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.

08.10.20 – 08.16.20

Readings 

Genesis 45:1-15 • Psalm 67 • Isaiah 56:1-8 • Matthew 15:10-28 • Romans 11:1-20a, 29-32

Context

Genesis 45:1-15

The story of Joesph is an amazing story, and, sadly,  this time around, we have not had the time it takes to get a full appreciation for this interesting character.  You probably feel like you already know this story, however, if you have time, read through it again.  It begins in chapter 37 and goes all that way through the end of Genesis (chapter 50 – skip chapter 38 it is an odd detour you can take later).  Joseph is a refreshing character – especially if you compare him to basically everyone else in the book of Genesis.  As you consider the story of Joesph, remember the brother of Jacob, Esau, who forgives his brother of heinous acts.  Consider the power that Joseph ends the story with and the ways that he uses that power – think also of all the ways he could have used the power (how would you have used the power in his shoes?). Joseph chose reconciliation and peace over revenge and resentment.  Joseph chose to dismantle the system of vengeance and, instead, responded with redemption and forgiveness. 

What do you think? In our Tuesday Bible Project group, as we were discussing Joesph, Mitch commented that he thought the forgiveness of Joesph towards his brothers was not a difficult journey because he was solely focused on the dreams, the calling and mission, that God had given him. 

What do you think?

Psalm 67

Our Psalm passage begins with a version of the Aaronic benediction used as an exit blessing,

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace”.  

Numbers 6:24-26

The theological category of blessing is one of the most important in the Old Testament—a theme that is often underappreciated in protestant theology. The great theologian Claus Westermann contrasted two general aspects of God’s merciful action towards humanity: God’s saving activity and God’s blessing activity. For good reason, protestant Old Testament theology has strongly emphasized God’s saving activity—forgiving sin, rescuing from oppression, saving from death and the like. But the Old Testament consistently speaks of another sphere of God’s mercy: the blessing activity of God—fruitful harvests, fertility, health, prosperity, and the like. Psalm 67 majors in an area in which the church has often minored—the longing request for God’s blessing.

Rolf Jacobson, Luther Seminary

As we have seen before, a blessing is given in order that the receiver can bless others. Blessing is not just about us.  Psalm 67 is about the source of blessings and our opportunity to reflect, and share, that blessing through our lives.

Isaiah 56:1-8

This passage may be one of the most powerful sections of the book of Isaiah.  Isaiah is moving the Israelites from a system of ‘institutional ritualism’ to a ‘right heart’ system. Basically, he is telling the Israelites, who have legally rejected any acceptance of Eunuchs and any foreigners into their faith, now, Isaiah is instructing them to accept both of these groups.  This is a radical message even today!  Eunuchs, often times by choice, were men who had basically become ‘degendered’, think about the ‘trans’ issues of today; also, it doesn’t take much description for us to see the pertinence to us, in our time, that ‘foreigners’ were also named.

Matthew 15:10-28

Oh my gosh…what a passage!  I have to admit that in the past I have quickly read through this passage, primarily because I have been put off by 4 things in the passage.  

First, some basic context.  Remember Matthew’s chronology of the events up to this point.  The parables about sower, seeds, and pulling weeds.  Recognize that this passage follows Jesus sending the disciples out to the oppressed and hurting Jews, the feeding of the 5,000 plus people, and Jesus walking on water. 

Now, let me share my four points of contention, add your own as you read over this passage.

  1. Honestly, this is a recent addition to my complaints, in the midst of a pandemic when we have been told over and over to wash our hands and to cover our face, to now hear Jesus say ‘it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person’ is just plain disconcerting and painful.
  2. Jesus response to the gentile Canaanite woman, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,’ seems unnecessarily harsh and ‘unChristlike’.
  3. His response to Peter, ‘Are you also still without understanding? ‘ seems inappropriate since Jesus is the teacher in this relationship – frankly, this is a personal grudge, on my part, that has increased as we have read Jesus’ comments to his disciples in Matthew (remember Jesus said to the rescued Peter, ‘You of little faith’).
  4. Jesus refers to the woman, and her people, as a dog and she just goes with the bigotry.

I am only going to address concern #3, here, we will hold the others until  Sunday (definately #2 and #4 on Sunday, I may just let you stew on #1 for eternity).  Jesus’ harsh language is unique to Matthew’s writing, and transliteration.  While it sounds harsh to us, it was not heard as offensive then.  Think of ‘Are you also still without understanding? ‘ as being, ‘ I need to explain this more effectively, let’s try this again.’or ‘You of little faith’ faith as being, ‘Let’s save such a big faith move to later, after you get to know me better, and can trust me more.’

Read this passage multiple times, go at it from different directions, put yourself in the place of each of the listeners.

One More Thing…

Again, in our Tuesday night Bible project (which resumes on Tuesday, August 18, a great time to give it a try), we begin by asking for the heroes and villains of our assigned passage. 

My vote for the hero of this story is the Gentile Canaanite woman.

What Do You think?

Romans 11:1-20a, 29-32

Paul is coming to a close (chapters 9-11) of his questioning, and attempting to understand, what the Jews’ rejection means in regard to God’s promises to them.  Chapter 11 is powerful, as Paul asks, “Are we saying that God, rejects God’s people?” his answer is an emphatic ‘NO’.

