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)

11.09.20 – 11.15.20

Readings

Judges 4:1-7  •  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18  •  Psalm 90:1-12  •  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  •  Matthew 25:14-30

Context

Judges 4:1-7

This is a fantastic story, to really enjoy the fullness of it I suggest reading all of Judges 4.  You are able to grasp the story without a lot of background.  The Israelites are now living in the promised land but they are also facing constant trouble with their warring neighbors. God would often use these aggressive and violent neighbors often to confront and correct the sinfulness of the Israelites – which is where this story begins.

The antagonists of the story are the King of Canaan, Jabin, and his army commander, Sisera. The protagonists are Barak, a military leader of the Israelites, Deborah, a prophetess, and Jael, ‘a wife.’ Barak is often dismissed as a coward but I’m not sure.  Deborah is a strong and confident leader, and Jael is ‘a wife.’ In the end, the glory goes to Jail – ‘a wife.’  

See what you think about each of these.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Zephaniah prophesied in the Judah, the southern kingdom about 132 years after Amos prophesied in Israel, the northern kingdom. In between, the kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians.

Zephaniah and Amos both had the same calling as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets who carried a message of repentance and a return to God – the people of both kingdoms were largely clueless that they had turned from God, they had not recognized their sin and therefore few listened.  Now, we see Zephaniah and Amos (who we looked at last week) confronting the same intentional blindness of the people.  The “Day of the Lord’ was their warning, but it was a difficult message because the people that envisioned the Day of the Lord as being a day of rejoicing, deliverance, and freedom.  The reality was that the Day of the Lord is a day of judgement, and for some is brutal.

Psalm 90:1-12

In his poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress’, poet Andrew Marvell writes from the perspective of a lascivious man who is attempting to selfishly woo his mistress into his bed using a strategy of urgency – the time is now, we should not waste it.

‘The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace.’

This thought of urgency, with a much more honorable goal, is the aim of this Psalm – it is seen, finally, in last verse (v.12). However, to get there is a brutal journey.

This aim, corresponds with the thread of our passage this week, and last week.  To be ready, to do what needs to be done today for strength for tomorrow.  You will see that Jesus is urging his followers (in the parable for this and last week) to work today to be ready for tomorrow.

‘I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.’

Eleanor Roosevelt

Matthew 25:14-30

We are inching our way ever closer to the cross – Jesus is about 30-40 hours away from his arrest.  There continues to be an intentional urgency in what he is saying as well in the manner in which he is saying it.  He tells a new parable aimed at his followers who were about to go through the trauma and anguish in the arrest and crucifixion.  They are going to need to be aware of their skill, abilities, and talents to not only survive but to lead.  They have surely noticed the tone of Jesus has grown in intensity over the days and hours, and now it must have seemed that his piercing eyes were burning through them.  They were about to experience an unimaginable crisis moment. They were going to need to be prepared.

A talent was no meager amount of money.  It was probably around the same as 20 years of wages for the workers, possibly more.  Calculations of the value vary, but they usually fall somewhere between $30,000.00 and one million US dollars today. Any of the possible amounts was enough to justify doing something with this money.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

This is our last week in I Thessalonians – I encourage you to read the entire chapter for it is a great message.  This passage is often preached and quoted, there are Christian speakers and writers who have made a lot of money with this passage.  They have crafted a message of how and when of The Day Of The Lord, answering questions that scripture clearly tells us we are incapable of knowing answers.  As is true of most eschatological (end times) messages, in focusing on what we cannot know we miss the very powerful message that is there.  Paul is finishing this letter to this group who have worked in unity to have an amazing impact on their community and the surrounding communities – and they have done this in the midst of trials and persecution.  So, he begins with verse one telling them that he does not need to say anything else, they already know how to not be distracted and, instead, to make the most of the time they have. Then, in the final verse of this assigned passage (v.11) Paul’s gives them their calling in a single sentence.

11.02.20 – 11.08.20

Readings

Joshua 24:1-25 • Amos 5:18-24 • Psalm 70 • Matthew 25:1-13 • I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Context

Joshua 24:1-25

This passage marks the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.  The Israelites have become ‘a people’ and they have now then possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua.  Now, Joshua is calling them to worship only the true God, the Lord.  We assume that since God called Abraham to worship only the true God –  the Israelites did the same.  They did not, the people continued to be just like all the other people, they worshipped many gods.

