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. 

09.14.20 – 09.20.20

Readings

Psalm 145:1-8 • Exodus 16:2-15 • Jonah 3:10-4:11 • Matthew 20:1-16 • Philippians 1:21-30

Context

Psalm 145:1-8

This Psalm can best be summed up in verse 8, a proclamation of who God is that echoes the understanding that Jonah has about God, and therefore, his grievance against God. It is our best baseline of understanding to have as we read all of our passages for this week.  This is the reason we are looking at it first this week.

Jonah 3:10-4:11

First, if you have time, read the complete story of Jonah, it is a short & good read.  

Jonah is a story of the prophet Jonah who understood the merciful character of God but did not want God to be merciful to anyone other than the Israelites.  He especially does not want God’s mercy to be given to Assyrians or to the Ninevites.  This story is a perfect visual for the lesson of Jesus’ parable we have in our Matthew passage. 

Jonah is called by God to go east to Nineveh, instead, he goes west.  On the escape west, he converts a boatload of gentiles, then he is swallowed by a large fish.  When the fish spits him up at Nineveh, Jonah, begrudgingly, preaches the worst sermon in history, in our language it amounts to eight words (no, I will not be preaching an eight word sermon this Sunday), ‘Forty days and Nineveh shall be no more.’ He probably just ended with a period, not the usual exclamation point of a prophet – such was his lack of concern or fervor. When the Assyrian King, and the people of Nineveh, repent God relents and shows mercy.  Jonah is mad, he knew God was merciful, it was an aspect of God he loved, except when it was shown to the people of Nineveh.

Apply the lesson of Jesus parable in Matthew to the unhappy story of Jonah – what are the applications and revelations?

Exodus 16:2-15

Change is difficult. During this time of Covid, when our reality has changed in such a way that we know it will probably never return in entirety, we are especially cognizant of this truth.  The Israelites are in this time of change, and it is difficult.  They have just seen the glorious, amazing, miraculous, their rescue by God, and now they are complaining and wishing they could go back. They are in a struggle of giving up their old identity of ‘slaves’, an identity they knew, for a new identity of ‘free and liberated’.  While conceptually, freedom and liberation should not be a struggle, they are.  It takes a lot of trust to endure the uncertainty of ‘what is next.’  Over the past decades we have seen countries come to a measure of freedom and liberation only to end up fighting amongst themselves about ‘who they are.’

The reading of this passage can enlighten each of us to our own struggle with justice and fairness.  What is your attitude toward the Israelites when you read that they are complaining so shortly after their rescue from God? What is your immediate expectation when God hears that the people are grumbling against him?  How do you react to God granting their complaining requests in a positive fashion?  Ask yourself, ‘what do my own responses say about my views of justice, fairness, and God’s grace?

Matthew 20:1-16

Our context for this passage requires us to go in a different direction than we usually go.  Instead of looking back to see what had just happened, we must look forward to see what is about to happen. This directional change requires that we look into the mind of Jesus, into the plan of God.  In chapter 21 we have the account of the Triumphal entry into Jesus, it is the kickoff for what we call ‘Holy Week’. 

The book of Matthew gives us a great deal of detail of the interactions and teaching of Christ during this week that begins with the triumphal entry and ends with the resurrection.  It is a brutal and painful week that ironically begins with the celebratory parade like atmosphere as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem – a celebration that will soon change to jeers and screams for Jesus’ death.

The reason this forward look is vital to understanding this parable of Jesus in our Matthew 20 passage is that it gives us an insight into the motivation of Christ to embark on this teaching on Grace and Justice.  In approaching this passage, remember that the cross is clearly on his mind as he shares this story. Also, remember that Jesus always had a burning passion that his followers, especially those that would assume leadership after his accession, understand the essential truths of grace and justice. This parable is actually a probe into the minds of the disciples seeking to measure the extent of their ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ and of those things that acts as barriers to the pursuit of that ‘hunger and thirst’.  Barriers such as the earthly ways of thinking of justice and fairness.

Have these questions on your mind as you read this parable:

  1. Would the statement ‘You have made them equal to us’ have been the thought in your head if you had been one of the original workers hired? Why?
  2. Why did the original workers assume that they would be paid more than the workers that were hired later in the day? What would be your response to the master if he responded to you, ‘This is what you agreed to work for when I hired you.’ (?)
  3. Why were the people later in the day not already working?