Paul says that this is a mystery, but in no way can we justify saying that God’s people have been rejected by God.  Think about this in regard to the underlying anti-semitism in our country and our world, that frequently raises its ugly head in such violent ways.  Paul’s message is a direct attack on those who would think, speak, or act on such a heretical theology.

If God does reject God’s people, what does that say about God?  What does it say about those who proclaim such a theology? How does it come into conflict with everything else you know about God?

It is a mystery!

08.03.20 – 08.09.20

Readings

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; I Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 10:5-15

Context

I Kings 19:9-18

The prophet Elijah has just experienced the power of God in an amazing and dramatic spectacle.  Read about it in chapter 18. He had challenged, and stood up to, the threatening 150 prophets of Baal. Not only did Elijah ‘out amazing them’ all, but by the end of this story, the false prophets were killed.  It was an exciting and exhausting day, Elijah walked away with the awe of all the people.  All the people except for one, that is, King Ahab ran home and told his wife Jezebel, a far more frightening person than the false prophets. Jezebel was furious – people knew to hide when the King’s wife was not happy – they also knew to just give up and surrender to death if she held a grudge against you.  She sent a note directly to Elijah promising to kill him within 24 hours, in the same manner he had killed the prophets.

Even though Elijah had just seen the power of God on full display through him, he still reacted to Jezebel’s threat with great fear and anxiety.  Elijah ran away, God sustained him through his run but eventually asked him why he was running away.  ‘What are you doing here?’ God asked. God was not pleased that Elijah had allowed fear to grip him following such an amazing act that should affirm his trust in God.

Notice, notice the aspect of silence and the presence of God, remember this also as you read the story the calming silence following Jesus climbing into the boat with the disciples. How often do you miss the appearance of God, or his works, because it is in silence, or some other unexpected form, that you are not expecting?

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

We are now beginning the story of the favorite son of Jacob – Joseph.  As we have seen, Jacob has a very sordid past, especially when it comes to family relationships.  This past Sunday we saw Jacob’s  movement towards transformation as he wrestled God for an entire night.  However, Jacob still had some very rough edges after his struggle with God.  Probably the worst, and the most applicable rough edge seen in the story of Joesph is his propensity to show blatant favoritism in this family.  His favorite wife was Rachel, who was the mother of his favorite son Joseph. Everyone knew this was true, his other wife Leah, the servants who had birthed many of his other children, and all the other children, especially Joseph’s brothers.  To aggravate matters worse, Joseph, as a young child/teen, was not always the best on social cues – he often innocently flaunted his status of favorite which didn’t go over well with the brothers. They called him a ‘Dreamer’ with the most hateful of undertones.  Some call this first section of the Joseph story ‘Joesph the Jerk.’ It is a brutal story of an annoying younger brother who suffers from the dysfunctional trauma inflicted on the family by his father – dysfunctional families is a constant theme in the book of Genesis. The miracle of the story of Joseph is that he, not only became an amazing counter to the lives of all his ancestors, he also becomes the rescuer of nations, his family, and his people.

Consider the cultural reality inherent in this story – the kinship factor of life, the safety and security, that existed in the family unit and no where else, was the primary stabilizing factor in life. Regardless of the dysfunction of a family, it is still the first place people run back to.  Joesph had this factor taken from his as he was separated from his family, accentuated by the fact that this separation from family was not an outside force, outrageously, it came from within his family, his brothers.

We are all connected by either a faith connection or just the fact that we are all created and loved by God – we are all human.

Compare this monetarily trafficking  of one’s own family member to our current reality of our brothers and sisters who have a different skin color than we do. Historically we have connections to their enslavement, their mistreatment, and now, they are having to use protests and screaming voices for us to fully recognize what we have done to family. Think about the ‘us vs. them’ manipulations of many politicians as well as many religious leaders to divide and justify their statements and tweets. The verses 19-20 are the words on the outside of the Loraine Hotel in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated. ‘Violence destroys dreams’ – this may be the miracle in the life of Joseph, that he did not let the dreams that God have him be destroyed by the actions of his own kin. He was a dreamer.

Ironically, our current headlines document stories of children who were illegally brought into our country by their parents decades ago, growing up as Americans, knowing nothing else, and now our government is doing everything it can to send them to a home they have never known – ironically they also are called ‘Dreamers’.

As you read this familiar story, read it once from the viewpoint of the brothers, especially the older brothers who were meant to be the mentors, establishing the younger boys as central members of a family. Consider the factor of jealousy in their lives and the lives of their mothers. Consider the destructive impact that jealousy has had in your life.

Consider the life of a dreamer.

Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85 begins with a reminder that God has rescued and received his people which is then followed by plea to do the same again –  the remaining verses  remind us of who and what God is.  These are descriptive words defining the person, character, and actions of God.  As you read, it may be helpful to write the words, and phrases, that tell us these aspects of God, see how they tie together (such as in vs. 10- ‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other’).  How do these descriptions compare with the image you have of God?

Matthew 14:22-33

In the context prior to of our Matthew passage last week, the feeding of the 5,000, we saw Jesus seriously in need of time to rest and time to recuperate.  He had been very busy – it was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting – mercy and compassion always are.  This was leading up to an even more exhausting time.  Jesus’ compassion had not permitted him to rest, even though he was worn out. As he saw the hurting and oppressed crowds, his mercy and concern pushed him to address the needs of the people.  Instead of resting, he just exhausted himself more. After Jesus had seen the last of the crowds leave, he put the disciples on a boat and he walked up the mountain to pray and rest.