The Israelites act offended at Joshua’s confrontation, ’of course we only worship the true God because of all that he has done for us’ they claim. Joshua bodly tells them they cannot worship God because they continue to hold on to the idols of the false gods. The people make a covenant that the Lord is their only God and they will serve and obey him. It is a promise to be a peculiar people, to be different than the people of the other nations.

The people will continue to struggle will polytheism (believing in many gods – monotheism is the belief in one God) even after this promise.

Amos 5:18-24

Amos, like Micah, was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah.  He was calling Israel out of their sin and to turn back to God.  Amos was confrontative and harsh. The book of Amos begin with an indictment of the nations surrounding Israel but the rest is primarily a confrontation of the Israelites.  Chapter 5 addresses their selfish ways of expecting God’s favor.  They assume ‘Day of the Lord’ will be a time when God will rescue them from oppression – Amos says it  will be a day of judgement against them.  Amos is crying out that God hates their insincere religious celebration and practices, their public displays of insincere ‘righteousness’ – God is looking at their heart, he sees the real them. God is calling the people to search, seek, and find what God desires of them, what justice and righteousness really mean and to continuously live that out.

Psalm 70

You may want to read this Psalm after you have read the Amos, Joshua, and Matthew passages. Consider how this Psalm is a human response to the message of those 3 passages.

Matthew 25:1-13

We are just one chapter away from Jesus’ arrest, less than three days from the crucifixion.  This can be a disturbing parable told by Jesus, one in which we can easily see the chief players, the wise bridesmaids and the bridegroom, as being very unChristlike.  It is not really a story of a wedding, nor is it a story of sharing or being selfish – it is a story of being sufficiently prepared and continually patient while waiting for the Christ’ return.  Hint – this passage was a continuation of Jesus speech that took place in chapter 24.  Look at what Jesus was speaking about as this passage connects to his previous words.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

This encouraging and hopeful close of the letter from Paul to the church at Thessalonica is often hijacked by bad eschatology (end times prophesies and human speculation).  Paul is closing his message with a call for the people to let their grief be partnered with hope leading them to look to the future with peace. Paul desires to lift up these followers who have had such an impact even in the midst of troubling times.

10.26.20 – 11.01.20

Readings

Micah 3:5-12; Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 43; Matthew 23:1-12; I Thessalonians 2:9-13

Context

Joshua 3:7-17

It is a transitional threshold time for the Israelites. Moses has passed and Joshua is now transitioning into being the leader. These people, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, have never known any other leader than Moses. God is intentionally establishing Joshua as the leader in the eyes of the people as he places him in a visible place where all can see.  It is vital that God do this and not Joshua on his own.  This is a time of power but also it is a time that necessitates humility.

This is also a threshold moment, the people are finally entering the promised land.  Their parents failed to trust God forty years ago so now this generation will enter.  As they enter, God enters with them.  They carry the Ark of the Covenant as they cross the parted Jordan river.  This is also a moment of recognizing the power of God.  He is present as the Ark is present which is a comfort and assurance for the people, at the same time is is terrifying – the people are to always be at a distance of at least a half mile from the Ark.  They cannot help but know that the God, in all power, is with them, at the same time they have to be in a state of humility.

  • Why was it important that God blatantly place Joshua in a visibly leader role.
  • What do you think Joshua was thinking at this moment?
  • Do you think that we know that God’s power is with us?
  • Do you think we recognize that power and stand in humility at the same time?
  • What do you think the impact of arrogance on our part is in our life?

Micah 3:5-12

Our Micah passage sets up the thread that weaves itself through the readings for this week.  Micah is loudly confronting the religious leaders and prophets who are being paid by the political leaders to deceivingly convince the people that everything is okay when it is not.  Micah is a prophet at the same time as Isaiah – they are both confronting the prophets who are speaking lies to keep the people calm and the political leaders in power.  Religion has sold itself to the highest bidder and authenticity in all the leaders is absent.  Micah is furious.