Philippians 1:21-30

Although our assignment is narrowed down to these ten passage, take a few extra minutes to read the entire chapter.  Put yourself into the place of Philippian readers of this letter from Paul, a letter than is uniquely meant for the members of the church in Philippi.  A few context notes as you put yourself in their shoes.

  1. Paul is writing this from his imprisonment.  It is possibly a house arrest which was still brutal.  The Philippians had sent someone to make sure that Paul had food and care during his confinement.  There was an understanding that many did not survive even this type of imprisonment.
  2. This is a letter of sincere friendship and deep gratitude for the Philippians.
  3. The Philippians are in a time of political oppression and abuse. Paul is encouraging them to continue them to be faithful to the gospel, to live above reproach, even in this time of uncertainty and brutality (this has a direct correlation of Paul’s reminder to the Romans in chapter 13 to live in submission to the authorities – not to live outside of their faith, but to continue permitting their faith in to govern their day to day life). 
  4. Paul tells them that he is ‘confident that God will bring them to completion by the day of Christ.’

In a way, this is a could be a letter to our church in this time of uncertainty.  Gratefulness for your faithfulness in difficult times.  It is a manner of looking for God’s grace when things do not look so graceful.

09.07.20 – 09.13.20

Genesis 50:15-21

  • The context needed going into our passage for this week is fairly simple (although, those who lived it out would see not way to call it simple, instead, words like painful, complicated, dysfunctional, excruciating would be chosen). Since we are able to look back at the story, in a very non emotional manner due to the fact that we were not a participant in this story, let’s make a ‘simple’ list:
  • Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham had twelve sons by two wives and two concubines. His favorite of these women was unabashedly Rachel, and the favorite sons were the two birthed by Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin.
  • Joseph, as a child and teen, was not the most intuitive individual, he appears to have not recognized his favored position, and frequently flaunted it before the other brothers. In addition to this, as God gives a vision of greatness to Joseph, he is quick to share that with them as well. As expected, Joseph was the little brother from hell who was despised and true hated by his bothers.
  • The brothers, reach a final straw and sale Joseph into slavery, after, almost killing him.
  • Joseph during a time in slavery and in prison, during which time he becomes a not only bearable human being but a trusted and admired leader in the foreign land of Egypt.
  • Joesph save his family from starvation, proclaims forgiveness for his brothers’ actions, and moves them to Egypt.

This brings us to our passage for this week where we see father Jacob dying causing the brothers great anxiety as they consider the possibility that Joesph’s forgiveness was dependent on the existence of Jacob.

Exodus 14:19-31

Our Exodus passage is the next phase of the deliverance of the Israelites. Pharoah released them following the tenth plague, the death of the first born males, to which they made a quick exit. They did not have time to celebrate this long awaited freedom, however, they already had the night before as they instituted the hugely significant celebration of the Passover feast…a celebration that proceed the event they celebrated. God had told them to be ready to exit Egypt and they were. In this week’s passage we see the ‘why’ a quick exit was necessary

Psalm 103:1-13

This Psalm is written in a very unique poetic Hebrew style. While we are accustom to Psalm passage being written in literary manners such as the use of poetics, this one is different in that it is written by a Psalmist who is actually writing it for himself/herself. It is very personal, as the writer is calling themselves to a time of intentional time of praise in recognition of God’s mercy.

Matthew 18:21-35

Two contextual perspectives help as we approach our passage for this week. First, look at it from a the shoes of Peter. Peter has voiced the risky, vulnerable, and accurate, revelation of the person of Jesus Christ. This was a verbal identification that the other disciples were still grappling with and/or just afraid of the ramification of saying it out loud –  ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ This was a high moment for Peter, he was called a ‘Rock’ by Jesus and proclaimed the leader to the disciples when Jesus would be gone. However, it was a personal high for just a short time, he was soon called ‘Satan’ by Jesus, as Peter sought to detour Jesus from his journey to the cross which had already begun. Peter’s had walked on water with Jesus and then had to be rescued by Jesus.

The second perspective is the direction that Jesus is now heading. He is now going in the direction of the cross, he is heading into the danger zone of Jerusalem. His teachings have become more specifically directed at his followers, the crowded events are much less likely. The transfiguration has also taken place – an undeniable revelatory event which was witnessed by a small group of the disciples including Peter.

Our passage for this week is a passage of the communal relationships of the believers, what will soon be known as the ‘church.’ This focus on the church began in our readings last week as the conflict resolution steps were laid out in the beginning of chapter 18. Peter, being a person of action, is now attempting to

receive further guidance on the topic of forgiveness.

