subsistence/food to eat and sale – this was the job of everyone.  Existence was a very physical endeavor in communities such as Nazareth, everyone was called in to prepare the fish as well as to plant and harvest the fields.  It would be laborious to the most healthy person, but to a pregnant woman, there was no maternity leave so it was going to be brutal. Another important fact about Mary was that she was engaged to a young man named Joseph.

This was the path that Mary was on.  Get married, have children, do the work of subsistence. Wake up the next day and do it again.  Now, on top of this she was about to have the universal painful and uncomfortable nine months of pregnancy. In this time pregnancy was the most fatal thing a woman could go through.   Mary was not going to be living in a sterilized environment where she would be pampered and fussed over, this was going to be hard, really hard.

Much like we have seen with the apostle Paul, Mary, also, is about to have her life, and her path turned upside down.  She is still on the path of marriage, and she thinks she is still on the path of helping her community, only now there is a whole new destination, it was unexpected and is very unknown.

We know one other context fact about Mary however.  This was a young lady that had already taken the faith step onto God’s path, long before the angel appeared.  She had already said ‘yes’ to God.

II Samuel 7:1-11

The palace built for King David has been completed and now David is settling in. As he gets comfortable, he takes a look outside and remembers that God is still living in the tent, the tent where he has always lived.  David makes plans to build God a house, a glorious temple. God’s response to David is the pronouncement of the Davidic Covenant in which God promises to ‘build David a house (a dynasty) and that there will alway be a descendant on the throne of Israel.  Eventually, this promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 89:1-4

Our section of this Psalm is a Hymn of Praise for the Davidic Covenant, the promise to David for the Israelites.  If you go past verse 4, however, you find that it is then a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – they will wait for over 500 years until there is a return of a descendant of David to take the throne – Jesus Christ.

Romans 16:25-27

This is the doxology, the closing, of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  It is a reminder of the revelation they have received about Jesus, it is an expansion to the gentiles of the message of grace, it is exhortation to the believers to keep following Jesus, and it is a proclamation of the everlasting glory of God.

I John 4:7-21

I John is a warning to the believers about the dangers of false teachers and of power of fellowship with each other.  This particular passage centers on the love of Jesus and the power that brings in life and in their testimony. In this time of year, and on this week of Advent, it reminds us of God’s motivation in giving his son.

12.07.20 – 12.13.20

Take Five – Passage Primer for 12.07.20 – 12.13,20

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Last week, in our Take Five, we saw the two different theories present in the book of Isaiah.  One has Isaiah (chapters 1-39) speak of coming destruction because the people have refused to turn back to God, then (chapters 40-55) he speaks as though he is present during the destruction and exile (this is his prophetic voice since he has passed by this time), finally, he speaks (chapters 56-66) as if he is present during the release and return of the Israelites.  The second theory recognizes this same breakdown, however, in doing so, it assigns the three different sections to three different authors who were present during these times.  Isaiah, therefore would have only authored the first section. Regardless, we read it the same.  So, our passage today is assigned to the third section, during and after the release and return.

Imagine being an Israelites returning home.  You have been in exile and slavery for seven decades and now as you see home, it is devastating.  The city, the temple, and the walls are all in ruin.  The people are hopeless, they feel abandoned by God, they place the guilt on God, themselves, or both. They feel alone, vulnerable, and doomed. As you read verse 1 recognize that Isaiah is giving the reason he is talking, then progresses through what God has anointed him to say.

It is in this environment that Isaiah now speaks of hope.  He reminds the people of the stories from their ancestors of how God not only rescued them in traumatic times but restored that which had been lost. 

Before the Civil War commenced in our nation, a negro spiritual surfaced among enslaved and abused peoples in our nation.  The song sounded much like Isaiah’s voice as he reminds the hopeless people of their God who not only rescues but also restores. Consider the words of this chorus as you read our Isaiah passage – actually, consider as you read all of our readings for this week, in fact, why don’t you consider this passage as you think about the coming Messiah.

