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For August 14, 2022

JEREMIAH 23:23-29

THE BACKGROUND

This part of Jeremiah’s story occurs at a pivotal moment.  Jeremiah has been speaking for God, condemning the practices of the king of Judah and the prophets of the king’s court.  He has nearly been executed three times for treason, solely based on his opposition to them.  Earlier in this chapter, God (through Jeremiah) has presented his vision for His people—that they should “… act with justice and righteousness,… do[ing] no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow…” (v. 3)  Instead, “… their eyes are on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.” (v. 17) Speaking up against these acts brought Jeremiah nothing but grief.  Very soon, the tide will change.  Babylon is about to change their lives forever.

THE DETAIL

  • Right away, you can sense the tone of this passage.  God is angry with the king and his court prophets.  God reminds them that he is both near and far; they can run, but they cannot hide.  God sees everything.  (vv. 23-24)
  • God attacks the court prophets for leading His people astray.  They have told His people lies; lies which support the king’s agenda, and not the Lord’s.  (vv. 25-27)
  • In the end, God says “let them tell their lies”.  But let His prophet (Jeremiah) speak the truth as well.    The wheat/straw sentence was puzzling to me.  I take it to mean this:  Both wheat and straw are from the same plant; but the wheat provides nourishment, while the straw is provides none.  Jeremiah and the court prophets are all prophets, but only one provides wholesome prophecy.  (v. 28)
  • The Lord’s final statement is ominous—His word is like fire.  It is like a hammer.  This is no idle threat!  (v. 29)

THE TAKEAWAY

The more things seem to change, the more they remain the same.  In today’s religious communities, there are two distinctly different “schools”. One strives to care for the disadvantaged—foreigners, the poor, widows, and the underprivileged.   The other supports leadership that is more interested in programs for the wealthy than for the poor. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I wonder what God would say to us today?  Could He be speaking now, and we’re just not listening?


 

 

HEBREWS 11:29-12:2

THE BACKGROUND

I will continue to say this, because it is so important to understanding the book of Hebrews—this book was written to help the Christian Jews to understand Jesus’ place in the world of Jewish theology.  They had a firm understanding of Yahweh through reading the Old Testament.  The question before them was how Jesus fit into this picture.  Before Jesus, one gained God’s favor by keeping The Law of Moses.  With Jesus, it comes though faith.  Is this something new?  The author of Hebrews says no, and explains why.

THE DETAIL

  • We are presented with a very long list of faithful Jews from Old Testament scripture.  (vv. 29-32)
  • We read of the suffering they endured for their faith.  (vv. 33-38)
  • He then states that all these faithful people did not, unfortunately, receive the promise (of the Messiah).  The good news is that we do receive the promise!  (vv. 39-40)
  • The final paragraph tells us what we should do.  I’ll summarize it in reverse order. 
    • Remember that Jesus endured the shame of the cross, and sits at God’s right hand.
    • Remember that Jesus is our pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
    • Let’s set aside our sinful ways, and run the race of faith that is set before us.  Sometimes, we must persevere, especially when faced with difficulties such as those mentioned in verses 33-38.

THE TAKEAWAY

Over the eons, many have suffered for their faith.  This was certainly true for the early Christians.  They were called upon to persevere in the face of adversity; to have suffering endurance.  Even today, occasionally, we are called upon to stand up for Jesus.  When this happens, it’s time to lace up our running shoes, and run the race of faith!
 

LUKE 12:49-56

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus has “set his face on Jerusalem”.  He continues on, knowing what lies ahead.   He has taught his followers what all of this will mean, but many don’t get it or don’t want to get it.  Last week’s reading hinted at the anxiety that Jesus must have felt.   In this week’s reading, Jesus’ feelings are more evident. 

THE DETAIL

  • It is clear to me that Jesus is anxious about what he is about to endure, and would like to get it over with.  By “baptism”, I believe he is referring to his crucifixion.  (vv. 49-50)
  • Our Prince of Peace is not talking peace here, but division.  It was true for his followers, back at that time.  To follow Jesus meant that they must step away from their former traditional Jewish lives, and become Christians.  This would mean confrontation with family members and friends. Many would have to choose between Jesus or family & friends.  These lines of separation still exist.  But we’ll save that for the Takeaway.  (vv. 51-53)
  • The final paragraph might be understood to refer to the “end times”.  But, I prefer to think instead that Jesus was talking about his immediate future.  Everybody was happily following him down the road.  Jesus knew exactly where that road would lead, but others apparently did not. I think this passage was meant for them. (vv. 54-56)

THE TAKEAWAY

Many of us are fortunate to be able to live our lives in the same Christian community as our friends and family. Sometimes, there is a cost to following Jesus.  Sometimes, family members will differ on issues of morality or faith.  This is when it is important to return to holy scripture and review the life and teaching of Jesus. 