Micah is in the country, in the middle of nowhere while Isaiah is in the city.  Micah sees the destructive impact on the people that are far from the center of politics and the religious institution.  Micah sees the destruction that is present because of the lies and deceit in Jerusalem, he see how the decisions made in Jerusalem are harming the everyday people.  He is seeing the Assyrian troops on the horizon ready to conquer and destroy the regular people out in the country side while the leaders in Jerusalem are communicating, and accepting, the message that everything is fine, ‘we are turning a corner and will soon be okay.’ Even though Micah and Isaiah are both warning of the false prophets, Micah is calling Isaiah out for his comfort and royal influence in Jerusalem.

While this passage sounds to be solely directed at the false prophets and the inauthenticity in the leaders, the verses just prior have been directed at social injustices.  Micah is standing up for a people who have just been accepting disinformation and abuse.

Questions:

  • Can you see this same scenario present today in our world today?
  • How do you know who to listen to and who to trust?
  • Why is authenticity so important in the people who lead us?
  • Why is authenticity so important in our life?

Psalm 43

In Psalm we see a person who has been falsely accused of something – the consequence of this false accusation is probably that this person has been exiled from the temple.  “I am not guilty of this accusation’ is the complaint made to God. The complaint is followed by a plea for rescue and finally, there is hope.

Questions:

  • How is verse 3 a response for the Micah passage as well?
  • Why is truth often combined with the concept of light?
  • Have you ever had a conversation with yourself like the one in verse 5?

Matthew 23:1-12

It is Tuesday of Holy Week – Jesus will be arrested on the Thursday night which is only two days away.  This has been a long exhausting day.  Jesus has faced the questioning by all the different groups of religious leaders who have tried to discredit him and his teachings but have failed in their attempts. Now he is speaking to his followers.  His teaching now has turned to the hypocrisy of the leaders, especially that there actions do not reflect their teachings.  Jesus is talking about authentic discipleship as opposed to inauthentic and/or abusive discipleship.  

Questions: 

  • What is Jesus saying about those we permit to lead and influence us in our spirituality and even more in the whole of our life?  
  • What is the danger in permitting any human(s) to have guiding power over us?
  • Can you see “Love God and Love your Neighbor’ embedded in this passage?

I Thessalonians 2:9-13

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians could easily be misread as being arrogant – ‘imitate me’ and ‘doing what I said’ are a few examples.  However, this is a letter of deep love and affection for a people to whom he feels like a father. In our past three readings from this letter Paul has beamed with pride at the amazing reputation of the church at Thessalonica. They are truly living out the truth.  In this section Paul points out that his life matches his message and encourages them to continue doing the same.  He also reminds them to be very critical to discern truth from lies.  Paul is leading the church to be a new society and to ‘live lives worthy of God.’

  • What would it look like for you ‘live a life worthy of God?
  • What do you suppose are the elements of the relationship of Paul and the Thessalonians that cause him to say ‘I so deeply do care for you, you have become so dear to me’?
  • Why is it important to Paul that the people know he lives what he preaches?

10.19.20 – 10.25.20

Readings 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 • Leviticus 19:1-18 • Psalm 1 • Matthew 22:34-46 • I Thessalonians 2:1-18

Context

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Our readings through the journey with Moses takes a huge leap this week as we are transported from God revealing himself to the death of Moses (it is actually a tragic leap for we are missing a lot – we will be back this way in the future to cover what we are skipping). Moses is not going into the Promised Land but God is permitting him to see into the land as he had been promised. This passage also details the legacy of Moses that has ‘never been matched’.

This passage was the basis for Martin Luther King’s final sermon which he preached the night before he was assassinated.

Leviticus 19:1-18

The book of Leviticus, in large part, is the Law which God gave to Moses so that Moses could then give it to the people. The reason we are at this passage this week is that there is a direct tie between this passage and our Matthew gospel passage (specially Leviticus 18:1-2, 15-18).  This teaching becomes, to the Jewish people, the basic foundation for their belief system.  This is the origin of ’Be Holy’, ‘Love God, and ‘Love your neighbor’.  This becomes the most basic of the common elements of the teachings in the Jewish faith. While verses 1-2 set the tone for holiness, verses 15-18 give us a taste of what it means to ‘love your neighbor.’ As you look at this taste of ‘Love’, compare it to the atmosphere of the church, and believers in our world today, are these validated or ignored in what we see around us, are they the main factor in our own lives?