One other context note is that this is still fairly earthly in Jesus’ ministry as well as in his relationship with his disciples. This was before he asked them ‘Who do you think I am?’; now, they were still getting to know, and trust, him and each other.  They knew a bit more in the morning of this story however, just hours before they had witnessed the abundance of food after Jesus fed the people, a feast for over 5,000 people, a feast that began with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

The last time they were on a boat with Jesus there was a huge storm and Jesus calmed the storm. This probably was especially was on their mind as the winds picked up and the waves grew stronger and the boat began to rock – except for one issue, Jesus was not in the boat with them to survive this storm. On top of this, they see an unidentified figure seemingly walking on the water and moving towards them.  It was a terrifying morning.

Romans 10:5-15

This week we continue Paul’s three chapter questions to God about his people, the Jews, who rejected Jesus.  Paul is not expressing a doubting of God but searching for an understanding of how these people, who have taught him the faith, have not recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Paul is struggling with the implications of this disbelief in regard to the acts of God in leading these people throughout history, and, what does it do to the promises that God has made to them, and about them?  Last week we saw the passion of Paul on this heartfelt concern as he said that he would gladly give up his own salvation if it meant that these he loves would believe. Paul is attempting to comprehend what all this means and he is doing it while navigating a hurting heart.

07.27.20 – 08.02.20

Readings 

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 • Genesis 32:22-31 • Isaiah 55:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21 • Romans 9:1-5

Context

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Psalm 145 is used in more Jewish prayers than any other Psalm.  It is best described as a mini-summary of the Jewish faith – ‘God is to be praised from the beginning to the end’ everyday, good days and bad days. Whereas, in Christianity we often look at the concept of ‘blessing’ as being a ‘me thing’ – ‘I will get….’ Or ‘I will…..’, but Psalm 145 defines ‘blessing’ as being for others.

‘We praise God, for God has chosen you, to bless, not you, but all others.’

Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

Genesis 32:22-31

As I said last week, it is difficult to enjoy, and even to find redemption in any biblical story of Jacob. He has been horrible to his brother, deceived his dad, abused his mother’s favor, has been a horrible husband, and therefore a horrible example to his kids, now we see Jacob, for the second time 20 years after his first cowardice, running away to avoid the serious physical conflict. It is also difficult not to paint Jacob as a scoundrel in this story as well.  However, it is in this story that the Jewish faith sees a pivotal moment in which Jacob becomes a role model for the faithful – they would say that Jacob becomes an example of the practices of Judaism.

We will be diving into the intricacies of this passage on Sunday but, in the meantime, after you have chapter 32 and considered it, it will be helpful to read what happens next for Jacob in chapter 33.

Isaiah 5:1-5

As we approach these five verses it will help to understand these things:

  • The Israelites are living in a brutal time that is difficult for us to fully understand.  They (in Judah) have been militarily attacked by the surrounding nations (even attacked by Israel), often defeated and dominated by imperial powers. 
  • They lived an agrarian lifestyle, made more difficult by the fact that cultivating the land was difficult due to the climate of low rainfall, crazy heat and cold, and mediocre soil. Making matter worse, they used a barter system, in a time when the imperial powers were implementing a system of silver (money).
  • The words of Isaiah are on behalf of God warning the people of the coming Babylonian exile (still over a century away) – he is also speaking to their ultimate deliverance and hope. This passage is largely an effort to raise morale of a longing community,  They may not be listening to his message of ‘return to God’ but they are longing for hope during their immediate existence.  
  • The reference to ‘thirst’ and ‘water’ is probably a call to all (we all thirst – not just in desperate times). The metaphor, and reality, is that water is the solution.
  • Reference to David is much larger than just the King, it is the entire community of the Israelites.
  • Feast is the way wealth was revealed and shared.  Few actually had money, but a feast was a sharing (usually with everyone’s participation).  It was a mark of a recognition of abundance even when it seems to be a time of desperation. 
  • Money, wealth, and labor are privileges that should not be wasted on something other than bread.  Bread is a major part of feasts. Wealth and labor are a waste if they are not used to provide the essential things
  • Much of what Isaiah says in these first five verses, especially the beginning image, is of a Utopia which is an eschatological reference – it is still relevant to their current state.

Matthew 14:13-21

In the previous chapter we saw Jesus tell 8 parables – the final 6 of which were parables describing the Kingdom of heaven.  The first two of those parables, the wild sower of seed and the wicked sower of weeds among the wheat told how to live with a strong & growing faith, then, the final 6 parables Jesus reminds us where we live.  This week, in chapter 14 we could easily say that it is Jesus giving us a real life demonstration of both of those themes.

‘Jesus is living between the darkest moment and the dawn of a new movement of God’s healing work.’

Joy J. Moore, professor of biblical preaching, Luther seminary

In addition to the understanding of chapter 13, the first 12 verses of chapter 14 set up the immediate context of the story in our passage. John finds out that his relative who could possibly be described as a mentor, has just been brutally executed by King Herod. John was killed not because Herod chose to kill him but because Herod stupidly backed himself into a corner while attempting to impress others – the only way to avoid humiliation was to kill John.  As Jesus hears this devastating news, he decides a brief time of rest is required and withdraws to a ‘deserted place’.  This escape last only a short moment as the crowds find him and, once again, he is in the midst of addressing the physical needs of the people.

