05.04.20 – 05.10.20

Readings

Psalm 31:1-16  •  John 14:1-14  •  Acts 7:55-60  •  1 Peter 2:1-10

Context

Psalm 31:1-16

Our Psalm passage has a direct connection with our Acts reading, it is the passage that Stephen quotes as he is being put to death (vs. 5).  Also, take a moment to consider the imagery of verse 15 with the use of the word  ‘Hand.’  Most translations use this word twice in this one small verse – ‘My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.’  The hand is a word commonly used, especially in the Old Testament, to described power or the relinquishment of power, a declaration of innocence, a sign of character or lack thereof, among many other metaphorical meanings.  We also see this idea of of handing over ‘my life to God’ found in the story of Stephen.

John 14:1-14

This passage is the first part of the final discourse of Jesus, it is the final words of Jesus to his disciples.  Jesus begins this discourse at the final supper with his disciples – after Judas has exited to betray Jesus, and after the revelation to Peter that he would soon betray Jesus.  Although the event with Judas, and the moment with Peter, was probably missed by the other disciples, it was obvious to all that these were very heavy and ominous words coming from Jesus.  This was probably communicated through the demeanor of Jesus even more than in his words.  Those words are actually intended to comfort his followers in the soon to come times, but, as the disciples are unaware of the coming arrest and crucifixion (we are able to read this with the understanding of what happens next and therefore better understand what Jesus is saying) they sense the weight of his message even though they do not clearly understand its practical and emotional terms.  Thomas states, a statement that surely all were feeling, that he did not ‘know the way,’ and again, Jesus meets him, and the others, where they were and explains in depth that they have a connection with God through Jesus that will not be broken even though their world seems to fall apart.  It is a message of comfort, but much more a promise of relationship with God the Father that is possible due to God the Son.  It may be helpful, prior to reading this text, to go back and read over John 13 to set the context of what had just happened, this may assist you in picturing the scene as well as the emotions.

Acts 7:55-60  

Before you read this text, leaf through the events that have taken place in the book of Acts prior.  It is probable that you can just read the headings (if your bible gives such headings) of the various stories to see and understand the events that have led up to our reading in chapter seven.  Shortly after Pentecost, as the New Testament church was beginning to form – and after there had already been those who sought personal selfish attention/gain through this group of believers – there arose complaints by those who had been previously accustom to the religious institution officially taking care of people, primarily the caring for the widows and orphans.  The apostles recognized this as a legitimate complaint (possibly not the manner of complaining but the complaint itself) and set out to meet this very real need.  The church, not necessarily the apostles, were tasked with selecting seven men to address this need.  The first of the seven chosen was a man named Stephen, who we soon learn was not only respected but also had the heart of a servant.  Stephen, however, was not only a man who demonstrated the compassion and mercy of Jesus in his actions, he also was very passionate about telling others, in words as well as deeds, the truth of Jesus and the impact of Jesus on his own life.  As we see from chapter seven and the preceding section of chapter six, Stephen’s zest and testimony angered many who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, they especially did not appreciate that he was able to connect Jesus with all of their own religious ancestry.  Mostly, however, they hated being confronted and challenged.  As their anger rose, and their plan to stop Stephen came to fruition, they soon killed Stephen.  Stephen, a man who was publicly identified as a servant in all of his life, died for his words in much the same manner as the one who he followed and testified passionately about. He died in the same way he lived, as a servant.

1 Peter 2:1-10

As we see Peter speak with this group of ‘exiles’ in his letters to the believers that are spread out in Asia minor, he is now leading them as they begin to formulate their own identity.  Much of what Peter is saying to them comes from the accounts found in Exodus 19 as another group was identifying who they were.  As they are figuring out who they are, Peter is calling them to also began to identify their mission, their calling.  Peter begins this section of his letter with verse one, pointing out the things that will destroy their formulation of community and then he proceeds to identify their distinctive.  Peter is calling this group to rid themselves of those things are inaccurate identifiers of who they are and to reorientate their own lives as well as their lives together – as the church.

04.27.20 – 05.03.20

Readings

Psalm 23  •  John 10:1-10  •  Acts 2:42-47  •  1 Peter 2:19-25

Context

This coming Sunday, is commonly referred to as ‘Christ the Good Shepherd’ Sunday.  It is part of the Easter narrative detailing the events following the resurrection up through the accession. The passages this week point us to an understanding of Jesus as our shepherd.  