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Didn’t Pharaoh’s army get drowned?

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep

Psalm 126

The Psalmist who wrote this Psalm could have easily have been in the hopeless crowd as Isaiah spoke. The is a microcosm of the message of Isaiah in this Psalm.  A call to remember the past works of God and to remember how God’s redemption and restoration took shape in those situations.  The Psalmist is undoubtedly speaking from a place, and to a people who are in a place of devastation and hopelessness, his is a call of hope to a people who have given up all hope.

Luke 1:46b-55

The easiest way to understand this passage is to remember what the prophet Isaiah was calling the people to do in the midst of their hopeless, and what the Psalmist was doing to those reading his writings.  Mary has just comes to terms with what is going on, that she is pregnant and that the child she carries is the Son of God.  Mary had probably heard Isaiah’s teachings about remembering the redeeming and restorative works of God – this is how these words came together, this is a song from her heart.  The teenage girl was seeing her future and it seemed troubled to say the least, she was probably on the verge of hopelessness and despair as the Spirit comforted and reassured her.  As she was reconciling all that she had been told, she returned to those teachings of recollection, of remembering the faithfulness of God.  You can almost see her raising her head and looking up, a tilt of her head indicating that something had clicked in her heart and now understands that what she saw as a curse was actually a blessing, it was an honor.  This song then flowed from her heart.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

The apostle Paul is closing out this letter to the believers in Thessalonica.  He is concerned about this group, they are suffering persecution from those outside the church and dissension from almost everyone inside the church.  They could easily be on the brink, they are in the same place as the people the prophet Isaiah is speaking to, the same place that the Psalmist is speaking about, the same place as Mary and Joseph.  They are all on the verge of giving up, walking away, giving in.  Paul is deeply concerned and that concern is portrayed in his even deeper encouragement.  He tells them he will be praying that they will be faithful to God, and that they will remember that God is faithfulness.  

Paul also gives some very specific instructions.  Paul says that they must,

  1. Be respectful to others and to each other.
  2. Be at peace with each other.
  3. Encourage, correct, and be patient with each other.
  4. Do good rather than ‘getting even.’
  5. Rejoice.
  6. Pray, pray, and pray.
  7. Give thanks all the time.
  8. Listen for and to the Spirit, and follow.
  9. Remember the words of the prophets, the purveyors of truth.
  10. Check out everything before accepting it as fact – don’t be an easy target.
  11. Hold on tight to what is good, don’t do evil.
  12. Pray for Paul and his coworkers.

What a list!  It is a long and specific list that applied to the Thessalonians and to us today.

11.30.20 – 12.06.20

Readings

Isaiah 40:1-11  •  Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13  •  2 Peter 3:8-15a   •  Mark 1:1-8

Context

Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah can be a confusing book to read, especially if you attempt to read it straight through.  For instance, our Isaiah reading last week, we found Isaiah talking to the Hebrews as the exile was ending and they were heading home.  This is confusing since we know that Isaiah was not alive when the exile was over, or, when the exile took place. There are two theories for this confusing presentation.  The first theory is that chapter 1 through chapter 39 details the pronouncement of judgement, then, in chapter 40, Isaiah begins to speak to the future as he details the exile, and finally, chapter 55 begins the prophesy about the return from exile and slavery.  The second theory is that the book of Isaiah is actually three different books (I Isaiah, II Isaiah, III Isaiah) written by three different authors during the three different time periods (first Isaiah written by Isaiah). Regardless of the theory, the truths are the same and the depiction of God and humans is the same.