One note as you read: In verse 14 of this reading we see:

‘When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

This phrase ‘he had compassion’, in the greek is splagchnizomai, meaning ‘to be moved in the inward parts’.  This word, in verse 14 is a verb – meaning this is an action word, it involves more than emotions, it is a gut reaction that moves a person to do something in regard to that feeling.

Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9-11 are often used by those who are anti-Semitic (hateful and condemning towards Jews) to affirm their hateful rhetoric.  However, their interpretation and understanding of what Paul is saying in these three chapters could not be more egregiously wrong.  Our passage for this week is a prayer, prayed by Paul, questioning God. He is passionate about the Israelites, who are his people, and crushed by their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  His despondency is not an attack, or even criticism, of the those who come from his own heritage of faith – it is a question to God.  He is not asking ‘What is wrong with these people?’ instead, he is asking, ‘God, what are you doing about this situation?.  His question is about the past promises to the Israelites, ‘what happens to those promises and all that has taken place with their journey with God?’ Basically, he knows of the reliability of God but wondering how this will all work out now that most of the Jews have rejected Jesus. He is not accusing God of abandoning the Jews but intensely wanting to understand how this all fits together.  This is a prayer of great passion and love for his own people.

07.20.20 – 07.26.20

Readings

Psalm 119:129-136 • Genesis 29:15-29 • I Kings 3:5-12 • Romans 8:26-39 • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Context

Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 119 focuses largely on God’s Law – the Torah.  While we, post Resurrection followers of Jesus Christ, often look at the Law as a thing of the past, a tool of legalism, an oppressive list that confuse the faith.  We know Jesus fulfilled the Law, but seldom, do we really look at God’s generous act of giving the law.  The first verse (v. 129) is a counter to our, often, dismissive attitude toward the law.  The Psalmist proclaims the beauty and blessing of the law continuing through v. 31, then we see a transition to life lived in respect and observance of the law.  It is a psalm of praise for God’s loving interjection into our lives.

Genesis 29:15-29

Our Genesis passage for this week take us, again, to Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham.  Last week, I labeled Jacob as being ‘Shady’ at best – I hold to this description even more after this story of Genesis 29.  Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he ran away knowing that his brother Esau was angry and seeking revenge, he runs to Haran, the home city of Abraham, and the home of his mother Rebbekah and her ‘shady’ brother Laban.  There, he falls in love and marries Rachel, or so he thought, but wakes up the next morning to realize that he had been tricked by her father, shady Laban, and was now married to Leah, Rachel’s older sister.  Jacob begins plotting how to get Rachel for his wife – Jacob’s love for Rachel, and not Leah, is the constant for their marriage. Seven years later he marries Rachel, now two wives, sisters, bitter competitors for Jacob’s love and attention.

This is a horrible story, two horrible men who have a total disregard for the voice of these two women.  It is a tale of a culture that has completely devalued and dehumanized the female population – a cultural reality that is not challenged until the actions, and embrace, of Jesus.  It is an ironic story as we see the pain and misery inflicted on these two women because of these two men, yet it is these 2 unions, that provide the heads of the 12 tribes.

It is essential that we do not excuse this as just a cultural norm – it is not a norm from God.  Women were created to come alongside the man, not to cower behind them.  This cultural reality, that is still being challenged today was a result of life outside of the garden after we as humans chose to go it on our own, apart from God.

As you read this story, and probably all stories involving Jacob, do not let this cultural catastrophe distract you from this story, however, we must also  not allow the unGodly nature of this ingrained misogynistic cultural affliction to be excused or ignored.

I Kings 3:5-12

King Solomon was the third King of the Israelites, he was also the last King before the Kingdom split into Israel and Judah.  The first King, Saul, was given everything he needed to succeed by God.  However, Saul eventually was overtaken by his own insecurity and doubt and resorted to rule by trying to keep everyone happy and his own rapidly growing paranoia.  The second King was David, Solomon’s father.  David is heralded for having a heart that truly loved and followed God.  While most of David’s reign was done so under God’s direction and short stint of indiscretions tainted and cursed his family.  In I Kings 2 we see the crown move from David to Solomon, now a young adult.  As Solomon begins to rule, he reveals a great desire to know, and operate from, a depth of discernment and understanding which is his request of God in our focus passage.

Solomon has gone to Gibeon to offer a sacrifice to God.  Gibeon is significant in many ways, in this story, it is important to realize that it is the center of cultic worship, it is where the ‘high places’ draw worshipers of false gods – but it is also where many worshippers of the true God, including Solomon, go to offer sacrifices.  Solomon goes there to offer a sacrifice to God when God appears to Solomon.

Theopany is the term for this visitation of God to Solomon, an appearance in human form of God to a believer.  God interrupts Solomon from making the sacrifice and Solomon asks for wisdom, discernment, and understanding.  In the original Hebrew, verse 11 reveals that Solomon is primarily asking for the ability to make just and right decisions executing justice for all of the people.  God is heartened by this request and promises that Solomon will receive this, and more.

