Weekly Reflections

RSS Feed

For December 12, 2021


In liturgical churches, the colors used to decorate the worship space are chosen to match the mood or spirit of the season.  For many centuries, the color used for the season of Advent was purple.  Purple is the same color used for the season of Lent; to evoke a somber, penitent mood appropriate for the season.  But 20 or 30 years ago, a change was made.  The color for Advent was changed to blue, to signify hope.  I say this, because many of us use Advent wreaths during this season, and the color of most of the candles is now blue. There is also a white one for Christmas Day.  But there’s that one pink, or rose candle, and that’s what we need to talk about. The rose candle is for the third Sunday of Advent.  In Latin, it is called Gaudete Sunday, or “Joy” Sunday.  We take a short break from our preparation and inward, penitent reflection to feel a little joy.  We know that Jesus will be born on Christmas Day.  We know that he brings us salvation; our joy is an appropriate feeling.  This Sunday is reserved to feel a little joy along our Advent journey.  But it is Advent, so you know it won’t last for long.




In the verses preceding today’s passage (verses 1-13, not shown), the prophet Zephaniah comes down hard on the political and religious leaders of the day.  God wants his people to care for the poor, the widows, orphans, and foreigners; pretty much everyone who is disadvantaged in their society.  Instead, those in political and religious power were more concerned with lining their own pockets than having pity on those in need. Verses 1-13 are addressed to those in power.  Verses 14-20 are for everybody else.  They are a song of joyful victory that God will deliver over their oppression.  This is the message of hope that Zephaniah received from the Lord. 


  • We are to sing, and shout, and rejoice, and exult with all our hearts.  This sure does sound joyful.  But why? (v. 14)
  • We get two good reasons: 1) God has decided not to judge us for our wrongdoings, and 2) we have a new and righteous king in our midst!  (v. 15)
  • Verse 16 starts out “on that day”, so I guess we are still waiting.  God will be in their midst.  (Sounds like Jesus to me!)  The verses following give greater detail as to and how we will rejoice.  (vv. 16-17)
  • Next, we learn why we will rejoice. 
    • Disaster will be no more
    • God will deal with our oppressors
    • He will save the lame and outcast
    • Shame will change to praise
    • We will be renowned and praised by others
    • Our fortunes will be restored

These really are great things to be joyful about!  (vv. 18-20)


Since we know that the Messiah is coming, these words ring with a new meaning.  Jesus is this righteous king.  He is our warrior who gives us victory—the victory over death. 




This is Paul’s “love letter” to the church in Philippi.  Since the bible is God’s word for us, it is also God’s love letter to us. 


  • The opening phrase in this passage is right in line with the theme for this Sunday—“rejoice”.  Rejoicing is the active form of feeling joy.  By rejoicing, we show that we have joy in our hearts.  Why do we feel this joy?  It is because our Lord is near.  He is coming soon!  (v. 4)
  • We are to “let our ‘gentleness’ be known to everyone”. I don’t think they mean the sort of gentleness that is soft and wishy-washy.  It’s all about how we show God’s love to others.  They are talking about the kind of gentleness that comes from having kind compassion for those around us.  We can show God’s love by being a judgmental “bull in the china shop”, or we can lovingly care for our brothers and sisters in Christ in kind gentleness.  Which do you think would be more effective?  (v. 5) 
  • Next, we are told how to manage our worrying.  (If we worry about things, it’s hard to be joyful.) To eliminate this road block, we should pray “in supplication and thanksgiving”.  We all know that thanksgiving is being thankful for God’s blessings.  Supplication is a big word which means to ask God for things.  See, the word “supply” is hidden in that word.  We are asking God to supply is with the things we need to eliminate our worry.  (v. 6)


In school, I learned that if a teacher repeats himself, the point he’s trying to make is an important one.  Paul starts off this passage by repeating himself, saying “rejoice” twice.  Also, he is writing this from a dark, dank Roman prison cell.  If he can feel the joy of Jesus there, we most certainly can feel that joy in our lives. 

Washing away worry with prayer is good advice.  Ask God to give us what we need to eliminate the worry, so we can feel the joy and do some rejoicing.  Jesus is coming!


LUKE 3:7-18


Last week, we got an introduction to John the Baptist.  We heard his father’s hymn of praise to God, and John’s mission was made clear in the Old Testament references.  Today, we get to see John in action.


  • John does not mince words.  He gets straight to the point, calling the crowds a “brood of vipers”, or a bag of snakes!  (v. 7)
  • He doesn’t dwell on the name-calling long. He tells them to repent.  No.  Not just to repent, but to bear fruits of repentance.  In other words, don’t just feel sorry about your sinful nature, do something about it!!!  (v. 8a)
  • The second part of verse 8 needs a little explanation.  Remember that John the Baptist and the crowds were all Jews.  They were “children of Abraham”.  John challenges them to put their heritage aside, and consider their sinful nature head-on.  In order to understand the impact of his statement, I suggest that we substitute our denomination for “children of Abraham”.  Here are two examples,
    • If you are Lutheran, like me, John’s statement would be “Do not even think of saying ‘but ‘I’ve been a Lutheran for over 30 years, how can you talk to me about sinning?’ [John says] God can change these rocks into Lutherans if he so desired!”
    • If you are a Baptist, John’s statement might be “Do not even think of saying ’But I’ve been a Baptist my whole life.  My family has been Baptists as far back as I can remember, how can you talk to me about sinning?  We love the Lord!’  [John says] God can change these rocks into Baptists if he wanted to!”