Romans 14:1-12

This will be our final reading in Romans for awhile and it ties in with our lesson on community that we had in the Matthew passage for this week. Paul is speaking to the church about community, and about acceptance of differences of people and differences in faith practices.

It seems to be a particularly relevant today when we have so much division within the church based on countless practices, emphasizes, theologies, politics, and traditions.

08.31.20 – 09.06.20

Readings

Exodus 12:1-14  •  Ezekiel 33:7-11  •  Psalm 119:33-40  •  Romans 13:8-14  •  Matthew 18:15-20

Context

Exodus 12:1-14

A great danger of a story such as our passage for this week, and the entire story of Moses, is that we are so familiar with it, we just stop at our beginning understanding and knowledge.  Read this passage like it is the first time, search for that which you have, somehow, never seen.

There is a lot of context that can be missed when we are jumping forward in such swaths as we are.  We last saw Moses as he is receiving God’s call to return to Egypt, a place where he expects no welcome, and, worse, he knows, very well, he could be arrested for murder. Since that part of the story, Moses has returned, gone to Pharoah ten times demanding, on part of God, that the Israelites be released, each time Pharoah says ‘no’.  He has just left warning Pharoah that the 10th plague will be the death of the firstborn in each household. Pharoah don’t listen, hear, or take note of the warning.

Our passage today is the instructions for the first passover meal.  A meal, obeserved every year after this instruction,  takes place before the actual event that is remembered in the meal. The people will celebrate the passover before the first ‘passing over’ even takes place.

Celebrating God’s act of rescue, before the rescue has even taken place, is an odd celebration – it is also a act of trust and hope.

Psalm 119:33-40

The number 119 associated with the book of Psalm may create a Déjà vu

 moment for you.  That makes sense as we have been in Psalm 119 several times in the past months.  Afterall, Psalm 119 is the longest Pslam and the longest book in the entire Bible. With 172 verses, there is a lot of truth to be considered in this book.  Most often, if not always, the focus that we find in Psalm 119 is on the issue of God’s truth, or truth.  Searching for it, seeking it, grabbing ahold of it, living it…. Truth is the guide and balance of life. The direction the Psalmist takes in this passage is to seek those things out that detour us from God’s path.  Those things particularly to us that act as roadblocks and misdirections in our journey. The Psalmist is begging God to remove those things that detour him/her and, instead, take us to truth and life.

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel was a prophet with the same mission as we see given to Isaiah and Jeremiah, a mission to call the people back to God. He, like Jeremiah lived to see the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple.  He was among the huge group exiled to Babylon as slave.  To grasp the magnitude of Ezekiels’ statement in our passage for this week, it is important that we remember that Ezekiel, himself, experienced the pain and suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. He knew their evil first hand.  

In this passage there are two main callings, the first is to point out evil, and the second is to recognize forgiveness….to those who have been the instigators of the evil.  Ezekiel is, in not way, soft of crime (no matter who does it), however, he is also just as dogmatic on people receiving a second chance after punishment and correction have taken place.  This forgiveness followed by a second chance is at the forefront of what his is teaching from God and, it is at the forefront of a society moving forward, and, even more so, of us all understanding the coming grace sacrifice of God’s son Jesus.

Matthew 18:15-20

This passage is familiar to many of us, it a very simple, and harrowing, guide for keeping relationships healthy, deeper, it is a call to the church to not get sidetracked from God’s calling.

There are two levels of contextual background that will help us as we traverse these teachings of Jesus.  The first is to remember, and understand, Jesus’ call for us to all live by a higher bar.  By the time Jesus is born, there have been 400 years since the last prophet spoke. Some call this time between the Old and New Testament as the period where God did not speak.  True, or not, we do not see the robots confrontation and encouragement from the prophets that had been common to this time. The result is that humans, particularly the religious leaders, in the absence of the prophetic voices,  had taken matters, and control, into their own hands.  Strict rules were established so that no one broke the laws given by God.  Therefore, the command from God to keep the Sabbath holy, became an intricate series of guidelines defining what may, and what may not, be done on the Sabbath.  How far you can walk, the types of ‘work’ you can engage in without violating the Sabbath law, and, in case these rules were not enough, consequences for the violations were also determined.

Human law usually leads very careful inspections of the rules by those who would seek to push the boundaries.  Therefore, more rules were made and more consequences were given.  If someone is smart and calculated, however, they can get away with anything.  The results were an avalanche of hypocrisy by those who were the most demanding while, at the same time, the worst offenders of the spirit of God’s law.