Two things to notice.  This Theopany results in a shift of Judaism’ holy city moving from Gibeon to Jerusalem.  The second is that Solomon receives great and just understanding, yet we see later that he does not always use it.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This is our third, and final, look at the parables crammed into this thirteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. I cannot help but laugh a little, squirm a lot, and squint my eyes in doubt when I read the response of the disciples to Jesus question after he has finished the final parable.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

Jesus (Matthew 13:51)

Remember, this is the same group that seemed, in verse 10, to chastise Jesus for using the parables to teach and preach.  We see, in Jesus’ response that he is using this form of teaching because the crowds have minds that have rejected the truth taught by Jesus.  The parables allow this truth to be planted in their mind, something that will possibly gnaw at them as they attempt to break it down and figure it out.  So, for the disciples to claim full understanding this quickly is suspect, at least to me…….I know I’ve had all of these stories gnawing at my mind for the past four weeks and am still dissecting them for better understanding.

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus (Matthew 13:34-35

So, if you are unable to answer, ‘Yes,’ as quickly as the disciples did, or if you are still working on understanding these, don’t fret, you are normal.  The fact that they are still bouncing around in our head is a good sign.

Remember the basic context as you read through these:

  1. Prior to chapter 13 we see Jesus, just returning from his own experience of seeing the pain and misery that existed among the Jewish people, send his disciples out to deliver, heal, cure, and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is Near – telling them to expect rejection and opposition.
  2. Jesus confronts his own generation – addressing their complacency in seeking a searching for truth.
  3. He is attacked by the religious leaders for not sticking with the status quo – they go so far as to proclaim that Jesus is from the devil.
  4. We arrive at chapter 13 where Jesus tells 8 parables that must be read with this context to all of all that has led up to these teachings.
  5. The first 2 parables, so far, have touched on faith and personal growth,  tending to our soil in which we are nurtured, growing strong roots, untangling our roots, remembering love rather than judgement and condemnation, the Kingdom of Heaven, Holy judgement, mercy and justice, God’s expansive and patient grace, and much more.  Keep all of this in your mind as you read the conclusion of the 8 teachings.

Romans 8:26-39

As we have read through Romans the past weeks, Paul has spoken of the enslavement of sin on our lives, the impact of a death when we live in the flesh.  Now, Paul has taken a turn to focus to the positive, the hope and freedom of a life lived in the Spirit.  In this passage he talks at being more than even conquerors.

As you read this, remember that Paul has spent much of this letter addressing the destructive nature of sin in our life, and the deeper reality of the inner struggle that presents itself in our sinful actions.  So, as you look at the idea that we are conquerors, focus on how that victory applies to the enslavement of sin.  Also, keep in mind what we have seen recently in the parables of Matthew 13, the idea from this week of the power of the small mustard seed, and the resolve of good soil.

This passage will be our primary focus, combined with the Matthew passage, for this week’s message – More Than Survivors.

07.13.20 – 07.19.20

Readings

Genesis 28:10-19a  •   Isaiah 44:6-8  •  Romans 8:12-25  •  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Context

Genesis 28:10-19a

‘Jacob is characterized, using the fundamental feature of the Hebrew narrative (the way the Old Testament is written), using the practice of ‘Show but Don’t Tell.’  So, you see a character do something, or not do something, and behave in a certain way that tells you about the action but the text usually will not comment about the action in the way that modern literature will so often do……Jacob is a profoundly gray character, morally, ethically, in terms of how he treats other people, in terms of how he treats his daughter Dinah…..in the way he treats his sons.  He gets mad at his sons who are full brothers of Dinah when they avenge her rape, because he, Jacob, is concerned how their actions will reflect on him.  Jacob takes advantage of his brother, taking his birthright, he also abuses his mother’s favoritism and fathers ill health to steal he brother’s (first born) blessing’

Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary

In our Bible Project on Tuesday nights, Mitch has instituted an opening discussion question in which we are to name the ‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains” of the passage we are looking at.  Sometimes this is easy, sometimes if is difficult.  Passages with Jacob alway present a challenge, how do you classify a very questionable person? A man who acts in ways that would, at best, be classified as ‘shady.’  

The basic context of our passage for this week is that Jacob is on the run, primarily from his brother Esau who has every reason to seek revenge on this brother who has now treated him in a very unbrotherly manner, Jacob has stolen Esau’s birthright and the blessing he was to receive from his dying father.

This passage begins as Jacob is on the tun and on his way to Haran, which is the city Abraham was living in when God called him to move, so, there are bound to be relatives there that will welcome him in, and, hopefully shelter him for as long as he needs to stay away from home, for as long as it takes to stay hidden and from his brother Esau.

Isaiah 44:6-8

To give us reference, Isaiah 44 takes place 84 years before the prophet Jeremiah begins his similar prophetic ministry, and, roughly 125 years before Judah and Jerusalem are conquered with most of the remaining Israelites taken to Babylon to be slaves.  This means that, at this time as Isaiah is warning the people to return to God, there will still be over a century before his prophecies will take place.  You can imagine the fatigue of the people continually hearing his doomsday message while life just keeps going on as usual. You can also image the frustration and questions of Isaiah, as he continues to preach a message that can not be envisioned by anyone because there is nothing they can see in reality to even begin to back up the proclamations being made by Isaiah.  There as surely a great amount of belittling of Isaiah from the people, it was a brutal time to be a prophet..…as it usually was.