John’s point here is that regardless of who we are, what we are, or what we have done, we all need to reflect on our sinful nature.  (v. 8b)

  • John’s speech includes a little fire and brimstone, as well.  He reminds us that God holds the power of life and death over us.  I am thankful that “God is patient and kind, abounding in steadfast love”.  (v. 9)
  • John’s sermon must have had the desired effect. People ask how they can “bear fruits of repentance”.  (v. 10) John gives them three examples.
    1. If you have two coats, give one away. (v. 11) Jesus also said this.  The point here is that we should share from our abundance.
    2. Tax collectors should “collect no more than the amount prescribed”. (v. 13)  Tax collectors were notorious for abusing their authority.  Their job was to collect taxes from the locals for the Roman Empire.  But in doing so, most would collect more than what was due, and pocket the difference.
    3. Roman soldiers should “not extort money… [but] be satisfied with your wages”.  (v. 14) The Roman soldier was an ominous and powerful presence.  Many would abuse this power, and force people to do things such as extort (a fancy word for robbing) money from people.



Well, we started out this study in a joyful mood.  I guess with the Gospel lesson, that party is over!  We are pulled back into the hard work of Advent, preparing the way of the Lord by inward penitent reflection. 

When we have dinner guests, two things must be done.  Not only must we prepare the meal, but we must prepare our home for our guests’ arrival. We would never think of having people over to a dirty house—the house gets a thorough cleaning.  Our Advent reflection and repentance is the way we clean our spiritual “house”.



Jesus is coming on Christmas Day. Is your “house” clean?




For December 5, 2021


This is the second of a four-Sunday season we call Advent.  During Advent, we prepare for the Christ Child’s arrival on Christmas Day. It is a time for us to reflect on our lives.  Are we ready for his arrival?  If he returned tomorrow, would we be ready?  Most importantly, how do we get ready?  Today’s readings reflect these types of thoughts.  Hopefully, we will reflect, discover, and make changes as necessary to prepare for his arrival this Christmas.

Here’s a joke for you. A grandmother was sitting in her rocking chair, reading her bible.  Two grandchildren were sitting at her feet.  “What’s Grandma doing?” said the one child.  The other child answered “She’s studying for her final exam.”  The season of Advent is about preparing for our “final exam”, whether it is Jesus coming here or us going there.


LUKE 1:68-79

Normally, I don’t comment on the Psalm.  But this week’s hymn of praise is not from the book of Psalms, but from Luke.  The story actually begins in Luke 1:5-20. The angel Gabriel announces to a priest named Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child.  When Zechariah expresses doubt, because of age, Gabriel makes him mute.  (That’ll teach him!) 

Fast forward to Luke 1:57-67:  Elizabeth delivers the child.  People ask her what to name him, and she says “John”.  Not satisfied with her answer, they ask her husband.    Zechariah’s first words are “His name is John”.  What follows is Zechariah’s beautiful hymn of praise.  This is today’s psalm.  By the way, this child becomes the man we call John the Baptist. 




The prophet Malachi lived during the post-exilic period of Judah.  During this time, God’s people reverted to their old ways, not giving the Lord the honor and praise He deserved.  Sacrifices and offerings were weak, and not backed up by righteous living. 


  • God warns his people that he is sending a messenger ahead of his arrival to the temple. The temple was where God resided on earth.  God tells us that he will “suddenly” come to his temple.  For sure, he is really coming!  Since they are not ready for his coming, He sends a messenger ahead to warn them.  (v. 1)
  • But think about it—who can really withstand this event?  It’s not going to be a cheery parade.  It will take endurance and strength!  To refine metal, you must use intense heat to drive off the impurities. A fuller was a person responsible for making clothes pure white (without Clorox).  A fuller’s soap must have been the strongest thing they had.  (v.2)
  • So, once God returns, he is going to turn up the heat to the melting point “until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”  In other words, our offerings will not be acceptable to the Lord until our right actions match our offering gift.  Ouch!  (v. 3)
  • But then, once we offer in righteousness, our offering will be pleasing to the Lord.


Early Christians were quick to recognize this passage as a prophecy of the messenger who went before the coming of the Messiah.  This reminded them of the mission of John the Baptist.  John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah by getting people to reflect and repent.  To prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. 

And, just in case you’re wondering, Jesus did indeed turn up the heat.  If you’re in doubt, read he Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, especially 5:17-37.)


I can hear my father telling me “Actions speak louder than words”.  God is not interested in our offerings, sacrifices, or worship, unless our beliefs shine forth in righteous living.  How might we be falling short of God’s expectations?



The apostle Paul was in a Roman prison, writing this letter to the church in Philippi.  Prison life in Roman times was no picnic.  In fact, they didn’t feed or care for the prisoners; that was the responsibility of friends and family.  Churches like the one in Philippi were his lifeline.  You can tell from the tone of his message that they must have reached out to support him in this time of need.  The joy and love that is in this letter is remarkable, considering the agony that Paul must have been subjected to .


  • Paul starts out the letter with thankfulness, joy and prayer.  In spite of the fact that he is in prison, he’s happy to hear that they are sharing the gospel!  (vv. 3-5)
  • He’s confident that their work will be “brought to completion” by the time of Jesus’ return. The “one who began a good work among you” is the Holy Spirit, of course.  (v. 6)
  • Verses 7 & 8 are remarkable in that there is this intense love between Paul and this church—so much so that the prison bars almost seem to melt away! 
  • Paul’s prayer for this church is that their love will flow and increase even more, that they will learn what the best path is for them to follow, and that they live in righteousness.  (vv. 9-11)


The Advent message for us lays in verses 5 and 6.  We should be working hard to share the gospel message with those around us, as we wait for Jesus’ return. 


LUKE 3:1-6


Today’s passage is our introduction to John the Baptist’s ministry.  We will study this in detail next week. 