In his first sermon, Jesus dared to approach this reality.  He names the laws, but then, he raised those very laws.  He confronted the attitude that I am still following the law if I make use of every loophole I can find. Jesus told the people that it was not enough to externally observe a law – he raised the bar by explaining that it was not our actions but our heart.  So, hate was elevated to murder, lust elevated to adultery, and envy was elevated to theft.  Jesus was not just taking the 440 years of religious leaders restrictive works, instead, he was taking us behind the law and highlighting the reasons, and revelations, or our sinful actions.

Jesus is not setting up additional fences in order to force believers to stay within their own yard and behave, instead, he had placed the followers into a ‘boot camp’ where he was leading them ‘into their calling.  He defines this himself in Matthew 13. Take a moment to go back to Matthew 5 and see the ‘impossibilities’* of his ‘raising the bar.’

The second context we must realize comes just before our Matthew passage.  During a discussion of ‘greatness’ and ‘importance’, Jesus stands a child in the middle of the followers, pointing out that this child, and all others like him/her, those who are powerless and vulnerable (of all ages) are the mission of the church. They are to look out for, and speak up for those who have a limited ability to speak and stand for themself.  He has now actually expanded his call to stand for the oppressed.

In Jesus teachings, he is, in a greater and more potent manner, exhorting the followers to take care of those who are unable to care for themselves.

Now with this precedent of setting the bar higher, and calling the church to the mission of caring for the oppressed, Jesus is now encouraging the church to rid themselves of those things that distract them from their calling.  Work out disaggrements instead of dragging others into the fight – a fight that will destroy the church’s impact on the vulnerable and the hurting of God’s creation.

*Jesus expansion of the actions such as hate, envy, and lust, to a reclassifications of murder, theft, and adultery are not setting us up for failure, but, instead pulling us away from the stance of resistant obedience and, instead, to a heart that motivates and drives our actions.

Romans 13:8-14

We are nearing the end of the book of Romans.  The journey through this book can be somewhat exhausting, not because of length, there are only 16 chapters, but because of the depth and width of Paul’s teachings take behind the easy explanations that we so often settle for.  Consider the many weeks we spent on Paul explaining the motivation aspect, the behind the scenes understandings, of the sin. The revelations of sin being a action that we a symptom of a deeper problem, a foundational cancer that is never solved our our judgement or condemnation.  

Now, in this week’s passage, Paul begins to narrow life and theology down even further, bringing us to a recognition of the underlying missing essential element of life – love.  Paul tells us that we had to have love, we have to act out of love, we have to relate on the path of love.  It takes Jesus’ raising of the bar and opens up the roof to the standard set, not by man, but by God himself.

The main challenge of our time is to live with a transformed mind, a mind that is open to the other and leads to inner transformation. It is crucial for Christians to consider each human being as a loving partner on the journey of life, and to live each day beyond the self. The church is indeed a place where persons can be organized, socialized, and mobilized to effectively love others. Like art, love can be used as a way for people to express, explore, and perceive the world in new and revitalizing ways. To grow in love is surely a constant form of growing in creative labor. If love does not dictate the way people treat each other, the human family will slide into the darkness that Paul talks about in Romans 13:12-13.

Israel Kamudzandu, Saint Paul School of Theology

Consider this

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  

Romans 13:8

08.24.20 – 08.30.20

Readings

Exodus 3:1-15 • Jeremiah 15:15-21 • Psalm 26:1-8Matthew 16:21-28Romans 12:9-21

Context

Exodus 3:1-15

The events of the life of Moses between the heroic acts of the five women who risked their own lives to safe the life of the 3 month hold Moses, and the time of this week’s passage are the context we need to know.  First, there was an increase in violent hostilities by the Egyptians towards the Hebrews enabled by the hatred of Pharoah toward the Israelites.  Second, After Moses ran away after murdering an Egyptian. So, in this week’s passage we find that Moses is a wanted man on the run, no longer protected by being a part of Pharoah’s family, and now, God is calling him to go back to Egypt.

One more essential context note – the people were four hundred years after Joseph and knowledge of the God of Joseph.

Don’t allow overly familiarity keep you from really pondering and struggling with this passage, it is in the struggle that we we see the greatest, and most applicable, truth. 

Jeremiah 15:15-21

This passage is called the ‘Lament’ or the ‘Complaint’ or, in more pleasant word usage, it is often called the ‘Confessions of Jeremiah’.  