Our reading this week is from the pivotal chapter 40, it is a comforting passage as the people have been through a deep time of trial and trauma – the defeat and destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple.  Now they are slaves or headed in that direction.  They are devastated and are not able at this time to process any more messages of judgement.  They feel forgotten by God, the feel that God has gone silent, they feel deserted – later, it will be an appropriate time for the talk of correction.  To understand how all of this finally happened read Isaiah 39, it is actually a very easy read.  King Hezekiah, of Judah, had invited the current King of Babylon to come visit the palace – during the visit Hezekiah showed off everything, the riches, the military, everything.  Hezekiah paved the way for the judgement of the Hebrews by showing the enemy billions of reason to attack and conquer Judah.  Then, when Nebuchadnezzar became King the time was right and the conquering began.

If you read chapter 39 decide what was the Hezekiah’s motivation to reveal the wealth of Judah, and why did he interpret Isaiah’s prophecy in the way he did?

Psalm 85:1-13

“English translations typically fail to capture the nuance the Hebrew [language] communicates, God ‘lifted up the iniquity’ of his people and he ‘covered over’ all their sins. The priestly language [he original Hebrew] is used to communicate God’s redemptive movement towards his people.”

W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, Texas

Read this passage, and the Isaiah passage, with a comforting, consoling, and encouraging tone of voice to get the warmth being communicated to a people truly in need of a warm voice.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Peter is primarily writing to the same groups he wrote to First Peter, the seven churches in Asia Minor (this would include the church at Ephesus and at Laodicea).  These believers are facing isolation and persecution from the outside of their faith community but also there is dissension within.  There has been a parade of false teacher who have easily confused and misguided the believers.  Peter is calling them back and calling them to be together, unified.  He uses common dystopian imagery, not unlike today, that was often used in Roman and Jewish literature, philosophy, and theology.  However, even though this passage is often taught with a core purpose of speculative end times scenarios, it is actually about the here and now.  Peter is calling them to a growing life striving for holiness, a life of patience and waiting, all the while making the most of their lives for themself and for others in and outside their faith. 

Mark 1:1-8

As we saw last week, the gospel of Mark does not have the birth narrative, it begins with the arrival of the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptizer.  This is the comforting prophesy in which we hear echoes of Isaiah from our Isaiah reading for this week.  Isaiah provides the devastated Hebrews with comfort by signaling that the time of God’s silence is coming to end – the Messiah is near as the forerunner becomes a public figure.

11.23.20 – 11.29.20

Readings 

Psalm 80:1-19 • Isaiah 64:1-9 • Mark 13:24-37 • I Corinthians 1:3-9

Context

It is doubtful that there has ever been a time or atmosphere that has provided the perfect soil for the Advent season as has been the year 2020.  Do you remember the devastating Australian wild fires that consumed the news in the early days of the year, what about Prince Harry and Meagan Markle stepping away from royalty, the impeachment trials, an airplane crash killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, or the swarm of over 40,000 bees attack on first responders in Texas?  These plus many other world wide news events happened in the first two months of the year, most of which have escaped our memories as so much other news has not only captivated our attention but has very personally impacted our lives. It has been a year of waiting, waiting for a vaccine, a new president, a refreshed and energized stock market; waiting for a nation to recognize our no longer hidden racism, hatred, selfishness, and inability to Love our Neighbor; waiting for the faithful to understand what it is to be marginalized and victimized as opposed to being inconvenienced; waiting for a freedom to go out in public unafraid, to shake hands and embrace with hugs, to actually be together instead of on screen, and waiting until it is safe to listen to the news again – it has been a year in which we have been waiting for the year to be over.

Advent is about waiting, waiting for God to reveal himself, waiting for deliverance, waiting for the return of Christ.  It is also a time when we focus on recognizing that, even in our sinfulness God is still there, he is still the potter and we are still the clay; a time to take hold of the sufficient resources God has given to give us strength, affirmation, and hope in troubled times.

Our usual context description will be limited this week as our passages are more about what God has done, is doing, and what God will do – they are a context unto themselves for this season of waiting.  These readings take us to a recognition of our own unacceptable nature and our God who still accepts us, they are about the past, present, and the future – they are about the history, mystery, and majesty of God.