 

For August 7, 2022

GENESIS 15:1-6

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Genesis is full of ancient stories of the relationship between God and mankind.  The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and Noah and the Arc tell us about the nature of our sinful nature and about God’s desire to be in relationship with us. After The Flood, God took a different approach. He focused on developing a relationship with one man, one family—Abram and Sarai.  Today’s passage is one of the key passages regarding the development of this relationship.

THE DETAIL

  • God appears to Abram in a vision, and makes a promise to him.  (v. 1)
  • Abram enters into a discussion with God.  Abram does not mince words, but boldly challenges God to make good on previous promises.  Abram is old, and is concerned about who will inherit his wealth.  The custom of the day was that if there was no son born to the family, the family wealth would go to the head slave of the household.  In Abram’s case, all fingers pointed to his head slave Eliezer of Damascus inheriting Abram’s wealth.  This was contrary to God’s promise, so Abram asks God “What gives???”  (vv. 2-3)
  • God stands firm with his promise, and tells Abram that his very own child will be the heir, not Eliezer.  (v. 4)
  • Then, taking Abram outside, God points to the heavens.  He promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars.  (v. 5)
  • Remarkably, Abram trusts God’s promise.  God “reckoned it to him as righteousness”.  More on this in the Takeaway.  (v. 6)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is important to note that at this time in history, there was no bible.  There are thousands of pages for us to read in the bible.  Not one word from God was written anywhere for Abram’s benefit.  Abram left his family’s home to be a “wandering Aramean” solely on some visions and the encounter in the desert we studied two weeks ago.  That takes faith!

At the time of this story, Abram is in his 90’s.  Sarai is barren and also very old.  Abram is justified in his concerns about the future.  God’s promises seem very unrealistic.  Yet, Abram trusts in the Lord’s promise.  It is this trust that God finds remarkable.  He considers Abram to be a righteous person because of it. 

Understanding the words “righteous” and “righteousness” have always given me difficulty.  What exactly do they mean?  I have two explanations to share with you.

1. A pastor taught me long ago that the word “righteousness” means “right actions”. A righteous act is doing the right thing—something that would please God. 

2. I recently read a story of a person who visited the Holy Lands.  Their rental car was acting up, so they took it to a mechanic.  The mechanic looked the car over, and said that the car was sedeq.  It was a Hebrew word which meant that the car was working as it should.  Interestingly, this is the same Hebrew word that is used in our text for “righteousness”.   So, like that car, when Abram trusted in the Lord’s promise, Abram was acting as he should have; as God hope he would act.

We now have the benefit of many bible stories to strengthen our faith.  By trusting in the Lord, we are also reckoned as righteous (sedeq) in the Lord.

 

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

THE BACKGROUND

When reading the book of Hebrews, it is good to remember the purpose that the author had in mind.  His intent in writing this was to explain how the life of Jesus fit into the Jewish framework of faith.  In other words, it provided answers to questions like “Who was Jesus?”, and “What did he teach us Jews about God?”  Today’s passage focuses on the meaning and value of faith.  The author uses the classic Jewish model of faith we just read about – Abraham.  (His name was changed from Abram to Abraham by God later, during a covenant process.)

THE DETAIL

  • This first sentence is worthy of an hour-long discussion all by itself.  Maybe we’ll discuss this at length in the Takeaway.  (v. 1)
  • Verses two and three direct attention to Abraham, who is the role model of faith both to the Jews and to us Gentiles.  (vv. 2-3)
  • What follows is a long list of detailed faith-acts on the part of Abraham:
    1. He left his homeland, not knowing his destination.
    2. He and his ancestors lived as nomads, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.
    3. He was able to produce an heir because of his faith.
  • This section is concluded by stating that all these people died in faith, all waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  If they ceased to have faith, they might have returned to their homeland, but they did not; they trusted in the Lord’s promise.  (vv. 13-15)
  • But because of their faith, God held them dear to him.  (v. 16)

THE TAKEAWAY

Let’s look at verse 1 again, starting with the second part.

Faith is putting our trust in something that we have never seen.  It is one thing to put one’s trust in something tangible; something you can touch or feel.  But trusting in something that you’ve never seen requires something special.  That’s what we call faith.  This is the thing that God treasures the most.

When we have faith in God’s promises through Jesus, we have hope.  We have the blessed assurance that we can have a close relationship with God, and receive life everlasting.
 

LUKE 12:32-40

THE BACKGROUND

We are into the heart of Jesus’ teaching ministry.  He has just angered the entire established religious community at a dinner he to which he was invited.  He will continue to teach and be challenged for eight more chapters before he enters Jerusalem for his final days.