This passage is considered by many to be the most difficult section of the Old Testament. Jeremiah is frustrated with everything and everyone.  He followed God’s call to bring the people back to God.  However, instead of returning the God, the people have, instead turned on Jeremiah.  The entitled and rich have been especially difficult, they have not only belittled and rejected his words, and person, they have also used their money, power, and position to try to silence Jeremiah. Hateful words have led to violent physical suffering.  

Jeremiah is frustrated, no, he is angry, he is done.

In this honest lament/complaint to, and about God, Jeremiah actually calls God a ‘dishonest brook’ from which is cautious to even drink the water.  Often it is necessary for us to ‘name our complaints’ to God, even those which are about God, so we can freely understand what we are asking of God – and, are then ready to hear God.

The basic context, in addition to the over a century of rejected prophesies from Isaiah and Jeremiah, is that are now coming true.  Judah has been destroyed, the temple is a pile of ruin, and their best and brightest have been exiled to slavery.

Psalm 26:1-8

Psalm 26 is a Psalm of praise, and even more a Psalm of the recognition of who God is.  Think about our Matthew passage last week when Jesus asked the disciples ‘Who do You say that I Am?’  In chapter 26, the psalmist is fully recognizing who God is, and, at the same time, placing that knowledge and understanding of God in juxtaposition to the Kings and leaders of the day. To Moses God gives his name as ‘I am,’ here, the Psalmist is giving the leaders the name ‘I am not.’

Matthew 16:21-28

Our reading last week was the first 20 verses of this chapter where we saw Jesus firming up the ‘measure of faith’ given to the disciples (especially Peter) for the purpose of surviving the coming difficulties and struggles.  That makes this reading, and our understanding of the heaviness of what Jesus is saying this week, a bit easier to understand — however, it also makes it much, much, more difficult to comprehend.  This is a difficult passage, it is a painful moment in Jesus’ relationship with Peter.  Take a moment to go back and read the first 20 verses of chapter 16, if you were not able to take in the message this Sunday, that  centered on those first 20 verses, take 30 minutes to watch/listen/or read that message, then, return to verses 21-28.  Basically, this week, Peter, who was called a Rock and given the keys to the Kingdom last week, is, this week, called Satan. That is quite a reversal of a good day. 

Peter goes from being ‘the Rock’ to being ‘the Stumbling Block.’

“The soaring heights of Peter’s commitment is matched by the depth of his failure to follow.”

Audrey West, Moravian Theological Seminary

Ponder the motivations for Peter to say what he said.  While there there is surely a level of philanthropic motive on his part, attempt to go deeper to find the catalyst that may be more selfish and less benevolent.  Hint, maybe go back and think about Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness with the true Satan.

Romans 12:9-21

Our Romans passage is basically a power point teaching, or it could be referred to as a picture, of what it looks like to live the Christian life.  In our quest for context here, we must look back that the opening statement of this chapter in which Paul says, 

‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’
Romans 12:1b - 2

Our Romans passage for this week is the ‘how to’ for Paul’s instruction at the beginning of chapter 12.

Consider the practicalities, and the hindrances’ to living out this very practical teaching.

08.17.20 – 08.23.20

08.17.20 – 08.23.20

Reading

Isaiah 51:1-6 • Exodus 1:8-2:10 • Psalm 138:1-8 • Matthew 16:13-20

Context

Isaiah 51:1-6

This can be a very difficult passage to understand, especially when we come to it in this fashion – not really doing a deep study of it but just reading select passages.  We have covered the basics however, so, we can always have a foundational understanding.

Important Basics

  1. Isaiah is the major prophet (means a lifelong career as a prophet, sacrificing all else to proclaim God’s good, but mostly bad news).
  2. Isaiah’s main job was to warn the people that they needed to return to God.  However, the ‘end’ that he was proclaiming was not going to be within the lifetime of the majority of his readers, so warning them against something they cannot see is a tough sell.
  3. Although they cannot see what is happening that will lead to their eventual dismiss, the signs of their turning from God are there, however, they have occurred gradually so it is easy to not see them.
  4. There are some (who he is addressing in today’s passage) that are listening, and are paying attention, and are seeing what is going on, and may even be catching on to what is coming
  5. Jeremiah, who is given the same mission as Isaiah, follows Isaiah and actually is alive as the prophesies come true.

Sspecific context for this passage – Isaiah is speaking to those who do believe and are listening.  He is assuring them that God will take the coming devastation and waste and make it good again (even better). Probably giving them a hope for their descendants if nothing else – and a reason to not give up. God, through Isaiah, is basically telling them that he (God) is going to fundamentally alter their negative reality, he is going to turn it all upside down.