Psalm 23

We recently visited Psalm 23 during the Lenten season in addition to now, in the Easter season, as it addresses the leadership, provision, and abundance of Jesus as the shepherd.  It also is a passage that paints a realistic picture of the world in which we live as well as the fact that we are often feeble human beings who make wrong choices and have to live with the natural consequences. While we often think of the ‘evil’ in verse 4 as being a force against us, it is also, and even more so, a force of guilt and shame from within us.  The actions of disobedience, of sin, that haunt us and threaten to force us off the path on which the shepherd leads us. 

Notice the use of ‘table’, abundance (‘cup overflows’), and ‘dwell’, as you read and consider this Psalm 23.

John 10:1-10

When reading this passage, is necessary to realize that there is actually no break between chapter nine and chapter ten, it is all the same discussion, story, and moment.  Jesus had healed the blind man which had set off a firestorm defense from the the religious establishment leadership. It is an interesting read as the healed man, followed by his parents, are put in the risky position of having to explain what happened, and by whom the healing took place, all without making the accusing leaders angry and vengeful.

It is also important to understand the political culture of the time in seeking to understand the message from Jesus in our chapter ten passage.  In the Roman society, and in the Greek society prior to that, the emperor is considered the ruler, ruling by power and might.  He seeks to keep a people under control by threats and, sometimes favors.  It was a time of widespread hunger and scarcity of other vital resources.  Jesus counters this understanding of leadership in painting himself as a humble but dedicated shepherd, sincerely concerned with the welfare of the people rather than control. The metaphor of ‘sheep’, a ‘gate’, an ‘abundant pasture’, a ‘recognized voice’, ‘thieves and bandits’, and a ‘sacrificial’ shepherd (see verse eleven) is in direct opposition to the political leadership system of the day.

One other note before you read, in verse six, we see that the listeners (consisting primarily of Jesus’ followers) did not understand the meaning of the story about sheep.  Remember, his disciples, the primary group that followed with and learned from Jesus, were mostly fishermen, a story about sheep was possibly a foreign concept for them.  While this was the best way to express the point that Jesus was seeking to make, a metaphor that directly challenged the common manner of thought, Jesus went on to provide an explanation to these listeners.

It would be helpful to read chapter nine, before reading chapter ten, to set you mind on the context, and then, in chapter ten, read on at least through verse eleven.  Also, when you read, let your understanding go beyond, and maybe through, the things you have always heard preached and taught about this passage – it might be that the Holy Spirit seeks to enlarge your understanding of the message given.

Acts 2:42-47

Our Acts passage this week takes place after the resurrection, after the accession, and after Pentecost.  While we don’t see a reference to Jesus referred to as a shepherd, we do see, however, the role of shepherding, provision, generosity, goodwill, and devotion clearly present.  This is the beginning of the church, the natural and sincere response of the people who had begun a relationship with God during the act of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (when the Spirit descended).  It is the beginning of the creation of community based on the shepherding of Christ among the people.

An interesting correlation of this community, as compared to the community depicted in the John passage – there, were saw a community that had excluded a man due to his disability, blindness, then rejected him even further because he was healed by Jesus Christ.  In this Acts passage, we see an inclusive community providing, and looking out, for each other.  Many in this community were the  travelers who had been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost – most of whom were probably from the Galilee area north of Jerusalem.  They were now outsiders in Jerusalem, their livelihood was gone, insecure, and at constant risk – followers of the Jesus who had recently been crucified.  They were not welcome, except within the community of Jesus’ followers – in the church. This was a devoted community who wanted to understand Jesus more and more, while also wanting to be hospitable, caring, and generous, not just in their own community, but to all peoples.

Consider the trying and strange times in which these new followers of Jesus created community and compare it with our own trying and strange times and how we have created and continued in community.

1 Peter 2:19-25

We have been looking at the context of I Peter for the past couple of weeks and are probably comfortable in our understanding – the followers of Christ are a small minority in their communities and are therefore rejected outcasts, and Peter has instructed them to remain faithful while still being respectful to their attackers. In this passage we see Peter addressing the suffering these Christians are experiencing.  It is essential to note that this suffering is directly a result of their belief in Jesus – it is probably a persecution by intense, and very real, ostracism.  In this teaching, Peter, reminds them that is a suffering to be expected and there is no place for pride, vengeance, blame, or accusations in the midst of their pain.  They are to respond with love.