If this lesson were a “red letter edition”, it would all be in red.  These are Jesus’ words and teaching for us. It has a few twists and turns in it.  Let’s dig into this, and make sense out of it. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus begins by assuring us that the Father wants to give us the kingdom.  Give us the kingdom.  We should not be afraid or worry about it.  (v. 32)
  • Next, Jesus gives us a little attitude adjustment.  He reminds us to fix our hearts on heavenly things, and not on earthly things.  Possessions can control our lives—get rid of them!  Focus on God!    Verse 34 is the key—God should be your treasure, not your checking account.  (vv. 33-34)
  • Then, Jesus’ conversation turns apocalyptic—he talks about the end times when he returns.  He warns us to be ready, with our lamps lit, waiting for the return of our master.  Remember, they didn’t have flashlights or light switches.  They only had oil lamps to illumine the darkness.  To wait for the return of their master, they would be ready with lamps lit.  When he returns, and finds them ready, he will be pleased.  (vv. 35-38)
  • In the next verse, the master becomes “the thief” who came in the middle of the night.  It is strange that Jesus calls himself a thief. But the meaning is clear—if we knew when he was to return, we would have been ready for him.  (v. 39)
  • The conclusion says it all—Jesus will return when you least expect it.  (v. 40)

THE TAKEAWAY

How do we “have our lamps lit” for Jesus in this day and age?  How to we ready ourselves for his return?  One of my favorite bumper stickers reads “Jesus is coming—look busy!” It was meant as a joke, of course, but the question remains.  How do we prepare for his return?  Some turn to intense bible study and try to lead sinless lives.  But to me, this is exactly what Jesus criticized in the Pharisees. Doing these things without regard to others is not God’s plan.  Jesus taught us to show our faith by loving everyone, even our enemies.  Bible study and trying to live pure lives are good things, to be sure.  But doing acts of righteousness by loving one another—loving everyone—is the best way to prepare. 

Jesus is coming—be busy! 

 

For July 31, 2022

NOTE: Today, the Good News comes from the second lesson.  For that reason, I have placed the gospel lesson ahead of the reading from Colossians.

ECCLESIASTES 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

THE BACKGROUND

The readings for this week are very contemplative.  We will reflect on the meaning of life. This subject can be depressing, if you let it.  But it is a good thing to reflect on this subject, especially through the lens of a Christian faith.

THE DETAIL

  • The writer begins by stating that everything is vanity.  The book of Ecclesiastes was written in ancient Hebrew. The word translated here for vanity is very difficult to translate.  Other words might include “temporary” or “vapor-like”.  The meaning is clear.  Life is fleeting and futile.  Trying to make a meaningful life is a vexing, thankless task.  (v. 2)
  • The writer was not only a teacher, but a king of Israel.  In the verses omitted from today’s passage, it tells us that he has sought meaning through wisdom.  When this did not satisfy, he turned to pleasure—sensual, wealth, and the pleasure of hard work.  These, too, did not satisfy.  (v. 12)
  • Most vexing to him was the fact that all his hard labor would be left to his successor.  Because his successor did not toil for what he inherited, it would not be valued as it should.  I believe we have all seen this occur in our own lifetimes.  (v. 14)
  • This passage’s conclusion is not a happy one—even at night our minds are restless. (v. 23)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When I lived in the city, I spent a lot of time and money on creating a healthy lawn, just like all my neighbors had.  I’d water and fertilize it, only to find that I had to mow it even more frequently.  Looking back, it was a vain undertaking.  So much of our daily lives are filled with meaningless tasks like this one.  Which activities do you find meaningful?  Which activities are “vanity”?  I find that, at least for myself, doing the Lord’s work by serving others provides a level of fulfillment that is hard to find elsewhere.

 

LUKE 12:13-21

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus is on the road, teaching his disciples and to those along the way.

THE DETAIL

  • Someone asks Jesus to settle a family dispute regarding the distribution of the family inheritance.  (v. 13)
  • Jesus declines to get involved, but uses the opportunity to tell a parable.  We’re told that this parable has to do with our tendency to focus on greed and hoarding our possessions.  (vv. 14-15)
  • You may know this story.  A farmer is very successful.  So much so that he needs bigger barns to store all his harvest.  He builds them, and is content.  (vv. 16-19)
  • Just when the man thinks he has it made in the shade, God notifies him that his life is over.  “Who’s gonna get your stuff now?”  (v. 20)
  • Jesus concludes by cautioning people who are rich.  (v. 21)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is important to note that Jesus is not condemning the rich.  He is more concerned with how their wealth affects their outlook on life.  Turning greedily inward is futile.  Instead, he says that they should “be rich toward God”. Being “rich toward God” indicates a complete turnaround in focus from hoarding ones’ abundance. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If you have lived through the Great Depression, or know someone who has, you are familiar with the compelling urge we sometimes have to hoard things.  Having an abundance of “stuff” may bring a certain level of satisfaction, but does it provide a lasting peace?

 

COLOSSIANS 3:1-17

THE BACKGROUND

This is the final reading that we will take from the letter to the Colossians.  The lectionary ends with verse 11.  I have added verses 12-14, since they are full of rich instruction for our daily lives. 