  • The passage starts with a list of political and religious leaders.  It is written this way because at the time, they did not have calendars like we do, to mark the date of an event.  By stating it this way, Luke was able to pinpoint the beginning of John’s ministry.  (vv. 1-2)
  • John’s work was not done in the big cities, but out in the boondocks—“the wilderness” along the Jordan river valley north of Jerusalem.  He preached repentance for one’s sins, and offered “a baptism” as a sign of repentance and forgiveness.  (v. 3)
  • Luke now quotes Isaiah 40:3-5, to show that John’s ministry was part of God’s plan to prepare the people of God for His coming Messiah.  (vv. 4-6)


It is interesting that the bible doesn’t mention baptism until these verses in the New Testament. Isaiah 1 speaks of the sinfulness of God’s people, and the need to repent.  Verse 16 instructs the repentant ones to wash themselves clean of their sinfulness. 

John calls to each one of us today.  He calls us to examine our lives, “come clean”, and be honest with ourselves.  We should identify the many ways we have fallen short of God’s expectations.  He calls us to repent & begin again, knowing that we are loved and forgiven. This is how we prepare for Jesus’ to enter our hearts on Christmas.



How do we prepare for his coming?

  • By making sure that our righteous actions match the piety we profess.  (Malachi 3:1-4)
  • By sharing the Good News with others, while we wait.  (Philippians 1:3-11)
  • By reflecting on our sinful nature, repenting, and starting anew.  (Luke 31-6)

Looks like we all have a lot of work to do this Advent season!

For November 28, 2021

November 28th is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is a four-week long season in the church year.  It marks the beginning of the church year  (Happy New Year!)  It is a season of preparation and reflection, as we wait for the Christ Child to arrive on Christmas morning.  What’s that you say?  Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago?  Well, I guess you’re right on that fact.  But we sort of intentionally forget about that fact for a few weeks, and pretend. We will attempt to recreate that first Christmas, by pretending to be like Israel, waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  (Advent means “coming”.)  In addition to celebrating the historic event, we will also do a little pretend celebration of his arrival this Christmas.  Finally, we will study some of the scriptural passages that look forward to his return.  This is the third “coming” of Jesus that we consider during this season.  In summary, there are three Advents. 

  • The coming of the Messiah on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago.
  • The coming of the Christ Child on December 25, 2021.
  • The coming of Jesus, when he returns again.

I think we’re going to have our hands full these next four weeks!


Some of the themes of Advent are 1) Wait, 2) Watch, 3) Hope, and 4) Prepare.  We wait and watch for the coming of the Messiah.  We hope that he will come to save us. We prepare our hearts and mind for his arrival this Christmas.  (We already know he’s coming, but don’t tell anybody!)


We’re sort of “hard core” about Advent at our house. We use these activities as a way to resist the commercialism of the season. 

  1. We might prepare a batch or two of Christmas cookies during Advent, but we wait until Christmas to eat them. 
  2. We try not to listen to Christmas carols until very near Christmas.  Would you expect people to sing “Happy Birthday” to you a month or more before your birthday?  We try to wait to put up the Christmas tree for the same reason, waiting until just a week or so before Christmas.  Once Christmas comes, however, we will celebrate the full 12 Days of Christmas, all the way to January 6th.  Only then, the tree comes down.
  3. Some ways to prepare for Jesus’ coming are to write Christmas cards, shop for gifts for loved ones, do the baking (but not the eating), and get all the Christmas decorations ready.  (But don’t put them up!)
  4. Special daily Advent devotions are good to do.  When the kids were small, we would light candles in a Yule log or in an Advent wreath, and read bible devotions before dinner.  This is how we prepare our hearts for the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas day.  My “kids” still talk about this on occasion.

The result of doing all this stuff is that we redirect our attention to the “reason for the season”, Jesus.  In recent years we have gone a little soft on some this.  The tree and a few decorations go up mid-December. But the message is still clear—Christmas should be more about Jesus than going to Walmart!  These might seem strict, but they keep our hearts focused on the true meaning of the season.


JEREMIAH 33:14-16


As you may recall, chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah are called the “consolation chapters” of his great work.  The rest of Jeremiah is full of turmoil.  But this section of his prophecy offers a glimmer of hope; a little relief from all that tension and strife. 

God’s people have been behaving badly.  They now find themselves in exile in Babylon.  It seems doubtful that they will ever return to the Promised Land.  But here is a message of hope from God.


  • God makes a promise that He still intends to keep—He will fulfill his earlier promise that the Davidic line would  last forever.  (vv. 12-15a)
  • The new king will not be like those old, wicked kings that came after Solomon. This new king will be fair to all and do what is right in God’s eyes.  That’s justice and righteousness.  (vv. 15b-16)


Isaiah 11:1 states that “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.“  In today’s passage, Jeremiah basically gives the same message.  The seemingly dead royal line of David will sprout a new and righteous branch. 

As Christians, we know that Jesus is the fulfillment of this scripture.



Paul was in Athens, preaching the Gospel message to the Greeks there.  With him, of course were his helpers Silas and Timothy.  Paul became concerned about the wellbeing of the church in Thessalonica, and sent Timothy there.  When Timothy returned, he had some good news and some bad news.  They were rich in faith and love, but they lacked the hope in the resurrection.  Paul writes this letter to help correct the problem.


  • Paul is full of joy and thanksgiving for them.  He longs to see them face to face, so that he can works on the areas that are lacking in their faith.  (vv. 9-11)
  • The remaining verses in today’s passage are a blessing and prayer of hope to the Thessalonians, that they might “abound in love for one another and for all”, and strengthen their hearts.  It ends with a reminder of Jesus’ return, which is intended to be the incentive for the encouragement for holiness.  He has already discussed Jesus’ return in chapter 2.  In these verses, he includes a prayer that they remain strong and blameless as they wait for Jesus’ return.  (vv. 12-13)


The church in Thessalonica was full of love and faith. They expected Jesus’ return to be at any moment.  When it did not happen as soon as expected, they became concerned and discouraged. Paul encourages us to grow in faith as we keep waiting and watching, not losing hope for his return. 