Psalm 1

We recently had to have a huge cypress tree cut down in our front yard.  I loved this tree, it was higher than any other tree on our street, possibly our neighborhood.  I loved to stand at the base of the tree and look up – it felt like I was standing at the base of a redwood in Northern California. The reason we had to have the tree removed was that the roots began to tear up our driveway and were harming our neighbor’s house foundation. Then the tree guy came out he showed me the evidence of the roots not just in the vicinity of the tree but also at the back opposite corner of my back yard. The root system of the cypress were amazing but also detrimental, the fact that they were so shallow made them a menace, or threat, to everything on the surface.  Ultimately, this tree that provided so much for the squirrels and birds….and me, was a negative for everything else.

Deep roots take healthy care of what is above the dirt.

There are 208 verses in the Old Testament that speak of a literal or metaphoric tree, 9 of those are in the book of Psalms which mostly refer to having deep roots or being a shelter and refuge. Interestingly, the book of Psalms takes us to a tree in the very first chapter in a way that sets us up for the message of the entire book – deep roots for strong and useful branches.  Consider the waters in your life that make your roots deep and strong.

Matthew 22:34-46

We are still with Jesus in the temple, in Jerusalem, the week of the cross, and, Jesus is still entertaining the testy questions of all the different groups of religious leaders and scholars.  As Jesus had quieted every group that they could send to him, they now put a lawyer before him.  The lawyer asks a very benign question, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ Jesus answers the way that all the leaders would answer “Love God and Love all Others.’ The leaders have nothing else to ask so Jesus commandeers the conversation by asking the leaders a very difficult and tricky question which they are genuinely unable to answer. It is not a ‘trick’ question but it was a challenge to their stance in regard to accepting that Jesus was the Messiah.  The leaders had nothing else to ask, they had been bested in their pursuit of tricking Jesus into saying something wrong that would turn the attitude of the crowds. They left.

I Thessalonians 2:1-8

Paul continues to write to the Thessalonians of his amazement of the work the Holy Spirit has been freed to do in the church at Thesslonica.  In chapter 2 Paul expands to illuminate his own inner motive and calling in coming to them in the first place.  He also shares that they are very dear to him. Chapter 2 is a continuation of the encouragement we saw in chapter 1 last week.

10.12.20 – 10.18.20

Readings

Exodus 33:12-23 • Psalm 96:1-13 • Isaiah 45:1-7 • Matthew 22:15-22 • I Thessalonians 1:1-10

Context

Exodus 33:12-23

God and Moses are, once again, in a conversation.  It is a very interesting dynamic that exists between these two, especially as we add this particular element of the relationship. Moses is feeling alone in his mission of leading the people, and he voices this to God by saying that he (Moses) does not yet ‘know God.’  On this side of the story, this is a difficult thing to grasp – Moses has seen God deliver and rescue the people, he has witnessed God’s power, he has partaken of very intimate conversations, and still, he does not feel like he knows God.  Moses asks to see ‘God’s glory.’

God’s response is to visibly ‘show’ Moses all that he is capable of handling, he gives Moses a glimpse.  But the real revelation for Moses is that God reveals his glory by giving Moses his name, ‘THE LORD,’ and that he is ‘Gracious’ and will be gracious and act with mercy.

This is all that Moses needed, it was enough.

Psalm 96:1-13

‘Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name.’

How do we sing in a time when singing can pass along a virus.  The Psalmist uses a common means of proclamation, even more in that time than now.  Music is, and has been, a very powerful tool for communication as well as manipulation. I have a friend who discovered early on that her autistic son was calmed by the music of the group Coldplay – Coldplay quickly became the music of choice in their home and vehicle. Music is very personal, it can stir us, it can pump us up, it can silence us, it has the power to move us.  This is why the Psalmist proclaims to sing your testimony, your faith experience.

So, what do we do when we cannot sing? How do we continue to express our faith experience, journey, and belief? It is a question that needs to be considered even when we are able to freely sing (and without a mask)?

Of course, it also leads to the question, ‘would we be blessing God if we were to recklessly choose to sing, and sing without a mask, knowing that it potentially can be harmful to others?