What a wonderful time for Advent!  What a wonderful time to begin by looking at HOPE.

Psalm 80:1-19

Our Psalm this week is an actual prayer written after the fall of Israel, it is a lament in which the Psalmist cries out about their sinful state, God’s redemptive response, and the hope of God’s restoration and redemption.  It is the prayer of a sinful, desperate people, a God that does the unexpected and unpredictable, is is about the entire unexpected story of our deliverer, Jesus.

Isaiah 64:1-9

Our Isaiah passage could almost be laid on top of our gospel passage in Mark and the similarities would be visible as wall as the same yearning and longing of humans that is still seen.  It is a people in darkness, in strange and unchartered times looking for God to ‘break in’ to their existence. What are the people crying out for? Deliverance, light, restoration, hope.

Mark 13:24-37

There are two things that make this an odd passage to kickoff Advent.  First, Mark does not even have a birth narrative, this gospel begin with the story of John.  Second, our passage actually takes place just days before the crucifixion.   Still, there is the same longing in the hearts of the people.  Christ is talking about being ready, ready for God to reveal himself, for the Messiah to appear, for deliverance to take place, for Christ to return….we are always longing.

I Corinthians 1:3-9

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, who are also waiting. In this opening of the letter, Paul points out that the people have been given, by God, all the resources, all the strength, that is needed to carry them through the trying days of waiting.

11.16.20 – 11.22.20

Readings

Ezekiel 34:11-24  •  Psalm 95:1-7a  •  Ephesians 1:15-23  •  Matthew 25:31-46

Context

Ezekiel 34:11-24

Ezekiel is another of the prophets who prophesied just before and during the exile, specifically in the Southern Kingdom – Judah.  He was in the first wave the exile and taken to slavery in Babylon where he continued to prophesy. Ezekiel’s message, in exile, continues to be a ‘return to God’ message, but then as we have seen with other prophets in exile, the message eventually turns to hope and deliverance.

His message immediately before and after Judah and Jerusalem is conquered is a condemnation of the religious leaders and the King and politicians who have failed to ‘shepherd’ the people, they have failed to take care of the weakest among them.  In the ancient Middle East, the term ‘shepherd’ is always a metaphor for King (except, of course, when it is obviously talking about an actual shepherd). 

In verse 24 we hear God saying that he is finished with earthly Kings, he is taking the throne back, he will be the King, the Shepherd. Verse 23 is a Messianic prophesy referring to Jesus.

This Ezekiel passage is basically his finale of Hope – think of the final moments of a fireworks show where the presentation ends with all the remaining fireworks flooding the skies at the same time.

Psalm 95:1-7a

Psalm 95 is is called an ‘Enthronement’ Psalm.  This is one of the Psalms that proclaim that Yahweh is King.  The Psalm proclaims what we see in our Matthew passage, a contrast between the Kingdoms we live in and the truth of the Kingdom of God.  Verse 7a is the climax of this, a actually our passages this week ‘God is OUR God and we are the Sheep!’

Ephesians 1:15-23

Much like we saw with Paul’s initial and final greeting to the church at Thessalonica, in Ephesus we see a similar joy on Paul’s part because of what he has heard about the Ephesians.  They are living out their faith, their lives and works are a testimony of the priorities of living in the Kingdom of God even while living in the reality of our earthly existence.  Paul reinforces the ‘how’ of their lives by reminding them that, even though it does not seem like it, they are living in God’s Kingdom which is done on earth.

Matthew 25:31-46

Probably the simplest context ever – given by Jesus immediately following this passage!  He is saying what he says in order to prepare them for what is about to take place in the coming days.

  • When Jesus had finished saying all these things (the things said in this week’s reading plus everything he has said in the past weeks), he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)
  • Jesus gives the Kingdom contrast between the Kingdom of Heaven that he has just described (in passage for this week) and what they are about to see in the Kingdom of the Roman Empire and the Religious Establishment. Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. (Matthew 26:3-4)