Paul has praised them and encouraged them in their faith in Christ.  He has reminded them that they have died with Christ and are alive with Christ. 

THE DETAIL

  • Oddly, then, Paul starts out this sentence “... if you have been raised with Christ…”.  That is an amazing thing to say, since he has already praised them for their faith in Jesus.  I think he’s using “if” rather than “since”, to challenge them to think “Of course I have been raised with Christ!”.  Paul’s point in this paragraph is to encourage the readers to keep our focus on heavenly things, and not get burdened with the details of daily life.  (vv. 1-4)
  • Since we are “in Christ”, we should exterminate all those earthly negative things that drag us down.  Paul presents a pretty good list here.  (vv. 5-9a)
  • But since (or if) we are “in Christ”, we have stripped off these old rags of negativity.  Instead, we are clothed anew, in the image of our creator.  We no longer look at our neighbors through the lens that divides, singling out racial and social differences.  Instead, we acknowledge that we are all the same in the eyes of God. And this is what our new clothes look like:  compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and above all—love.  (vv. 9b-14) 

THE TAKEAWAY

By setting our minds on “things that are from above”, we can find the true meaning of life.  We will no longer share in the vexations of the writer of Ecclesiastes; live is no longer vanity.  Life is rich in meaning and value, because we are living our lives “in Christ”, wearing the “clothes” described in verses 9-14. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A teacher once told me that my salvation is not a one-time occurrence.  Instead, it is an on-going salvaging operation.  I know that I can “put to death” the earthly things Paul describes inverse 5.  I have done this.  But they seem to reappear, needing to be exterminated yet again and again.  I need God’s continuing salvaging operation in my life.  Perhaps we all do. 

For July 24, 2022

 

GENESIS 18:20-32

THE BACKGROUND

This is a continuation of last week’s story.  Three travelers appeared at Abraham’s camp.  As was the custom of the day, he fed them, and provided shelter from the desert heat.  But these were no ordinary travelers; they were from God. 

THE DETAIL

  • They tell Abraham that they are on a reconnaissance mission; they’ve heard how bad things were in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If they are as bad as they had heard, they were to destroy those cities.  The text literally says that “the Lord” said these words.  In fact, the Lord stays behind, while the other two continue on the mission.  More on that in the takeaway.  (vv. 20-22)
  •  Abraham and the Lord engage in an interesting discussion.  Abraham asks the Lord if He really would destroy entire cities, the good along with the bad.  (v. 23)
  • Abraham gets bolder, and asks if the Lord would do this if there were fifty good people living there.  He is even so bold as to say “Far be it from you to do such a thing…”  That takes nerve!  The Lord says if 50, then no.  (vv. 24-26)
  • In the following verses, Abraham bargains the Lord down to ten!  (vv. 27-32)
  • If you read further, you will discover that they did not even find ten righteous people living there.  Only Lot’s family was spared.

THE TAKEAWAY

The astonishing thing to me is that the Lord is one of the three who met Abraham near the oaks of Mamre.  Not only that, but they had a candid conversation!  Tradition has it that if you see God’s face, you would be struck dead.  So, how did this discussion take place?  This makes me wanting for details, and finding very few.  So, rather than focus on the “how”, let’s focus on the discussion.

Abraham essentially gets God to change his mind. Abraham appeals to His sense of decency and fairness.  Now, keep in mind that Abraham’s brother Lot lives in Sodom, so Abraham knows that there is at least one good family there.  But the point is that Abraham changes God’s mind

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

There was a rock band in the 60’s named the Moody Blues. In one of their recordings, the lead singer shouts out “YOU CANNOT PETETION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!”  According to this story above, is appears that we can.

 

COLOSSIANS 2:6-15

THE BACKGROUND

Paul wrote this letter to a church that a fellow disciple established.  In his letter, Paul has been talking about Jesus being present at the creation of the world.  He has reminded them that they are reconciled with God through Jesus’ death on the cross. He encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith.  Now, he focuses in on giving them some sound advice about their faith-walk.

THE DETAIL

  •  He encourages them to strengthen their faith by being “rooted” and “built up” in Jesus. A tree receives its nutrients from the soil through its roots.  Likewise, being rooted in Jesus means that all our “nutrients” and strength should come from Jesus.  This strength will cause us to be built up in faith—we grow.  (vv. 6-7)
  • He cautions them against being persuaded by other influences, such as philosophy, deceit, or believing in “elemental spirits” rather than being rooted in Jesus.  That last one has puzzled scholars for centuries.  Here’s one possible explanation.  Back then, it was thought that everything was made from four elements—earth, wind, fire, and water.  Some even revered these elements to the point of worship.  This could be what Paul was referring to, but maybe not.  The point is that we should be rooted in Jesus, and not influenced by other distractions.  Since Jesus is the head of everything, we should focus on him, and nothing else.  (vv. 8-10)
  • Paul reminds them of the full meaning of their baptism.  He even calls it a spiritual circumcision.  Through baptism, they (and we) have died with Jesus on the cross, are buried and are raised with him.  We are his and he is ours.  (vv. 11-12)
  • The next paragraph reminds us of what life would be like without Jesus—we would be dead because of our trespasses.  But because of Jesus, we are alive together.  Our sins are nailed on Jesus’ cross, and we are forgiven!  (vv. 13-15)