Isaiah 45:1-7

Approximately 150 years before the Persian King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians – so, before the King was even born, Isaiah wrote that Cyrus would be anointed by God to free the Israelites from the exile and slavery.  This was even before Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed exiling the people to Babylon.  It is one of the most verified, and amazingly detailed, prophesies of any of the prophets. It is all the more interesting to think that this man, not a worshipper of Yahweh, a foreigner, not even yet born, who would be the King of of a country that had no prominence yet, was already anointed to be the deliver of the Israelites.

Think about it, Isaiah, who was calling the people back to God with warnings of a coming catastrophe that would not even visibly impact the generation he was speaking to – is now telling them their deliverer will be this non-Jew, unknown and unborn ruler of a country that had little significance…it is little wonder that Isaiah had so much trouble getting anyone to listen to him!

For us, it is really an amazing prophesy that challenges so many of our ideas of who can, and is, used by God.  It also is an comforting assurance to us that God is at work long before we even think we need to cry out to him.

This Isaiah passage is often misused and abused by religious people to justify their support for ethically and morally questionable leaders.  This misuse is one of the dangers of using scripture when scripture does not really apply – it actually become a manipulation of God’s truth but also an even greater manipulation of the listeners.

Matthew 22:15-22

For just 7 verses, this passage could take us all day to discuss.  We could focus on the weird grouping of those who are questioning Jesus, the awkward response/request of Jesus to their question, the implications of Jesus response to politics and religion, the response of the questioners to Jesus’ reply, or the implications of the coin itself (and there are probably even more relative rabbits holes in which we could descend).  

So, we are just going to have some basic points going into this passage.

  • This is the last week of Jesus’ life before the cross, he is still in the temple, and he is still entertaining the questions of the various groups of religious leaders.
  • The group that approaches him at this time are a combined group of Pharisee and Herodians.  This is a group that could only get together if they felt that they shared a common threat (consider our look at ‘same’ versus ‘mob’ mindedness from this past Sunday – video link is on our web site).  The Pharisee were very strict in their view that nothing of Herod, or the political system, should be permitted to creep into the Jewish religion.  The Herodians were the opposite, they were supporters of King Herod.
  • Jews used the Shekel but they were forced to use the Roman coin (denarius) for many financial exchanges, this would have been a very sensitive point for the Pharisees who saw this coin with the image of Ceasar and the inscription of ‘Son of God’ under as horrible.  Also, the Israelites were forced to pay a temple tax whenever they came to the temple, this was all part of the delecate collusion between politics and religion, this tax was given to the religious establishment to pay the priest and other officials.  So, the Jews, who felt that anything Roman was evil and oppressive, had to pay this evil coin to enter their temple.  Also, ask yourself if it is extra interesting that one one of these religious officials were carrying such an evil object?

I Thessalonians 1:1-10

This week is the first of our five weeks looking at I Thessalonians, which is wonderful as it is a book of encouragement.  We are living in a time when encouragement is probably the most needed thing for all of humanity. It was needed by the folks at Thessalonica as well. This passage could also be claimed as an answer to the questions that are posed in our primer for the Psalm passage for this week.  The Thessalonians are persecuted, they have to be careful of their actions and anything drawing attention to themselves and their faith – therefore, singing is probably not an option for them either.  Yet, we see that their faith is known far beyond their community.  Consider how they sang even though singing was beyond prohibitive.

10.05.20 – 10.11.20

Readings

Exodus 32:1-14  •  Psalm 23  •  Isaiah 25:1-9  •  Matthew 22:1-14  •  Philippians 4:1-9

Context

Exodus 32:1-14

This is most likely a very familiar story for you, while Moses is gone from the Israelites for 40 days, in his absence, the people become afraid.  While Moses and God are talking about God’s gift of the Law to the Israelites, the people, in their fear return to the religious practices they have lived under in Egypt.  They build a golden calf and celebrate.  Although their celebration is justified as being a festival of God, it soon turns into a full fledged orgy.  God informs Moses of what is going on at the base of the mountain and Moses and God express their anger and frustration with the people.