Possibly the best example we have that compares with the teaching of Peter is the non-violent activism during the civil rights period.  People stood up for their belief but did so in a non-reactionary manner, accepting the reactions of the crowds.  This, of course, was first learned by the African American leaders as they watched the activism of Ghandi in India.  

04.20.20 – 04.26.20

Readings

Acts 2:14-41  •  Psalm 116:1-19  •  1 Peter 1:17-23  •  Luke 24:13-35

Context

Psalm 116:1-19

The Psalmist is reflecting on his/her gratitude for God’s rescue from, and in the midst of, troubling and trying times.  The writer uses beautiful metaphors to articulate, while painting a masterful picture, of the mercy, compassion, and love of God.  ‘God bent (inclined) down to hear me,’ is just one of these artistic verbal descriptions to give us a visual image of God – and us.  This Psalm does not paint an unrealistic picture however, pain and death is still very present.  Suffering does not evaporate in the presence of God’s mercy and love.  The Psalmist, however, uses this pain to further describe God in the midst, ‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.’  This is not a statement of evil joy, that God is happy at our death, but instead that he holds precious those that are going through this experience, those dying and those mourning.  Think of the Jesus’ tears as he approached the tomb of Lazarus as Mary and Martha grieved.  There is the proclamation of recognition, remembrance, and gratitude as we can trust, and recognize, the rescue of God, a rescue that is persevering (whatever form that takes) through not perishing in the midst, ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.’  Arriving at the inner desire to respond out of recognition of God in the midst, God that is present, ‘What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?’

What ‘Cup of Salvation’ are you able to lift up in recognition of God’s mercy, strength, love, compassion at work in your life?

Luke 24:13-35

There is something about roads, the way roads bring us together, the way roads can pose a danger to us all, the way roads become a symbol of a faith on the move. It is poignant then, that the narrative of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus draws us to the conclusion of the Third Gospel. The story is a narrative wonder. Irony, misunderstanding, drama, a reveal: these are components of powerful story. Moreover, a number of Luke’s themes are woven together in this narrative: table fellowship, hospitality, faithfulness, discipleship. The scene on this road augurs (interprets) the future of Christ’s church in Luke’s imagery. This will be a church on the move, sent out by a Jesus who walks alongside us even when we don’t recognize him.

Eric Barreto, Princeton Theological Seminary

It was an overwhelming day – the day that the women ventured to the tomb of Jesus as soon as they could go to there after the post crucification Sabbath. As Jesus appeared to the women as they left the empty tomb, then appearing in the room with the hiding disciples, then to a doubtful Thomas, finally, later the same day, we see a follower named Cleopas, along with another Jesus follower, encounter Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  There were many rumors of Jesus resurrection, a handful of accounts of actual encounters of the risen Jesus, and then this extended encounter that began on a road and concluded at the dinner table.

Last week we saw the first lesson to those who would be the apostles and leaders in the New Testament Church – the lesson of Peace.  Peace that is the catalyst of our searching and seeking; peace that permits us to patiently persevere and continue in our faith journey even when the questions and doubts seem to never stop.  Peace that permits us to finally see what we have been searching, and hoping, for all along.

While this second passage may seem more of a review, Jesus eventually intervenes in the conversation and explains – actually, it is primarily a lesson on the presence of Jesus.  As we see, Jesus is in the presence of these two grieving men on the road and at the table.  It was only after their hearts and minds caught up with their eyes that they could take a look back and realize they had been in the presence of Jesus for a good part of the day.  It is a lesson reemphasized forty days later as Jesus prepares to leave the disciples and reminds them ‘remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

While this passage will be our primary focus this Sunday, begin now considering the dynamics of the encounter of these men with Jesus on the road and at the table.  What unrecognized encounters are you having with Jesus on the road and at the table?

Acts 2:14-41

In the first century, Judaism was unique in that it was truly a multiethnic religion. This is relevant as we look at this passage and see the make up of the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem on the day that Peter delivers the sermon/message that we find in this passage.  This is the day of Pentecost, the day that the followers of Jesus had been waiting for since Christ ascended to heaven.  Now the Spirit was descending onto the people that had journeyed to Jerusalem, those who were open to the impact of the Spirit were not only able to hear God’s message from Peter that day but they were also ready to receive his words.