THE TAKEAWAY

Even today, we can be lured away from being rooted in Jesus.  It is easy to pin our hopes on the stock market, our savings, or on a political leader. This passage encourages us to forget about all that other stuff, and pin our hopes on Jesus.

 

LUKE 11:1-13

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s gospel lesson follows last week’s lesson. Last week, Jesus had dinner at Mary’s house, while her sister Martha listened to Jesus rather than serve the men. They are on the road again, and Jesus has stopped to pray.

THE DETAIL

  • After Jesus finishes praying, a disciple asks him to teach them how to pray. So he taught them the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer.  You may notice that “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory” is absent.  Jesus did not teach them this.  This doxology was added soon after, in the early years of the church.  Some churches omit this, because Jesus did not teach it. Others include it, because it is a fitting praise ending to the prayer.  (vv. 1-4)
  • He then teaches them about prayer through two parables.  The first is about a man asking his friend for bread in the middle of the night.  At first, it doesn’t look like he’s going to get any bread.  But because of his persistence, he does.  This is completely in line with this week’s passage about Abraham. Persistence will change God’s mind.  (vv. 5-8)
  • Jesus encourages us to ask, search, and knock; if we do, we will receive an answer. (vv. 9-10)
  • Finally, Jesus likens our prayers to a child asking their father for something. A good, loving father gives his child food when the child asks.  It is the same with our father in heaven.  (vv. 11-13)

THE TAKEAWAY

Remember that in the opening line of the prayer in verse 2 we call God our father.  This is something that we are very used to.  Paul says that some even called God “Daddy” when they prayed!  But to the faithful of Jesus’ day, this was a radical idea.  God was an almighty being, far off.  To call him father or daddy was a new concept.  It signaled a change in our relationship with God to a more intimate, loving one.  It is not only right to call Him Father, but to expect that He will lovingly answer our prayers as well.

For July 17, 2022

GENESIS 18:1-10a

THE BACKGROUND

This is the well-known story of Abraham and Sarah and the three messengers.

THE DETAIL

  • We are told that the Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.  I’m not certain that Abraham knew this straightaway.  I doubt it.  But we get insider information.  (v. 1)
  • Abraham appears to be a very gracious host to these strangers.  He is, in fact, merely observing the custom of the day.  In a desert climate, when travelers appeared, you were expected to provide food, drink, and shelter.  Not offering these would be unthinkable.  Desert travel is risky business.  Everybody is expected to provide this level of hospitality.  (vv. 2-8)
  • As he was watching them eat, they asked about his wife Sarah.  “She’s over there in the tent.”  (v. 9)
  • One of them says something incredible.  He predicts that she will bear a son to Abraham.  (v. 10a)

THE TAKEAWAY

You may know the rest of the story.  Sarah overhears this, and laughs to herself.  She has a right to laugh, because she is over 90 years old.  Not only that, but Abraham is older than her. What are the chances that two people of that age could conceive, let alone Sarah give birth? 

A few verses later, she denies laughing.  But one of the messengers says something that is key-- “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (v. 14) Let’s hope that nothing that wonderful happens to those of us who are “up in age”!  But when God has  plan, nothing gets in the way.


 

COLOSSIANS 1:15-28

THE BACKGROUND

It is good to remember that we have the benefit of time.  This is something that the first century Christians did not have.  Over the eons, church leaders have sorted out the details of the relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are very familiar with the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.  In the first century, the church fathers, like Paul, had to remind believers of Jesus’ place in the big picture.  About half of today’s lesson is just that.  In doing so, Paul uses some phrases and concepts that are interesting to ponder. Let’s have a look. 