LUKE 21:25-36


Two weeks ago, we looked at a passage from Mark, in which Jesus was talking about the “end times”.  We called it “Mark’s Apocalypse”.  As you may recall, apocalyptic writing is a distinctive writing style that is found in many places in our bible.  The Roman Catholic bible contains some additional Old Testament writings.  In fact, there are many other writings from this time that were written in this apocalyptic style.  These are not part of our bible, but they do exist.  All of these are that same writing style, which are a lot like our book of Revelation.  The symbolism is confusing at times, but the message is always the same—  we should keep the faith, because God is in control.  Today’s gospel lesson has Jesus speaks in the apocalyptic style.  He’s talking about the end times; about the time when he will return.  It’s a good Advent message. 


  • Jesus tells us that there will be signs in the heavens that indicate that the end is near.  There will be confusion, fear, and foreboding.  We Christians should not be afraid, but stand up and raise our hands in praise, because our redemption is about to occur.  (vv. 25-28)
  • Next, he gives us a parable which is intended to give us some sort of sign that the end is near.  Throughout the generations, many theologians have interpreted this parable to fit their time, and were wrong.  Surprisingly, Jesus even states that that the current generation would not pass away before the end took place.  We all know that this did not occur.  In Mark 13:32 Jesus states that only the Father knows the timing, not even Jesus knows. (vv. 29-32)
  • One thing is certain—predictions may come and go, but Jesus’ words stand.  (v. 33)
  • In conclusion, Jesus gives us some Advent advice.  We should be on our toes, spiritually speaking.  We are to wait, watch, and be prepared for his return.  It will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  (vv. 34-36)


So, let us cleanse and prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day. 


For November 21, 2021


This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year.  It is on this day that we turn our thoughts and minds to the concept of Jesus being our King.  Today’s readings will cause us to reflect on different aspects of this idea.  Combined, they help us to envision and understand the full meaning of this concept.


DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14


Up to this point, the book of Daniel has been about stories of men who were strong in their faith. The book takes a turn in the seventh chapter.  It takes the apocalyptic form.  This is a dramatic, highly symbolic style of writing.  Some of the symbolic references we understand, and others are lost in antiquity.  But the message is clear, as we will see below.


  • Daniel is experiencing a vision or heavenly dream.  He is allowed a glimpse of God, the “Ancient One”, on his heavenly throne. When you see something that is indescribable, you try to explain it using things that you are familiar with. God’s clothing was “white as snow”. This is remarkable back then, because they did not have chlorine bleach.  Pure white clothing was either rare or non-existent.  His hair was white, “like pure wool”.  Since the average age back then was about 40 years old, I wonder how many white-haired people there were.  His throne was on wheels, and appeared to be on fire.  Fire was issuing forth from His presence!  Revelation 4 gives us a similar description.  (vv. 9-10a)
  • There were “a thousand-thousand” serving Him, and even more attending Him.  You can do the math, if you like.  Those serving total a million, and the attendants equal 100 million.  But I don’t think Daniel counted them all, or was given an attendance report.  He’s just trying to explain that there were a lot of people there!  (vv. 10b-11a)
  • Now we come to the “why are we here?” statement.  This is a court of law, and the books were opened.  (v. 11b)
  • Next, Daniel sees someone “like a human being” descend from the clouds, and go before the Ancient One.  Some translations use “Son of Man” for “human being”.  In the Old Testament, they are interchangeable terms.  In the New Testament, the Son of Man is very specific. (v. 13)
  • The Ancient One gives the human being “dominion and glory and kingship” over all peoples and for all time.  (v. 14)


Have you ever been to a large sports stadium or concert hall that was packed with people?  Some of the newer baseball stadiums can hold about 100,000 people. Imagine ten times that amount of people.  That’s the amount of people in the first group of Daniel’s vision. Yet, this is only a fraction of the number of Christians who are living in this world today, let alone those who passed before us.  No, Daniel was not exaggerating.  If anything, he was understating the number of people before God’s throne. 

What did this vision mean to the people of Daniel’s day?  It gave them the hope and reassurance that God was their king.  God was in control, even though at the time it seemed like God was nowhere in sight.  Their hope was that God was still involved, and would restore the promised kingdom of David. 

What should this vision say to us?  We should hear the same message of hope and reassurance.  In spite of global warming, nations fighting nations, world hunger and poverty, and scary or inept world leaders, God is in control.  God is not only on his divine, fiery throne, but He has given us His son, to be our king forever.  God’s got this!



These are some of the beginning lines of John’s revelation; the message from God to comfort and strengthen the believers under John’s care in Asia Minor.  They are called the “seven churches” here.  There may have been more then seven, but they are grouped together for the sake of John’s writing.  Instead of doing the detail verse-by-verse, I’m going to approach it phrase-by-phrase.


  • Jesus is “the one who is and who is to come”.  He is living now, and will come again.
  • Jesus is “the faithful witness”.  He was sent from heaven to preach, teach, and die for us. He was faithful to his duty.
  • Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead”.  He was the first human to have eternal life.  Now, because of him, we too, receive this special gift.
  • He “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood” on the cross.
  • Jesus “made us to be a kingdom, priests” to serve him and the Father”.  Yes, we are all priests.  We’re just going to have to own that, and live up to it. 
  • We all proclaim “to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever”.  We praise him and claim him as our king, when we say these words.
  • Hey, “Look! He is coming with the clouds”.  Look at verse 13 from our reading in Daniel. 
  • Every eye will see” this, even those who killed him.  No wonder that “all of the earth  will wail.”  When Jesus takes his judgement seat, heads are gonna roll! 
  • So it is to be!”  You can’t change it!
  • Jesus is the “Alpha and Omega”; the beginning and the end (of the Greek alphabet).  He was there at the beginning, and he’ll see this through to the end. 


The word “dominion” has popped up both here and in the first reading from Daniel.  The word has two meanings.  First, it is the power and authority that a ruler has over his people. But it also refers to the country or land he has power over.  So, a king has dominion over the people of his dominion. 