Beginning in chapter 40, until the end of the book, Isaiah turns his focus to two things:

  1. The coming catastrophe that will take place when they are conquered.
  2. The restoration of the Hebrews that will ultimately take place decades after the exile and slavery.

It is a message of pain and promise, despair and hope. It is a message of hope, and a call to hold onto that hope.

In this short section we are looking at this week, God is identifying himself uniquely with the Israelites and, at the same time, identifying himself as the only, true, God.

Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.

Isaiah 44:7

Even though it is past our assigned reading, it is worth the time to go to the end of the chapter, verse 28, where Isaiah says:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please;he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

Isaiah 44:28

This is a prophesy voiced by Isaiah almost two centuries before the Persian King Cyrus, would actually conquer Babylon – long before Cyrus would be made King, and an even longer time before he would be born. When Cyrus conquered the Babylonians, it was the pivotal moment in the release of the Israelites allowing them to return home….as well as the help, given by King Cyrus, to support the rebuilding of Judah, Jerusalem, the wall, and even the temple.

Romans 8:12-25 

In our readings in the Paul’s letter to the churches at Rome, a great deal of his writings have dealt with the tension of sin and the law. ‘Sin works in us bearing fruit that is death’ he explains.  As we began reading chapter 8 last week, we saw Paul’s tone change from one of doom and gloom to an attitude of hope and affirmation.

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death.’

Romans 8:1-2

In verses 12-25 there are two things to be aware of as you read:

  1. When Paul uses the word ‘Flesh’ here, he is speaking to something far greater than just the actions of a person, he uses this word as a reference to the power of the total impact of all of flesh throughout the world.  He is speaking to the manner in which evil has taken the creation by God which was good and the flesh has made it bad.  That is the evil he calls us to be freed from.
  2. The second is Paul’s use of the term ‘suffering.’ While this is a reference to a sharing in the physical sufferings of Jesus, that we, followers of Christ will experience, it actually means much more.  This suffering has more to do with our understanding of how things were meant to be in God’s perfect creation and the waiting on that to be the case again, while we live a a world that has perverted and damaged God’s perfection, and now has the power that inflicts and hurts all of humanity. This fact may have already been on the mind of Christ when he instructed that we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’

It is, in a very lesser sense, this longing could be compared to taking a trip to the  mountains of Colorado. You cannot wait to get there, where the air is cool and crisp, hiking allows you to see sights foreign to your Oklahoma home, and, while there, you will not be melting in the humidity.  You finally leave Kansas on I-70 West crossing the state line into Colorado – you know that you are so very close.  Shortly after you pass Limon, CO, you begin to see the shapes and shadows of the mountains.  You crane your neck and head, you squint your eyes, it feels like you are there, but you are not, the waiting is now excruciating. You suffer until you finally step out of the vehicle and –  you are there.

This is a large portion of what Paul is talking about when he refers to suffering.  We know how life is meant to be, we can see it, but it is still hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries away, probably even longer than we will live.  Although knowing what is right, and close, can cause the living in the now imperfect world unbearable, knowing how things are meant to be frees us know the power we have to resist and to not be crushed by this imperfect world.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13:14-30, 36-43 is the quintessential Matthew parable. It has anxiety, counterfeits, a call to wait, and a comment on judgement.

Pastor Matt Skinner

Known as the parable of the weeds and wheat takes place with the same context as our sower parable from last week.  The eight parable that are included in chapter 13 all come on the heals of Jesus sending our his disciples on a mission of mercy, a confrontation of Jesus generation for failing to seek and search for truth, and, it is a time where there is deep, deep, division among the Israelites, the Jews.

Polarization is a context that we, in the United States as well as being a part of the church in America, understand. We live in a very divisive time politically, religious, socially, economically, and academically.

Polarization usually comes because certain people will align themself with a political philosophy, a faith practice, as well as many other alignments, that lead to an inability to cooperate with, live among, it divides us.  For followers of Christ, times of polarization is particularly damaging as the first and second greatest commandments are impossible.  You cannot love God and despise those he created, and loving others that wear certain labels are completely off your radar.

The parable of the weeds and wheat is possibly one of the most applicable to our current situation and environments.

07.06.20 – 07.12.20

Readings

Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 55:10-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 11:16-30; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Context

Psalm 119:105-112

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm, it is the longest chapter in the Old and New Testament, and, as you would expect, it has the most verses and words. The 176 verses are divided into 22 sections.  In the original Hebrew, each chapter is assigned a letter forming an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet (this is not visible in our English versions). Psalm 119 also has two of the more recognizable verses in the entire Bible  – ‘Happy are those whose way is blameless,’ (v. 1), and ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,’ (v. 105).

The entire chapter is a proclamation of a life lived on the foundation of God’s truth. The Psalmist is not just applying God’s truth to the ‘churchy’ aspects of life, but to our entire life.

If you have time read the entire chapter, let the resolute nature of the Psalmist words sink in – ask yourself ‘Have I have freed truth to touch every area of my life?’

Also, this Psalm begins the thread that will string through all of our verses for this week. And, one more ‘also’, the message title this week is, ‘Deeply Rooted’ –  consider that title as you read through the passages.