THE DETAIL

  • Paul starts out by stating that Jesus is “the image of God”—Jesus is what God looks like.  This is not news, actually.  In early June, our gospel lesson has Philip asking Jesus to show them the Father.  “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’” (John 14:9) 
  • The next two verses sound a lot like the first chapter of the gospel of John.  Jesus was there at the beginning of creation.  (vv. 16-17)
  • Here are two statements worth thinking about.  Jesus is the head of the church.  (And we are Jesus’ body in this time and place.)  He is also the firstborn of the dead; he leads the way for us in eternal life. (v. 18)
  • We now get a description of Jesus’ life-saving mission.  I like how he says “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.”  Our Father wanted to make things right between us and him.  He sent His son to do this.  Jesus dutifully obeyed the Father’s will.  (vv. 19-20)
  • Paul shifts from the Father and Son to us.  Before we knew Jesus, we were lost, doing things that were displeasing to the Lord.  Now that we have followed Jesus, we are made right with God through Jesus’ death on the cross.  Paul goes on to urge us to remain steadfast in this faith, and not stumble.  (vv. 21-23a)
  • Paul then talks about his own mission as a servant of the gospel.  He has suffered greatly for this mission, but that doesn’t matter. (vv. 23b-25)
  • He takes pleasure in revealing the ancient mysteries that are now revealed to us, the saints. In fact, God wants all of us Gentiles to share in the riches of this mystery.  (vv. 26-27)
  • By learning and understanding this mystery, we become “mature in Christ”.  (v. 28)

THE TAKEAWAY

If you’re wondering what the mystery is that Paul is talking about, he already told you.  It is there in the first half of the lesson.  It is the mystery of Jesus being there at the very beginning, doing the Father’s will, and coming to earth to reconcile the difference between God’s expectations and our failure to live up to them.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  1. Who is doing all the work in this passage?
  2. What is our job, according to this passage?

 

Answers

  1. God alone.
  2. Remain steadfast in faith


LUKE 10:38-42

THE BACKGROUND

This story can be a troublemaker, if you let it.  Fortunately, I have a new insight on this story, which I recently learned from a female Palestinian Lutheran Pastor.  But first, let’s look at the story.

THE DETAIL

  • On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops at the home of Martha.  You know her brother Lazarus, and her sister Mary.  But it states that it is Martha’s home.  In those days, that only meant that Martha was a widow, and her husband had left her the home.  (v. 38)
  • Her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words.  In those days, you sat at the feet of your teacher to learn.  (v. 39)
  • Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not doing what she is supposed to be doing.  Boldly, she tells Jesus “Tell her to help me.”  (v. 40)
  • Jesus tells Martha no, that Mary may sit at his feet and learn.  (v. 41)

THE TAKEAWAY

This Palestinian pastor provided me with a great cultural insight into this story.  She said that even today, women in that culture are expected to prepare meals for the men.  It is the men who discuss important matters.  The lines of division are very clear, and Mary had crossed the line. She chose to abandon her duties, and listen to Jesus’ teaching.  Martha was doing what was expected of women.  Mary was shirking her duties.  Martha was devoted to serving and Mary to learning.

This pastor goes on to say that both learning and serving are equally important in Christian life. Serving is a vital part of what we do, but it comes after learning.

There is a great story in the book of Acts about this.  In chapter 6, there is a dispute amongst the believers.  Some of the widows were being neglected, because the church leaders were too focused on teaching, not serving.  They solved this by setting up a separate group to ensure that all the widows would not go hungry.  They came to realize that they must strike a balance between teaching and serving. 

This same tension exists in today’s gospel lesson.  Mary steps out of her expected role, and wants to learn.  Jesus tells us that learning is vital.  We must all find the balance between learning and serving. 

 

For July 10, 2022

DEUTERONOMY 30:9-14

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Deuteronomy is a very long covenant between God, Moses, and His people.  It is a detailed listing of The Laws of Moses, including the Ten Commandments.  It is not a complete list—more are to be found in the book of Leviticus.  (There are 613 in all.)  The people of God are about to enter the Promised Land, which is occupied by the Canaanites.  These laws define a new, God-approved way of living which is uniquely different from the Canaanites. 

THE DETAIL

  • Just before verse 9 of our passage, verse 8 speaks of obeying God’s commandments.  God says that if they are obedient, things will go well for them; they will be blessed with prosperity.  (v. 9)
  • The second part of this sentence is at the core of the reason for doing this.  I’m going to switch the order around thusly:

“When you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, you will obey the Lord your God, and observe his commandments and decrees…” (v. 10)

  • The next paragraph is a little word of encouragement, and needs little explanation.  God seems to say “Aw, come on.  It’s not that hard.  You can do it!” (vv. 11-14)

THE TAKEAWAY

In the chapters preceding our passage, God lays down a series of blessings for those who follow these laws for living, as well as a series of curses for those who do not.  God’s message is clear—“If you love me, you will do these things, and you will be blessed.  They are do-able, so don’t tell me that it is too hard.  Do them and we will be in a close relationship.  Do them, and you will prosper.”  Some have turned this and other passages into a tit-for-tat plan for financial gain.  I have even heard some preachers claim that if you donate $100, you can expect to receive $10,000, because the bible says you’ll receive a hundredfold for your generosity.  I’ve tried that, and I’m still waiting for the $10,000 to roll in!  But what I have experienced is that when I’m in a close relationship with God, living my life “in the Spirit”, there is an inner peace and joy that is worth that $10,000. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Living in the Spirit requires “letting go, and letting God”.  Are you ready?  You can do it. “It is not too hard for you.” (v. 11b)

 

COLOSSIANS 1:1-14

THE BACKGROUND

For the next four weeks we will be reading from the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Colossae. The city of Colossae was situated in what is modern day Turkey.  It was once a commercial center for the production of red-dyed wool.  It was a textile town.  There is no evidence that Paul ever visited Colossae.  It appears that this church was the result of a man named in today’s passage—Epahrus (“ee-PAF-ruhs”).  Epaphrus reported to Paul of the success of this church, and Paul has written these words of encouragement to them.  They are good words of encouragement for us as well.