Jesus has been given the power to be our king, and his dominion is the whole world.  Thanks be to God!

JOHN 18:33-37


In today’s gospel, we find ourselves with Jesus before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate was a prefect, or governor of the province of Judea.  He was the Roman Emperor Tiberias’ representative in Judea.  His main tasks were to collect taxes and keep the peace.  The Jews have brought Jesus before Pilate, with accusations of claiming to be a rival king.  They are inciting a riot, which is why Pilate is forced to intervene.


  • Pilate gets right to the point—“Are you the King of the Jews? (v.33)
  • Jesus is not at all intimidated by the power that Pilate has.  He is a little “mouthy”, and asks “Is this your idea, or someone else’s?” (v. 34)
  • Pilate doesn’t take it as insubordination, but dishes it right back.  It’s not really his fight, because he’s not Jewish.  He asks Jesus what he has done.  (v. 35)
  • Jesus ignores this question, and answers the first one.  His kingdom “is not of this world”.  (v. 36)
  • Pilate says/asks “So, you are king?”  You could say that he has declared Jesus a king with his own lips.  (v. 37) 
  • That’s how Jesus takes it!  In effect, Jesus says “so you say!”  Then comes the jewel of this passage.  “For this I was born… to testify to the truth.”  (v. 38a)
  • This sentence is for us—“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  In other words, if we listen to his message, we are part of his kingdom.  (v. 38b)


Much of Jesus’ teachings were to help us understand the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is a community without borders or barriers. It is everyone who loves God, and shows it by loving one another.  This is the kingdom that Jesus is the king of.  You and I are part of this kingdom!


We are blessed to live in a land that has never been ruled by a king.  (At least if you don’t count our colonial years.)  So, for nearly 250 years, we have not had any experience with answering to a king.  This is a good thing, of course, but it hinders our understanding the full meaning of the kingship of Jesus.  Here are a few points to consider about kings:

  1. They rule for life. 
  2. You never get to choose your king; they are given that position by birthright.
  3. A king’s decrees are absolute.  There’s no debate.  What he says, goes!
  4. When you are called to fight in the army, you fight for king and country (in that order).
  5. If the king passes by, even if you’re working in the field, you stop and bow to the king.
  6. One of the king’s duties is to act as the supreme court.  When he sits on the throne, he hears cases, and passes judgement. No appeals may be considered.

Nowadays, we like to think of Jesus as our brother.  We sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.  We sing beautiful songs about walking alone in a garden, and “Jesus walks with us, and talks with us”.  This is all very good, of course.  But we must also remind ourselves that Jesus is all powerful. He will come to judge the living and the dead.  Since we are part of his kingdom, we are expected to dutifully obey his commandments without question.  You know. The commandments he gave us, like:

  1. Do not judge others, and you won’t be judged.  (That’s his job, not ours!)
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.  (And everyone is your neighbor.)
  3. Love your enemies.
  4. “Feed my lambs.”
  5. Forgive one another, just like God has forgiven us.
  6. Share from your abundance.  (“If you have two coats…”, remember?)

Yes, Jesus is most certainly our friend and brother.  But he is also our mighty king, sitting at God the Father’s right side.  Let us not only love, honor, and praise him; but let us also remember to respect, glorify and obey him as our king.

For November 14, 2021


For liturgical churches such as ours, the church year begins four Sundays before Christmas.  This year, the new church year will begin on November 28th.  There are only two Sundays between now and then!  Since we’re coming to the end of the church calendar, it is fitting for us to consider eschatological matters.  (That’s a fancy word meaning the “end times”.)  This week, I will answer all your “end time” questions exactly the way that Jesus did in today’s Gospel lesson.  But first, let’s look at the other readings.


DANIEL 12:1-3


Contemporary theologians date the time of this writing around 198-164 BC, rather than at the time of the historical prophet Daniel existed. During this time, the Greeks had conquered Palestine.  Under their ruler, Antiochus III Epiphanes, there was intense pressure for the Jews to abandon their faith and culture, and embrace all things Greek.  Most Jews resisted, and underwent much oppression, including torture and death.  God always speaks to his people in need, and this time was no exception.  God sends a much-needed message of hope to the faithful.  We join the narrative towards the end of the story.


  • After the period of strife just described in the previous chapters, the archangel Michael rises up to take control.  The archangel Michael was considered to be the guardian angel of the Jews.  Here, he is given the title of “prince”, to indicate that he will lead God’s people to victory over their oppressors. (v. 1a)
  • Daniel says that it is not going to be easy.  But in the end, they shall be delivered—at least those written in “the book”. We’ll talk about the book in the takeaway. (v. 1b&c)
  • The passage then turns to a resurrection scene.  “Many” will rise from the dead and be judged.  Some to eternal life, and some to eternal death. No details are given, except for the next verse.  (v. 2)
  • The focus here is on “those who are wise”.  Those who are faithful to God in the face of religious persecution.  It will be a happy ending for those wise in faithfulness to God.  (v. 3) 


The father of a friend of mine was a Chief Petty Officer in the navy.  He carried a little notebook.  If he wrote your name down in that book, it was not a good thing.  This story from the book of Daniel tells us that God also keeps a book of names.  But His book contains the names of the faithful.  This book is mentioned many times in Revelation, especially in chapters 2 & 3.  If you love Jesus, your name is most certainly in this book.

The overall message of this passage is clear.  Bad times come and go. Remain faithful to God. Make sure that your name is in His book, and you will be saved! 



HEBREWS 10:11-14, 19-25


As we have studied in previous weeks, the book of Hebrews was written for Jewish Christians.  It explained how Jesus qualified to be our high priest, how he fits into the divine realm & plan, and what this means for those who believe in him. All this is explained in terms of Jewish terms and practices, since it was written for the Hebrews.  Today’s passage summarizes this whole subject. The book continues on for only three more chapters after this.