As you think through this familiar story, consider the following:

  • Are the people afraid because they are worshiping the wrong thing/person?
  • Are the people guilty of creating a false god, or is their guilt that they have a false image of the real God?
  • Theologian Walter Brueggeman says that this passage is a depiction of a daring act of prayer – what is he referring to?

Psalm 23

This Psalm is possibly the most quoted passage of scripture at funerals. It is a comforting and hopeful passage.  It also has very distinct images that are the thread through many of our passages for this week – the image of a table where all are seated (good and bad), and we see the image of a feast.

Do you feel peaceful when you read this Psalm? If so, why do you think that is, is there a message between your feelings of peace and the metaphors used?

One other avenue to look at this Psalm….we last looked at this passage after Easter on May 3, still early enough in the pandemic that we assumed we would be back to ‘normal’ by end of summer – does it read differently to you now after we have experienced 6 months of pandemic without an end in sight?

Isaiah 25:1-9

Anytime we read in Isaiah we have to remember his mission and his proximity to the coming destruction and exile of Judah.  Isaiah is calling the people back to God before they see ruin.  Just like Jeremiah and Ezekiel after him, the message of Isaiah is usually very dark and forbidding – however, here we have a passage of hope and a future.  It is not just hopeful for the Hebrews either, it is a hope for all peoples of the earth.

Spend a moment of consideration of verse 4 and how it is the reason for the description in verse 3.

Matthew 22:1-14

Biblical scholar, Matthew Skinner, frequently says, ‘I have to contend with the gospel of Matthew.’ Parables such as this one in Matthew 22 serve as the justification for his struggle.  You will also find this parable in Luke 14:15-24, although in Luke’s depiction it is a bit more restrained – the Matthew telling of the story is much more brutal and often perplexing.

Remember, we are in the week between the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and Jesus’ death on the cross – Luke places it much earlier in the ministry of Jesus.  Matthew places the parable in this very solemn week, and it serves as the final straw for the religious leaders, verse 15 tells us that after hearing Jesus tell this parable they leave and begin planning how to entrap Jesus.

If you would like to also ‘contend’ with this passage, challenge yourself as you read it by asking yourself some contentious questions that can justifiably be answered in a variety of ways.  Let the questions force you to see perspectives you otherwise would not see.

  • Why did only some people receive the original invitations?
  • Why would they not accept and attend?
  • Is being invited a good or a bad thing?
  • What is the problem of the clothes worn by one of the guest?
  • What/who does this guest, with the inappropriate wardrobe, represent?
  • How do you see ‘accountability’ portrayed in this parable?
  • Is there a contradiction between this parable and John 3:16? Why or why not?
  • If this is a description of The Kingdom of Heaven, what is the picture being painted?

Enjoy contending!

Philippians 4:1-9

As we have journeyed with the Apostle Paul and his relationship with his faith family in Philippi, we have been aware of some type of storm that is brewing among the believers.  In chapter 4 we finally see a hint of the issue, two women, Euodia and Syntyche, are not of one mind.  This is our primary context note, Paul has just spoken about believers being of the same mind, and now, we see the antagonists of this problem, however, we are only told that it is a ‘same mind’ issue.  There would seem to be a danger of the church taking sides, but Paul leaves it to these two women to ‘be of the same mind.”

A few things we can justifiable know are true.

  1. The women are, or have been, coworkers with Paul.
  2. They are important members of the faith community and hold much influence.
  3. Paul knew that they knew what he was talking about when he says ‘be of same mind’ and he did not need to elaborate.

Spend a moment on verse 8.  What does that encouragement mean to you?

09.28.20 – 10.04.20

Readings

Exodus 20:1-20 • Psalm 80:7-15 • Isaiah 5:1-7 • Matthew 21:33-46 • Philippians 3:4-14

Context

Exodus 20:1-20

We usually miss the splendor of our Exodus passage – the giving by God, to the Hebrews, the ten commandments. This, too, is probably the reason we also miss the true meaning and weight of sin. As I pointed out in the Sunday message, the Hebrews coming out of the oppression of slavery in Egypt were, in many ways, like children.  They had never lived in freedom, they had never been given the choices that freedom now gave – their lives had basically been lived in survival mode.  Now, God is telling them the basic of how to live and how to relate to each other.  The ten commandments are basically a ‘How to live in freedom and in Community.’  God gave them this gift (and it was a gift as they were the only people receiving this gift) so they could stay free and not enslave themselves to something, or someone, else.  It is a guide of how to trust God, ‘you don’t need to steal because God will provide’, etc. Freedom comes with responsibility to others – the commandments are actually the first lesson in Loving God and Loving others.