THE DETAIL

  • This is Paul’s classic opening line in all his letters.  It includes the “to” and “from”, as well as a blessing.  Paul mentions Timothy, who is one of his constant traveling companions.  (vv. 1-2)
  • Paul and his companions have heard of their faith, and thank God for it when they pray.  (vv. 3-4)
  • Here is a beautiful section, which describes the “hope laid up for us in heaven” because of our faith in the gospel message, the good news that Jesus has died for our sins. (v. 5)
  • Their faith has borne fruit, because they have truly comprehended the grace of God.  (v. 6)
  • Paul gives full credit to Epaphrus (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course).  (vv. 7-8)
  • In verses 9- 11, Paul now gives them the details of his prayers to God for this church:
    • That they may be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom
    • That they will lead lives worth of the Lord. 
    • That they will bear fruit (not peaches and berries, but souls).
    • That they will be made strong [in faith].
    • That they will be prepared to endure hardship for their faith with patience and joy (!).
  • This section of his letter is concluded by giving thanks to the Father, and reminding them that they have been rescued from darkness, and are transferred life in the kingdom.  (vv. 12-14)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Through Paul, God gives us a good shopping list for spiritual growth.  Verses 9-11 lead the way.  The clincher is there in verse 11—when we endure hardship for our faith, we must to so not just with patience, but with joyful patience!  That’s gonna take some effort, but at least we know that we have the Holy Spirit’s help.

 

LUKE 10: 25-37

THE BACKGROUND

This is the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many think that this is a story to tell us to be nice to people.  But Jesus tells this story for a different reason; to teach us a different lesson.  Let’s see if we can learn what Jesus wants us to learn.

THE DETAIL

  • As Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, a man who is an expert in the Laws of Moses (remember our first lesson?) confronts Jesus, and asks him a poignant question.  (v. 25)
  • Essentially, Jesus says “You tell me!”  (v. 26)
  • The lawyer’s answer is spot-on, but interesting.  It is a combination of the first of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 6:5) and an obscure law from Leviticus 19:18—love God, and love your neighbor.  (v. 27)
  • Jesus approves of this answer.  (v. 28)
  • Here comes the clincher, and the motivation behind Jesus telling this story.  The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, wants to know who has to be his neighbor.  In other words, he is asking Jesus who his neighbor isn’t.  (v. 29)
  • I won’t go into the details of the story, which you probable already know.  But one point needs to be made.  The first two people to come upon the injured traveler are good, righteous Men of God.  The third is from Samaria.  Samaritans were despised by those Jesus told this parable to.  Jesus chose to identify the good helper as somebody that society hated. (vv. 30-35)
  • Jesus sets the hook, and asks the lawyer who is the injured man’s neighbor.  The lawyer does not say “the Samaritan”.  He can’t even bear to say the word!  But the point has been made.  (vv. 36-37)

THE TAKEAWAY

We’re no different than that lawyer, really.  We want to draw boundaries around who we must love.  But Jesus makes it clear that we must love everyone, including our enemies. It’s going to take some effort, but at least we have the Holy Spirit beside us, to help us along.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Who are on your “Samaritan list”?  Here are some thought starters:

  • Muslims
  • Chinese
  • People from India
  • People who do not love the Lord
  • That *#%& person down the street who is so obnoxious. 
  • People who voted for “that other man” in the last election

 

 

 

For July 3, 2022

ISAIAH 66:10-14

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Isaiah can be divided into three parts—the time before, during, and after Babylonian exile. Our passage comes at the end of the third section.  It is a lot like the end of the whole story.  But it doesn’t tell us about what people did; it tells how the people should feel.

What the people did, upon returning to Jerusalem was rebuild the city walls.  Walls and gates are there to protect the people from invaders. Nehemiah led the work crews to rebuild the walls, to make Jerusalem a safe place to live.  (The neighbors were very unhappy about this!) 