The passage can be divided into two parts, as indicated by the two paragraphs.  The first is a summary of what God has done for us through Jesus.  The second is a summary of what we should do in response of what God has first done for us.

  • We’re talking here about the high priests before Jesus, who presented blood offerings to God for the sins of the people. (v. 11)
  • With Jesus’ single offering of his own blood, we are sanctified (“made holy”) for all time.  Having done this, his mission on earth is complete, and he now takes his place at God’s right hand.  (vv. 12-14)
  • “Therefore” is the signal that that part of the discussion is complete, and we are now going to talk about what we should do about it.  Now that Jesus has done all this, we may confidently enter the sanctuary, or Holy of Holies. Before Jesus, only the high priest could enter that room, and then only after he had been spiritually cleansed.  We are cleansed through our baptism, and may enter past the veil, made of stone.  What a change!  (vv. 19-22)
  • We are to hold fast to our faith, just like we are urged in the reading from Daniel.  (v. 23)
  • We should “provoke” one another to do loving acts.  (v. 24)
  • We must gather for worship, keeping in mind that the end may be near.  (v. 25)


Provoking someone to love and do good things.  What an interesting concept!  Other translations use similar words like “stir up”, “spur”, “arouse”, etc., but the message is the same.  We should aggressively encourage each other to be who Jesus wants us to be.  Most importantly, we need to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…” (v. 23a)



MARK 13:1-8


While we were reading other Gospel passages, Mark’s narrative has gone on without us.  In chapter 11, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey amid praises of “Hosanna!”  He has cleaned the temple, and taught using many parables.  After today’s passage, Jesus will speak more of the “end times”.  In fact, Mark 13 is commonly called “Mark’s Little Apocalypse”. Some bibles name the last book of the bible “The Apocalypse” instead of the book of [the] Revelation.


  • Jesus and his disciples are exiting the big temple in Jerusalem, the one that Herod was rebuilding.  The disciples, all country bumpkins from Galilee, are in awe at the enormity of the temple.  (v. 1)
  • Jesus says something shocking.  “Take a good look, guys, cuz it’s all coming down!”  (v. 2)  [Don’s personal translation.]  Jesus was right, of course.  About 35 years later, there was a Jewish revolt.  In retaliation, Rome destroyed the temple.  In fact, all that remains to this day is the wailing wall.
  • Later, on the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples quiz Jesus on this. They want to know when, and what signs will signal the event.  (vv. 3-4)
  • Jesus’ answer is vague, but instructional. 
    • He warns them not to be led astray by false teaching.  Many teachers will claim many things which are not true.  Don’t fall for them!  (vv. 5-6) 
    • He does hint that it is going to be a while, when he says “…this must take place, but the end is still to come.” (v. 7b)
    • He says that lots of bad things will happen first, but they are all just the “birthpangs”.  The "baby's" delivery is yet to come.  (v. 8)



They wanted dates and signs.  Jesus does not give them this as an answer.  How do you think they would have reacted, if he had told them it would be at least 2,000 years?  Actually, he has already told him that only the Father knows the time. Even Jesus doesn’t know the answer! But what is important for them and us is what he teaches us:

  • Be patient and be wise. 
  • Don’t fall for every little teaching about the end times. 
  • Most of them are wrong. 
  • What is important is to have faith and trust in God. 
  • Everything else is simply details.



If you’re as old as me, you’ve heard and read about all sort of predictions about the “end times”.  I used to own a book that used “biblical math” to predict that the second coming would occur on October 16, 1914.  Yes, it was an old book.  I showed this book to some people of that denomination.  They wanted to give me a newer book with newer dates in it.  Maybe Jesus was right.  Maybe they are who Jesus was talking about. 

One of my pastors told me that these details really don’t matter.  What matters is putting our faith and trust in Jesus, and encouraging others to do the same.  Let God do what God does.  Our names will be in the Book of Life.  Nothing else matters.

For November 7, 2021

This is the Sunday that many call All Saints Sunday.  All Saints Day is always on November 1st, or last Monday this year.  It is the day that we remember those believers who have gone before us, especially those saints who influenced our spiritual growth. 

So, who are “saints”? In the early Christian (Roman Catholic) church, those who were martyred for their faith had always been venerated. Beginning in 993, the Pope canonized the first saint.  For Roman Catholics, the “saints” are those models of faith who have been officially canonized by the church fathers.  But St. Paul used this word about 950 years earlier to describe the followers of Jesus.  He opens many of his letters with the words “to all the saints at…”  (See the beginning verses of 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.)  So, long before the church used the term for designated individuals, Paul used it to describe all believers.

The word “saint” in many languages simply means “holy”.  If we believe in Jesus, we are saints.  We are holy.

ISAIAH 25:6-9


It is believed that these words were written to the exiles who were returning to Judah from Babylonian captivity.


  • God is preparing a banquet on a mountaintop for his people.  Only the best will do—good wine and rich food.  It’s party time!  (v. 6)
  • Better yet, He is going to eliminate death forever!  The shroud and sheet are the funeral garments for the deceased.  (v. 7)
  • God will eliminate sorrow and disgrace from His people.  (v. 8)
  • The conclusion is that even though they waited a long time for their salvation, it was worth the wait.  (v. 9) 


Have you ever hosted a party or banquet for a loved one?  Or, have you ever been treated to a party held in your honor?  A party or banquet is a great way to express our love for others.  This is the image that God is presenting to us.  He wants to rejoice in our being free from death.  Let’s party!



Some read the book of Revelation as a foreboding prophecy of the dreadful times to come.  My understanding of this strange book is that it was a word of comfort and assurance from God to Christians suffering for their faith.  The book is full of wild and strange imagery, but the point is clearly made— Evil has it’s day, but in the end, God destroys evil.  Today’s bible passage comes from the conclusion of this story.  In this reading, John has had a vision of the total destruction of evil.  This is the happy ending.