Psalm 80:7-15

Three of our passages for this week use the metaphor of a vineyard.  The Psalm passage is actually an answer to the other two – ‘we cry out to God to restore us.’ This, final answer, is then named in the Matthew passage as we see the vineyard owner sending the ‘son’.  This Psalm as it cries for restoration is a recognition that we are unable, apart from God, to produce the fruits that God is calling us to produce.  Read this passage, then, after you read the Isaiah and Matthew passages, return to this passage again

Isaiah 5:1-7

• Isaiah is speaking but the words are directly from God to all the people.

  • This Isaiah passage was probably on the minds of the people as they listened to the parable of Jesus in our Matthew passage.  In that passage Jesus is largely confronting the religious leaders and how they have swayed from leading the people to God, instead, making their faith about religious practices and rules – in Isaiah, God is speaking to all the Israelites about the shallowness of their faith and the resulting abuse and neglect of their neighbors (see v.8-12 to understand this).
  • The Israelites are divided.  What was the nation of Israel has now split into Israel and Judah.
  • God is confronting the fact that this vineyard, a vineyard that he planted and nurtured, has grown wild grapes (referring to the people) instead of what he originally planted. He begins by reminding them of his love but in the end, God is warning the people of the doom ahead.

Matthew 21:33-46

As with last week, and in the coming weeks, we find Jesus in the temple.  This is the week that will end with the cross.  Last week Jesus’ authority was questioned by the High Priests and Elders, now, as this continuation continues we see that they have been joined by the Pharisees.  While this engagement began with these first century Jewish leaders asking the questions, now we see that Jesus has become the one asking the questions.  Last week the question was about authority to which Jesus responded by pointing out their lack of honesty, this week we see in the parable, Jesus confronting these religious leaders themselves. In verse 45 we see that the religious leaders realize that Jesus is comparing the tenants in the parable to them.

While there is an implicit reference to the ‘cornerstone’, this parable is primarily aimed at the leaders failures. Jesus is now speaking to the leaders, and the two parables after this one will also be aimed at the leaders (the remaining religious leaders will gather with this group for those parables – the Herodians, Sadducees, and the Scribes).

Three things to consider:

  1. As the vineyard owner sends his servant, and eventually his own son, to collect the produce/fruits, think back to Matthew 5:1-12.  This is the produce that is being collected, this is what the tenants were meant to produce.  Jesus is confronting the leaders’ failures to lead out and produce the characteristics spoken to in Matthew 5.
  2. Look at the quick and brutal response of the leaders when asked ‘what will the owner do to these tenants?’
  3. As you read our Philippians passage, think if there could be a sameness in what Jesus and Paul are saying.

Philippians 3:4-14

As we have seen, Paul, in his letter to the church at Philippi is reminding the Philippians that they have not yet arrived in their faith, they are still learning and growing.  As we learned Sunday, Paul is addressing a divisive risk they are facing within their fellowship.  Paul’s overriding message is ‘work out your salvation.’ In this passage Paul reminds the people to not look back at what they have achieved, to not boast in the past, but look ahead at all that God is doing and what it is that he is doing in others as well – this passage is a particular passage to ‘not get stuck in what you have achieved and understand’, instead let God continue to grow you in your understanding (and sometimes correct you in your misunderstanding).

09.21.20 – 09.27.20

Readings

Exodus 17:1-7 • Ezekiel 18:1-32 • Psalm 25:1-9 • Philippians 2:1-13 • Matthew 21:23-32

Context

Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites are in the midst of learning the life of deliverance and freedom.  They are learning that is not really easier than living in slavery, it is just a different struggle (at least at this point).  To complicate matters, they are also adjusting to God who they are actually just meeting. God is introducing himself to them in a very intentional way – through his grace.  They complain and God, in his grace, meets the need behind their complaints.  They complain about something else, and again, God meets the need behind their complaints with patience that flows from his grace. God knows this people and is aware that this is how they will learn. God is becoming known by revealing the driving force of his power, the grace that flows through the Love of God for this people.