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Let me begin by saying ‘WOW, what a story!’ The more I read, and study, this passage, the more I am in awe of all the real life choices, trust, and faith, that went in to the events of this introduction of the story of Moses and the eventual deliverance of the Israelites.  Honestly, even as I am typing this primer, I am having to hold back from all that is in the treasure chest that is just this passage!

So, Basic Context – It is around 500 years after the story of Joseph. That means that it is 500 years after the people have been saved from starvation by Joseph, 500 years after Jacob and his family have been moved to Egypt, 500 years in which God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of descendants who will be a ‘people’ will be numerous.  The main elements of the promise yet to be fulfilled are freedom and land…that is going to happen.

It is also 500 years, during which the people have failed to teach and remind each other, and their descendants, of the ancestors’ deliverer  – Joesph.

Now they have a new King, who does ‘know’ Joseph.

HOW DO YOU FORGET JOSEPH?!

How is it possible that a ruler of a country does not know the significant moments of the history of that country?

Enough of my rant.

As you read through this section of this story, look at the different significant players in these early days of the life of Moses.  Ask yourself, who were the first players in this story of deliverance who ‘fired the first shot?’ Who were the first sacrificially acting individuals who dared to deny to follow his brutal demands?  Hint, look for five women, one of whom was not a Israelite.

Also, consider how desperate Moses’ mother must have been to think that the best chance for her son to survive this horrible political violent situation was to put him into a basket and down a river.  Maybe consider this along side the parents, in Central America, a short time ago, who felt the best way to save their own children from the violence and unrest in their country was to put them onto a loaded train and send them north.

Psalm 138:1-8

One of the most difficult aspect of being and doing ‘church’ in the midst of this time of pandemic is the aspect of music and singing.  While we can do most everything with technology that we do in persons as we traditionally gather for worship – our traditional use of music, particularly congregational singing.  One of the things I love to do on Sunday mornings as we are transmitting the worship time on zoom, is to take a sneak peak at one of the screens in order to see many lips moving as several of you are singing.  Singing is a very traditional, and eternal way of offering praise – being able to do it physically together is difficult to duplicate through a screen.  God is teaching us though, we will get there.

This is a Psalm of praise, particularly, a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Its song sings for us to remember how God is with us in the midst of adversity, and how he will ‘take care’ of those who inflict pain and oppression.

Matthew 16:13-20

Up to this point, in the book of Matthew, Jesus journey has been primarily experiential.  He has seen the brutality of their oppression, he has sat beside them in their grief, he has healed their sickness, he has cured their disease, he has addressed their hunger, he has taught, he has confronted, he has loved, he has embraced, he has rejoiced, he has suffered – he has completed his understanding of the human experience and of the reality of pain and suffering of the human condition.  Think back to all of the experiences you have seen Jesus have, consider his responses, and contemplate the truths that he has taught through them.

The passage this week is a turning point in Jesus’ public ministry. He now heads in a different direction. While he is blatantly headed to Jerusalem, he is also beginning to point his followers in the same direction.  In this passage, he is bringing the truth of ‘who is Jesus?’ to a very personal place, ‘Who do YOU think I am?’ This is essential as his followers will need to ‘firm up’ their belief to be able to stand in the days ahead.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Romans 12:1-8

This is a huge passage.  It is one that we have heard, studied, and even dissected before, but it is also one that will forever hold new instructions for our ever changing realities.  Take a moment to think of all that we have seen Paul teach up to this passage.  We have seen him, not only talk about sin, but he has redefined our understanding of sin, taking us much deeper than it just being about wrong action. We also, as we approach this passage, must not forget about his dilemma in understanding God’s promises and actions to, and towards, his own people, the Jews, now that they have largely rejected Jesus. Finally, we must remember that he has declared that his struggle with understanding God’s promises in regard to his own people is a ‘mystery’ that may not ever be understood here on earth, but that we know that God will not, and cannot, reject his own people.

Now, in this passage, Paul is talking about the Church, our Christian faith community.  He is speaking to our own actions (remember our look at Matthew from 08.16.20 as Jesus talked about what is inside eventually comes out for the world to see).  But he also talks about the necessity of our community of faith, our church, in order to grow and mature. Plus, he addresses the need for all of us to take responsibility for ‘our’ community.

There are some interesting phrases in this passage – ‘Living Sacrifice’, ‘Transformation’, ‘Renewing of mind’, ‘Grace given’, plus many more….don’t just read through these and think of the meaning you have always been given – think about them anew.  Struggle with them.