  • John sees a completely new creation—a new heaven and earth.  To Jewish Christians of the time, the sea represented (and contained) evil things. That is why there is no sea in God’s new creation.  (v. 1)
  • Flowing down from God is the New Jerusalem.  The early church was considered the “New Jerusalem”.  This church-city is a bride, all dressed up for her “husband” Jesus. The image is not a new one.  But let’s think about it.  Back then, marriage was a little different than today.  It was less about romance than duty and responsibility.  Husbands were to love, protect, and provide for their wives.  Wives were to love, serve, and obey their husbands.  (See Ephesians 5:22-32 for a perfect example.) Jesus provided for our well-being when he died on the cross for us.  We are now to serve him, and obey his commandments.  (v. 2)
  • God then speaks from the throne.  He declares that he will live among us.  He will wipe away our tears, and death will be no more.  Sounds like the passage from Isaiah,  Maybe it is at this time that God will finally enact his vision.  (v. 3)
  • He tells John to write this down, because His words are trustworthy and true.  He says that he is the Alpha and Omega.  These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  In English, we should say that God said that he is A to Z!  The beginning and end.  (v. 6a)
  • For those who thirst, spiritually, God provides the water of life.  (v. 6b)


The meaning of this passage is the same for me as it was for those first-century Christians.  Crazy politicians may appear to be taking us and our nation to the brink of destruction.  But God is real, and God has a plan.  In the end, He will set things straight, and make things new and good again.  Best of all, there will be no more tears.  No more sorrow.  No more death.  A happy ending is headed our way!

JOHN 11:1-44 


The lectionary has chosen only the last part of this long story, the resurrection of Lazarus, verses 32-44.  The whole story is too long to read in church on Sunday.  But we’ll look at the whole story, to gain a better understanding of everything that goes on here.

Prior to this story, Jesus and his disciples have travelled to the other side of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist had done much of his work.  They were way out in the boondocks. 


  • Jesus is good friends with Lazarus and his sisters.  Lazarus is ill, and the sisters send word of this to Jesus.  (vv. 1-3)
  • Jesus does not go there right away.  Instead, he stays two days longer!  Verse 4b hints at the reason.  (vv. 4-6)
  • After intentionally dragging his feet, he tells the disciples they’re going to Bethany. They are surprised that he would want to go to a place where they want to kill him.  But Jesus is resolute—he is on a mission.  (vv. 7-10)
  • Next, Jesus uses a euphemism to describe Lazarus’ condition.  The disciples misunderstand.  Jesus makes it clear that he knows that Lazarus is dead.  Another hint to his motives appears in verse 15.  Our Thomas is his typical self, making strange comments. (vv 11-16)
  • Jesus arrives four days after Lazarus’ death.  Martha comes to greet him.  Was there frustration or anger in her voice in verse 21?  (vv. 17-21)
  • They discuss the resurrection of the body.  Jesus makes a key statement in verse 25.  Martha puts her faith and trust in him.  (vv. 22-27)
  • Martha runs home to fetch Mary, while Jesus and his retinue are still on their way there. In verse 32, Mary tells Jesus the same thing that Martha said earlier.  Again—was there frustration or anger?  (vv. 28-32)
  • Jesus is moved by the intense emotion of the situation.  Mary weeps.  Jesus weeps. Onlookers are astonished, and offer criticism.  (vv. 33-37)
  • Jesus orders the stone of the tomb rolled away, in spite of the fact that Lazarus died four days ago. (vv. 38-39)
  • Jesus tells Martha to expect the glory of God.  Jesus prays aloud for all to hear.  His purpose is clear in verse 42b.  (vv. 40-42)
  • Jesus speaks, and Lazarus staggers from the tomb.  Jesus orders the onlookers to care for him.  (vv. 43-44)


I have some questions that I’ve been pondering about this text.  I’ll share them with you, and share my answers, too.  Normally, my writing is built upon the writings of good Lutheran theologians.  In this case, I’m using my own logic, so take that for what it’s worth.

Why did Jesus dilly-dally, and not rush to Lazarus’ bedside?  I believe that Lazarus’ resurrection was part of God’s plan to demonstrate Jesus’ divine power.  Even Martha thought that reviving Lazarus after four days was unthinkable.

Were Martha and Mary angry with Jesus?  Maybe.  They were at least frustrated and confused.  They clearly sent word in time for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus.  But Jesus took his time.  Wouldn’t you be angry?

Why did Jesus cry at the tomb?  Was it in sympathy for Mary and Martha?  Did he miss Lazarus?  But he knew what he was going to do—bring him back to life.  Maybe he was sad for Lazarus.  Jesus would have known that Lazarus was in a much better place. Jesus was about to yank him back to Bethany, and out of Paradise.  Jesus loved Lazarus.  Maybe he was sad for what he was going to put Lazarus through.

Then, why did Jesus do this?  Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and never return.  It is time for him to make it crystal clear to all that he is the Son of God.  Look at these verses:

Verse 4b:  “…rather, it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Verse 15:  “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Verse 26a:  “and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Verse 42b:  “… I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”


Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  By believing in him, we too are saints.  We are holy. We have eternal life.  Thanks be to God! 


For October 31, 2021

NOTE: There are two groups of readings for this Sunday.  There is the regular lectionary readings for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and there are the readings for October 31st, which is Reformation Day for some Christians. Usually, we do the first of these. This year, we will look at the readings for Reformation Day.  In addition, I am going to change the order, putting the gospel reading second, and the reading from Romans last.

JEREMIAH 31:31-34


The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived about the same timeframe.  Ezekiel was deported to Babylon along with many other Judeans.  Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, tending to the spiritual needs of those remaining.  If they were alive today, they would be communicating by email and having Zoom meetings on a regular basis.  Back then, however, communication was quite a bit slower.  But remarkably, their message to the people of God was very similar, as we will see.  After all, they were both God’s spokesmen; the source of the message was the same. Today’s passage from Jeremiah comes from his “Book of Consolation” that we discussed last week.  It is a message of hope and renewal. 