Isaiah 55:10-13

As is the case with the prophets, their messages are usually multi-layered – meaning that it would have been appropriately interpreted by the listeners to be a prophesy that would be fulfilled in their lifetime, but there was also a much larger vision prophesy that would be fulfilled long after their lifetime.  Isaiah, as is true of most the other of the Old Testament prophets, their longer term prophesies would also be multi-layered foretelling the coming Messiah as well as the subsequent second coming of the Messiah (Jesus).  

We have spoken much of the prophetic mission of Isaiah, he warned the people of the coming devastation of their land, the destruction of their capital city of Jerusalem, their natural and man made resources,  their temple, and every aspect of their lives. This would take place through their own ‘turning away from God as well as the Babylonian conquest, exile to slavery, dissolution of their nation, and the end of life as they knew it.  They did not listen to Isaiah, just as they did not listen to Jeremiah, and they continued to ‘go their own way’, to ‘go astray’.

Our Isaiah passage today is a moment of hope as Isaiah prepares the people, after almost seven decades in exile, for their return home.  Isaiah uses the imagery of precipitation on the land and the positive growth that comes from that water.  He also uses the various aspects of nature, God’s creation, to paint the exiles a picture of their coming deliverance.  The picture is one of celebration, not just of the people, but a jubilant exaltation of God by humans and nature – all of God’s creation.

As you read this small passage take a moment to contemplate the significance of the words used in verse 11 – this catalyst of this celebration will be a return to, and of, God’s truth, his word. Also, do the same with verse 13, which gives the fruit that comes from God’s word as opposed to the fruit of living life our own way, on our own terms apart from God.

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul (Romans 8:1)

This is a remarkable tone change for the apostle Paul in his letter to the churches at Rome.  

Chapter 8 of Romans, marks Paul’s emergence from the ‘Shadowlands of the gospel –  where he has detailed ‘the darkness into which the light of the Gospel has shone and the challenge that that light has to stay bright.’

Professor L. Ann Jervis, Professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, Toronto

It is here, on the periphery of the shadows, that Paul proclaims what he has said before, but now, after the darkness of addressing sin and the Law, there is now a greater confidence in his voice.

‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’

Paul (Romans 8:2)

As he speaks in this passage of the Law, Paul has now enlarged his focus.  The law is no longer just the covenantal agreement between God and the Israelites, but now the law also touches on their (our) entire reality.  What is right and wrong, what is truth and what are lies?  Paul does not attempt to mislead the believers into thinking that their sin problem is behind them.  He reminds them that, in their reality, they will still have the issue of sin, but that the key is to remember how they live, not for the flesh but for the Spirit.  They live because Christ died their death.  He is their (our) resurrection.

Matthew 11:16-30

We read this passage last week, however, since it fits perfectly with our readings for this week, I have added it back in. I am repeating the primer from last week.

In the prior chapter, Matthew 10, we witnessed Jesus send the apostles out, but with a caution about most of the people they will engage.  They were going out on a compassionate mission to heal, cure, and release – and the were warned that there was going to be outrage and confrontation from those that are being helped.  Then, as we turn to chapter 11, Jesus is asked the question, by John the Baptist, asking for confirmation that Jesus is the coming Messiah.  Jesus responds by bemoaning the mistreatment that has been given to John while affirming that John, was the messenger sent to prepare the people for Jesus, the Messiah.

Then, after Jesus has been critical of the powers that be, he begins to call out his entire generation.  He accuses them of having truth right in front of them, yet, refusing to listen or accept.  In a fashion reminiscent of the response of the Israelites to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus confronts this generation for listening to only that which they want to hear.  

’John came neither eating nor drinking, and yet, about John, they said ,He has a demon’; and that Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus (Matthew 11:18-19

Jesus is confronting their identity, what they value, and, how they are determining what is true. The truth is that they their identity is dependent on the moment, their value is zero even though their presentation is of arrogance, and that, actually, they are not trying to find out what is true, they are very comfortable with the philosophy that anything that goes along with their own agendas politically and religiously, is what they accept as truth.

Jesus calls them to himself.  He confirms that his identity is in God and truth is easier way to follow; a truth that trusting God actually frees us.

Consider how you might see and interpret this passage, in this time of Sickness, Turmoil, and the approaching Elections,  differently than you would have last January.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Our Matthew 13 passage is two select sections of this chapter.  You may wonder why we have skipped a section of this story – the reason is that this chapter can be very frustrating and aggravating.  This is a very easy chapter to come away with a very confused image of Jesus.

For instance, the disciples ask Jesus why he keeps speaking to the people in confusing parables.  This chapter is basically one parable after another. Jesus responds by saying:

“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

Jesus (Matthew 13:11-15

Now, go back and read these five verses again, but with the knowledge that when Jesus, or Isaiah, is talking about people not receiving, not seeing, not hearing, not understanding – the statement is that they are doing this by choice.  For many, they have been rejecting truth for so long that they are now callous, they are close to being unable to receive, see, hear, understand, again, this is by their own choice.  Remember Jesus’ confrontation of the people in our other Matthew passage –  Jesus called out an entire generation who refused to receive, see, hear, and understand truth.

Secondly, Jesus is going after the ‘evil people’ with a great veracity.  This could seem like a contradiction of Paul’s letter to the Romans about grace, except when we read what came before this Matthew chapter.  In chapter 12, we see Jesus attacked by the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath and then when he frees a demon possessed man, they say that Jesus is from Satan.  The ‘evil’ that Jesus is addressing is those who pretend to be faithful followers of God but in reality they are not – they are in collusion with the politicians and together they are abusive to the people. The people trust them because of their position but in the end, Jesus says they are weeds that will need to be pulled at harvest (see Matthew 13:24-30).