As the Holy Spirit descended on the people, it was a fulfillment of God’s promise to the Jews.  This was not yet a message to the gentiles, that would come soon, but now it connected the faith of these people to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This fulfillment of God’s promise is actually what Jesus was explaining to Cleopas, and the other follower, in our Luke passage.

Another aspect of the context going into this day depicted in this passage, and, at the same time, an aspect of our own reality as we look at this passage, is this idea of change, and adjusting to a new normal.  The Jewish people, from the beginning, were a people who were constantly having to let go of an old normal, the way things use to be, and accepting/grasping/adjusting to a new normal.  Whether it was leaving the garden, a flood that wipes out everything that you know and understand, suddenly not understanding the language of others, becoming an exile and a slave……the list goes on and on – the people were constantly seeing change happen before their eyes.  This is much like us in our new normal as we adjust to the sudden change, and probably much permanent change, that has taken place due to the current pandemic.  This crowd of people in the streets of Jerusalem for this holiday were as diverse as could be except for one thing, they all worshipped the same God, they shared a common faith.  It is in this diversity that there is a common enlightenment – Jesus. 

Peter, as he preaches, does not shy away from the brutally of the cross, a travesty that many of those listening to Peter shared a certain responsibility for – for they had surely yelled ‘Crucify Him’. The focus on this painful aspect of the sacrifice of Christ, however,  is necessary for the crowds to understand the point.  Jesus was not only a sacrifice, he was their sacrifice. They responded by asking ‘What do we do now?’ as they sought to adjust to this understanding, this new normal.

Much of the crowds that went home, and those who remained in Jerusalem, shared something in common, God has given them a new normal.  It was not a different normal, they still believed in the same God of their faith, but now they saw the work, and the promise fulfilled, from that God.  God had invited them to be a part of his work and many responded and accepted that invitation.

1 Peter 1:17-23

Years after his message in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, we see Peter now addressing the believers who are ‘exiled’, separated from others believers.  This ‘exile’ could be that they are Jewish believers who are geographically separated from others of common faith, or, most likely, is addressed to gentiles who are actually from this distant place yet have chosen to believe in, and to follow, Jesus.  Peter explains to these believers that they are no longer shackled by the practices of religion passed on by their ancestors worshipping their idols and false gods.  He reminds them of the basis of the faith they now follow that they, are not only to live respectfully among a people who do not share their faith, but that they also are to unite with those who do share their faith.  A unity that permits them to seek and find the manner in which they can be an encouragement of faith and growth to each other in the midst of their ‘exile’ and distant environment.  They are searching how to be ‘church’.

04.13.20 to 04.19.20

Readings

Psalm 16  •  Acts 2:14-36  •  1 Peter 1:3-9  •  John 20:19-31

Context

Psalm 16

In our Acts reading we see Peter, at Pentecost, use verses 8-11 of Psalm 16 to confirm to the crowds that are listening to his sermon (as the Holy Spirit is impacted those present) that he is, indeed, talking about the same God that they worship.  

King David, the Psalmist who proclaims that only God is his God and that he will not turn to the false gods as others do.  When Peter refers to this proclamation from the Psalmist he is setting his credentials of following the same God of King David, and therefore, the same God that they follow.  In other words, Peter is laying out a foundation to the people that the God he is talking about is not a foreign, or false, God, but actually, he is referring to their God.

Psalm 16 is the testimony of a man who had drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘I will only worship, follow, and trust the One True God.’  To understand why David would have taken such a firm stance, read Psalm 15 in which he talks about the man/woman who is accepted in the dwelling of God. Basically, Psalm 16 is the ‘How to Be…’ of Psalm 15

Acts 2:14-36

As the apostles went into the streets forty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they were going at the push of the Holy Spirit in the midst of an international flood of Jews into the gates of Jerusalem.  Christ had breathed the Holy Spirit into them prior to his ascension and now that same Spirit was preparing these crowds to hear the message of God coming from the disciples.  As we saw in our Psalm primer above, Peter identifies with the crowd by aligning with the allegiance to, and worship of, the One True God.  In referring to the Psalm passage, Peter does one more thing – He brings the fullness of the meaning of the Psalmist from simply being about David to a fuller understanding of the reference to Christ the Messiah.  Peter, as he speaks to the religious and devout persons that make up the crowd, he is bringing their faith full circle, explaining how the God they worship is the God that gave his Son – the Son who is their long promised Messiah.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Peter was writing to Christians who were residents of five Roman provinces in the area of Asia Minor.  Within the letters from Peter to these believers we see that they are suffering some type of persecution.  Scholars differ on the type of persecution, whether it is physical or more of a social manner.  It would make sense either way, they are a group ostracized by the majority of their communities due to their belief in God rather than that a King/ruler could be God.  The believers are primarily new Christians and rather immature in their faith and in their relationship as ‘Church.’ Peter’s call to these is a call of perseverance and loyalty to Christ – to live a life above reproach while living amongst a hostile society with respect and hope.  