In our Exodus 16 passage we looked at last week, God dealt with the complaint of hunger by promising to provide for them daily, and in that very graceful provision, the people would remember him.  This week the people are thirsty, they need water so they complain. God gives water but does so in a spectacular way that can will be a memory for the people of a moment that God provided.  

God’s power gets attention, and the memory of that power reminds them of God, but it is through the source of that power, God’s grace nature, that the people truly meet God.

Ezekiel 18:1-32

The prophet Ezekiel was active around the same time as the prophet Jeremiah. That means that he too, was calling a people back to God and ultimately explaining to them what the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile were all about.  This passage probably took place around the same time as the destruction so it was fresh on the listeners minds.  Also, you may remember Jeremiah and Isaiah confronting the people about their own shallow and lukewarm religious practices – Ezekiel is talking on this same thread but addressing the faithlessness of the parents of these people.  Just like the cycle of abuse that we still see take place in our day, Ezekiel is attributing this same reality to their religious practices – that a lukewarm parent will lead to a religiously lukewarm child who becomes a lukewarm adult.  Ezekiel assures the people that they will not suffer for the sins of their parents, but then stresses that each person is responsible for their own actions and faith regardless of their parents.  In explaining the ‘why’  of the horrible times he is still placing personal responsibility on each person.

Psalm 25:1-9

Our Psalm for this week has an emphasis on forgiveness and leading.  Possibly read verses 5-6 first and then go back an read all of the passage with you point of reference being these two verses – let it be an anchor that ties it together, and actually ties it with our other readings for this week.

Matthew 21:23-32

While this is not the time on our calendars for our focus on Easter, nevertheless, we are now in the middle of Holy Week (at least in our Matthew readings).  This actually might be a good thing as it can permit us to see some things that took place during the time we easily miss in the Easter season.  For example, our passage for this week is one of those that leads us to ask a very important question – ‘Why Jesus?’

This story takes place after Jesus had triumphantly entered the Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds. It is also after the cleansing of the temple, so his presence is acutely known by the religious and political leaders.

It would not have been uncommon for many things, including many different teachers to be happening in all the corners and crevices of the temple square.  Usually Rabbis would be in different locations around the temple square teaching their followers.  This is what was taking place with Jesus, he had a group of followers, and periphery persons, listening to his teaching. 

It is during this teaching that we see a transition take place.  Up to this point, we have been accustomed to the religious leaders in the communities come to speak with, or confront Jesus, we have also seen the Pharisees seek him out for the same purpose – these leaders have very limited power to specifically do anything about this ‘Jesus Problem.’  Now Jesus is teaching and we see the head religious officials, the high priests and others who actually have power coming forth.  They are Jews with the right religious genealogy, and they have power to act as the Roman government has put them into power.  The religious leaders have two concerns on this day about Jesus.

First, a major aspect of keeping their power is by keeping control of the people. Jesus’ is an unknown to them, they are unsure of how his presence is going to play out while he is in Jerusalem.  They are unsure the impact he will have on the crowd.  They are deciding how best to deal with this potential crisis.

The second concern comes from their responsibility as religious leaders, they had a sincere desire to make sure that what was being taught was accurate.  They were tasked with monitoring the teachers to make sure the people were not listening to heretical teachings.

So, they, leaders with man given authority, begin to ask Jesus, who has God given authority, where his authority comes from to teach the things he is teaching.

They are fearful of what Jesus will say, they are cautious about over stimulating the crowds, they are concerned about what the Roman officials are hearing, and they are concerned about doing what is right.  It is a lose lose situation.  It is the beginning of the week which will conclude at an empty grave.

Philippians 2:1-13

Paul, in his writing to the church at Philippi, expresses his love and gratitude for this body of believers.  In two weeks, as we hit chapter four, we will see that there is a conflict between two women in the church.  This conflict is obviously on his mind even as he is writing chapter two.  Philippi is a majority Roman city, it is also a very diverse city, and a diverse church, in almost every aspect.  This diversity often leads to differences which Paul is addressing as he speaks of unity.  He is telling the followers there to remember that God is in work in the lives of each of the believers and therefore, each member must have a care for each other.