In our select verses for today we see the story of the seeds that are sown, some in good soil and some in bad and not so good soil.  As you read consider what you are – Are you the sower or the soil…or are you both.  Also, as you read and think about the soil, think back to the mission Jesus sent the apostles out on to free the oppressed, heal the sick, cure diseases, and, while you have been there, tell the people that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  Can you find a relationship of the apostles mission and the soil in this story?

06.28.20 – 07.05.20

Readings

Psalm 145:8-15  •  Zechariah 9:9-12  •  Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67  •  Matthew 11:16-30  •  Romans 7:15-20

Context

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Our Genesis passage takes place after the story of God’s call to sacrifice Isaac (in case you have forgotten it was a faith ‘infinite resignation’ moment for Abraham and a miraculous/dramatic rescue for Isaac), and, this passage comes after the death and burial of Sarah, Isaac’s mother.  It could be said that this chapter is all about God keeping his promise to Sarah, a son, and descendants promised and coming after her. 

As we enter this phase of life, we have a father and a son – it is a story of about moving forward, moving on (following this story, Abraham marries again, has several more children and then dies). 

It is also a story of fact that God sustains his people.  The Jews are still around over 4,000 years later, Christianity is still around over 2,000 years later – God has not forgotten, and, full disclosure, the descendants of Ishmael, who also received a promise, are still around.  God has not forgotten or forsaken.

To understand this story of Isaac gaining a wife, which is the subject of this passage, you need to read the entire chapter (Genesis 24). 

As you read notice that the entire wife choice is not Isaac’s, it is the decision of his dad’s servant, with the boundaries set by Abraham.  Actually, of the two betrothed, Rebecca ultimately has the greatest input in making the decision.

Psalm 145:8-15

Psalm 145 is a Psalm of praise.  Probably written by David remembering the miracle of the exiled Hebrews being freed from slavery and and heading towards the Promise of God.  Although this moment of freedom set them in an unknown category, what were freedom going to look like, how were they going to survive? Eventually they made it to the promised land, they were changed, it was a new generation.  This was a moment that came on the heels of Moses encountering God on the mountain side and now God is being proclaimed to all peoples.  

It is about recognizing God, his great works, his mercy, his power, his love, and his name.  He is God. It, in itself, comes after the return to home and their long-awaited return to God.  It is a very raw and sincere act of worship and praise.

Psalm 145 is a song of praise about a people who have recognized, and turned back to God.  It is a acclamation of God’s patience, grace, and mercy.  It is a proclamation that God of the nature and character of God as well of the truth that he is the eternal King.

Zechariah 9:9-12

The writings of Zechariah take place following the destruction of the temple.  People are in despair, and most have been taken into slavery.  Zechariah spends the first section of his writings reminding them of all that their nation, and the city of Jerusalem, was.  In this passage Zechariah is assuring the people that the glory of God will return and, at that time, God will put a stop to war, ‘he will cut off war.’  They will transition from being slaves in the desert to being slaves of hope.

Matthew 11:16-30

In the prior chapter, Matthew 10, we witnessed Jesus send the apostles out, but with a caution by most of the people they go to.  They were going out on a compassionate mission to heal, cure, and release – and that there was going to be outrage and confrontation from those that are being helped.  Then, as we turn to chapter 11, Jesus is asked the question, by John the Baptist, asking for confirmation that Jesus is the coming Messiah.  Jesus responds by bemoaning the mistreatment that has given to John the Baptist and affirming that John, was the messenger sent to prepare the people for Jesus.

Then, after he has been critical of the powers that be, he begins to call out his entire generation.  He accuses them of having truth right in front of them, yet, refusing to listen or accept.  In a fashion reminiscent of the response of the Israelites to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus confronts this generation for listening to only that which they want to hear.  

‘John came neither eating nor drinking, and yet, about John, they said ,He has a demon’; and that Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Jesus

Jesus is confronting their identity, what they value, and, how they are determining what is true. The truth is that they their identity is dependent on the moment, their value is zero even though their presentation is of arrogance, and that, actually, they are not trying to find out what is true, they are very comfortable with the philosophy that anything that goes along with their own agendas politically and religiously, is what they accept as truth.

Jesus calls them to himself.  He confirms that his identity is in God and that it is the easier way to follow;  a truth that trusting God actually frees us.

Consider how you might see and interpret this passage in this time of Sickness, Turmoil, and the approaching Elections – differently than you would have last January.

Romans 7:15-20

Paul continues his writing to the churches in Rome and continues his focus on sin.  As we have seen, Paul sees sin with such a broader picture than just to say this is sinful, or that is a sin – Paul is talking much deeper, when sin takes hold, long before we every act.

Our Romans passage for this weeks follows these two verses:

Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.

Romans 7:13-14

As we go into this passage, where the impact of sin becomes very personal for the believer, we have learned that sin enslaves us. We also see that, even though we know this truth about sin, it is still a struggle for us to not sin.  We still turn away from God, we still hold on to sin, we still quickly and easily hand ourselves over to this enslavement.  Is it the dichotomy of being human.  We do what we do not want to do.