In our assigned passage of the first letter of Peter, the apostle is referring to their current situation as being in the middle of trials and tribulation.  As you read think on Peter’s use of joy for their earthly suffering and salvation for their eternal outcome.  Also, consider Peter’s use of gold to describe the unseen process that is going on in their lives.  Look at Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2-3, Isaiah 48:10, and Proverbs 17:3 to better understand the use of this metaphor to describe what is going on as they experience trials and tribulation.

John 20:19-31

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 10:34-43

In this Acts 10 passage which we read last week, we see the intentionality of the resurrection as well as the reports of those who, not only saw him, but interacted with him on a very intimate level following the resurrection.  These, who did have the post resurrection moment of ‘being with Jesus’, were to be the eye witnesses to the resurrection and the life of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world – those who would have not experienced the, post resurrection, first person face to face with Jesus.  The first of those witnesses was the women who went to the tomb the morning after the Sabbath.  The other followers heard the testimony of the women but were suspicious and doubtful until they, themselves, had the same personal face to face interaction.  In our passage from John we see Jesus appear to the disciples.  Thomas was not there and insisted that he would not believe until he also had seen Jesus.

Thomas often gets a bad rap, his name if forever associated with doubt.  The truth is that Thomas wanted, and needed (he assuredly was incapable, at that time, of realizing the necessity it was for him to have his own post resurrection face to face experience with Jesus), the same experience that the others had – the unique ‘experience of the risen Jesus’. Those eyewitnesses who would be the apostles forming the New Testament Church.  When Jesus does appear to Thomas, there is no confrontation concerning the doubt Thomas expressed, instead, we see that Jesus met the disciples exactly where he needed to be met.  Thomas needed to see Jesus to be able to testify to others that he had truly seen.  For Thomas, doubt was a positive, it forced him to seek and search, he was looking and eventually he was seeing.

What is most important in this entrance of Jesus into the room was that his first words to the scared disciples was ‘Peace to You.’  Words he had said in his last encounter with the men, words that he said to the women, words, said or inferred, that were a common refrain in all his encounters. Words that would be said again – a command that continues to pertains to us, today, in the midst of our own strange experiences and circumstances.

Peace that is in spite of current situations and atmospheres.  Peace that is dependent, not on earthly things, people, or institutions – Peace that is based one hundred percent on Jesus Christ.  

Peace in the midst of fear.  Peace in the midst of confusion.  Peace in the midst of disillusionment.  Peace in the midst of disappointment. Peace in the midst of doubt.  Peace in the midst of hopelessness.  Peace in the face of hatred.  Peace in the midst of worry.  

Peace.

04.06.20 – 04.12.20

Readings

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

Context

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

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

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

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

Acts 10:34-43

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 3:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that tell you about Jesus?

03.29.20 – 04.05.20

Readings

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

Context

Isaiah 50:4-9

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

Psalm 31:9-16

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

Philippians 2:5-11

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

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

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

Matthew 26:14-27:66

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

03.22.20 – 03.29.20

Readings

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

Context

Psalm 130

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

Ezekiel 37:1-14

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

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

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

Romans 8:6-11

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

Elizabeth Shively, 

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

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

John 11:1-45

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

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

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

03.16.20 – 03.22.20 (NT)

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

Ephesians 5:8-14

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

John 9:1-41

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

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

03.16.20-03.22.20 (OT)

Readings

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

Context

1 Samuel 16:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 23

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

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

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

Psalm 23 (KJV)

03.09.08 – 03.14.20

Readings

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

Context

Psalm 95 (responsive reading)

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

Exodus 17:1-7

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

Romans 5:1-11

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

John 4:5-42

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

Luke 13:1-9 (children’s lesson)

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