THE DETAIL

  • Our passage begins with a call to rejoice.  Jerusalem is safe and secure.  God’s house (the temple) was in operation, and people could conduct their lives without fear of attack by outsiders.  (v. 10a)
  • Jerusalem is “personified”—Jerusalem becomes a woman.  She is Mother Jerusalem.  A nursing child is a beautiful image.  We used to joke about this regarding our own kids.  After nursing, they were so blissfully at peace that they seemed to be drugged!  This is the image reminds God’s people that they should feel blissfully happy and secure. (vv. 10b-12)
  • Now, the Mother Jerusalem imagery fades, and God Himself is the comforter.  God will comfort them, they will be joyful, and be at peace, assured that they will be protected from their enemies.  (vv. 13-14)

THE TAKEAWAY

In our story, God has brought his people home and cared for them.  They can feel as safe and secure as a nursing child.  We, too, can rejoice in the knowledge that God also loves us. He has sent his son to teach us, lead by example, and die for our sins.  Those of us who are in Christ know that God is our comfort and guide.   We should also be blissfully at peace, secure in the fact that our God loves us, nurtures us, even dandles us on His knee. 
 

GALATIANS 6:1-16

THE BACKGROUND

These are the concluding words of Paul’s letter.  He uses this opportunity to summarize the key points of his letter.  Much of this is review for us.  But because these points are so important, reviewing is good to do. Most often, Paul is concerned about the whole community of believers, rather than developing a personal relationship with Jesus.  In this part of the letter, he dedicates instruction not only to the community but to individuals as well. 

One thing to note is that these letters were often dictated to a scribe.  There were good reasons to do this.  Sometimes, the letters were more legible than if written by the one dictating.  Also, scribes can write smaller, and use less paper.  This will become evident in verse 11.

THE DETAIL

  • Verses 1 & 2 are a specific application of the Lord’s command to love one another. If someone has gone astray, the rest of the community should gently try to restore that person to spiritual health.  Bearing one another’s burdens is one way of obeying Jesus’ command to love one another. 
  • This odd little verse, at least to me, means that we should all try to be humble, and not trick ourselves into thinking we are better than others. (v. 3)
  • We should still carry our own loads, testing ourselves as we go.  (vv. 4-5)
  • Here again is a contrast of behaviors, using the terms “in the flesh” vs. “in the Spirit”. It is presented in a sow/harvest metaphor.  Paul encourages us to conduct our lives “in the Spirit”, as we discussed last week. (Details are in chapter five.)  If we live in the Spirit, we reap those benefits. Do note that Paul is clear that salvation does not come from our works, but by faith.  Salvation is not the discussion point here.  But, when we get a chance to work for the good of all, especially for our fellow Christians, we reap the satisfaction and inner peace that comes from doing the Lord’s work.  (vv. 6-10)
  • At this point, Paul has taken the pen from the scribe.  His letters aren’t as small as the scribe’s.  The next points must have been important enough for Paul to do this. Let’s pay close attention to what he has to say.  (v. 11)
  • He wants to reiterate the importance of not falling into the trap of seeking salvation by following a set of rules (in this case circumcision).  We should not boast (or pin our hopes on) anything but the cross of Christ.  (vv. 11-14)
  • What matters is that we are all new creations through our baptism in Christ.  Obeying or not obeying some old laws pale in comparison to that.  (v. 15)
  • The last verse is Paul’s closing to this letter.  (v. 16)

THE TAKEAWAY

Both as individual Christians and as a faith community, we are guided by the Spirit to love one another in thought and in actions.  We should not just concentrate on “keeping our own back yard clean”, but become involved in the lives of those around us.  It’s part of Jesus’ command to love one another.
 

LUKE 10:1-11, 16-20

THE BACKGROUND

In the beginning of the previous chapter, Jesus sent his apostles (the twelve) out to do the same things that he had done—preach the Good News, heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. Last week, we read that he set his face on Jerusalem; he’s preparing to open the final chapter of his mission.  We read last week in 9:57-62 that Jesus was calling for people to follow him.  He must have had a large following; we call these people disciples.  Since many women followed Jesus, too, and were his disciples. Now, Jesus cranks up the mission into high gear.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus now appoints seventy “others” to go and do what the apostles had done previously. He sends them off in twos.  They are to go on before him; to the places he intends to stop on his way to Jerusalem.  (vv. 1-2)
  • He gives them warnings and detailed instructions.  He tells them that sometimes it won’t be easy.  In those cases, just shrug it off, and go to the next town.  But to those who receive the word, proclaim that the “Kingdom of God has come near”. (vv. 3-11)
  • This is key—Jesus tells them that whoever listens to them is listening to Jesus himself. What a powerful statement!  (v. 16)
  • They return with great news—it worked, just as Jesus said it would work!  Jesus takes delight in their success, but then gives them a different perspective.  He says that instead of rejoicing in what they had done, they should rejoice in the fact that their strong faith has won them the keys to heaven.  (vv. 17-20)

THE TAKEAWAY

We are all Jesus’ disciples. We are all sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God to anyone who will hear.  We should not concern ourselves with those who reject this message, but focus on those who want to hear the Good News.  Our salvation comes not from doing these good things, but from the faith that caused us to do them in the first place.

 

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