  • Jeremiah assures the people in exile, both from Israel and Judah, that better days are coming.  God will make a new covenant with his people.  It won’t be like the old covenant.  They broke that one many, many times.  Time for something new. (vv. 31-32)
  • This new covenant won’t just be written down in a temple somewhere, it will be written on the hearts of the people.  There will be an intimate relationship between God and his people. (v. 33)
  • We won’t have to learn things about God anymore, because all of us will know it all!  (vv. 34-35a)
  • Best of all, God will not only forgive our sins, but He will forget all about them.  (v. 35b)


The word “covenant” and “testament” mean the same thing. It is easy to conclude that God’s “New Covenant (Testament)” is realized in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus.  Is this what it meant to Jeremiah’s listeners, or did it mean something else to them?  The short answers are no and yes.  Can it be both?  Maybe!


The people of Jeremiah’s time had troubles of their own.  Jerusalem and it’s society was ripped apart by foreign pagans.  It was a time of desperation and hopelessness.  God had not yet put forth the idea of a Messiah. Instead, Jeremiah’s message from God was that God wanted to have a close-knit relationship with them.  God was not interested in worship, at least when it was not from the heart.  Ezekiel 36:24-28 gives the people under Ezekiel’s care the same message.  God wants an intimate, loving relationship.  The message is the same in that passage and this one—Israel and Judah will be restored one day.  When they are, God’s law will be written on everyone’s hearts. Sins will be forgiven and forgotten.


Centuries later, God sent His only son to walk the earth with us.   Jesus taught us his Father’s will, when he spoke his Sermon on the Mount, and when he taught us parables about the kingdom of God.  Then, he died for our sins.  So, the life of God’s son was the final chapter in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah most certainly did not know that part of the story.  But he most certainly knew the hope and promise that God gave his people in captivity.


It is one thing to forgive someone for what they have done.  It is quite another to forever forget about it.  God promises to both forgive our sins and forget them!  We receive this free gift because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Now, we must not only forgive those who wrong us, but forget about it as well. 


JOHN 8:31-36


Today’s reading comes from the gospel of John. At this point in the story, Jesus had been gathering disciples, and teaching those around him.  Teaching and clarifying God’s will for the people was one of Jesus’ main missions.  For the most part, Jesus taught to the Jews.  Jesus and the twelve apostles were Jews.  He did, of course, occasionally reach out to the Gentiles, but most of his ministry was to his fellow Jews.  In the gospels, “the Jews” often refers to those who resisted or challenged him. In today’s reading, however, it refers to some followers of Jesus.


  • Jesus makes a statement to start a discussion.  He is teaching “the Jews who had believed in him”.  This could have been the twelve apostles or others.  John does not specify.  It doesn’t matter, so he leaves that out.  John was like that.  (See John 21:25.)  Jesus tells them that if they “continue in his word, they will be free”.  (vv. 31-32)
  • The disciples immediately think that Jesus is talking about slavery (which he is, sort of).  Slavery was commonplace at that time; about 40% of the population were slaves.  The disciples state that they have never been slaves, since they are the descendants of Abraham.  I guess they forgot about Egypt and that the Romans had conquered them.  (v. 33)
  • Next, Jesus drives his point home.  We are all slaves—to sin.  But the good news is that if we “continue in his word” (from verse 32), we are set free from the slavery of sin. (vv. 34-36)


For those of us who love and follow Jesus, we are freed of the sin that enslaves us.  We are truly free to be Children of God!



ROMANS 3:19-28

I am also going to change the order on this reading from Romans.  There is a lot of nitty-gritty detail in this passage.  If you don’t want to wade into the “deep water”, you can just go to The Takeaway.  I’ll put the detailed explanation after the takeaway, for those who want to take a deeper dive.


I like to read the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans as one big unit.  You could skip the greeting, and begin with 1:16.  Keep in mind that the church in Rome was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  One thing I like to do is substitute two words for words in the text.  When Paul says “Jews”, I substitute my church denomination.  When he says “Greeks”, I substitute another denomination.  This makes it more real; and it is closer to what Paul was trying to say.

Anyway, in the first three chapters of Romans, Paul presents a panoramic view of the sinfulness of mankind.  He starts with pagan idol worship, but slowly turns the gun around, aiming squarely at the Jews and Greeks.   There’s no escaping it—we are all a sorry, sinful lot.


Verses 23 and 24 are at the heart of this passage. Paul makes his two main points:

  1. Everyone has sinned, and do not measure up to God’s expectations.
  2. For those who have faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven*.

This gift of forgiveness is free to those who have faith in Jesus.  Later in Paul’s letter, he uses the phrase “free gift” often.  (5:15, 5:16, 5:17, 6:23)  All you need to “do” to claim your free gift is to believe in Jesus!

* The word “justification” in this context is a legal term.  When someone was accused of a crime, and was in court, they could explain why they did what they did.  If the judge believed that their actions were acceptable, he would claim that the defendant was “justified”, and the charges would be dropped.


  • When Paul talks about “the law”, he referring to Jewish law.  You know, like the 10 commandments, and all the detailed laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  Paul states here (and elsewhere) that the law is there to make us accountable—accountable to the point that we shut our mouths in guilt. (vv. 19-20)
  • Paul now sets the law aside, and talks about what God has done for us (God’s righteousness).  In fact, all the prophets were like weathervanes, pointing to this righteous act. (v. 21)
  • The righteous act that we are talking about is the gift of God’s own son, for all who believe.  (v. 22)
  • Paul reminds us what he has just told us in the previous chapters—we have all sinned. Everyone.  (v. 23)
  •  The Good News is that by God’s grace, our actions have been “justified”/forgiven. It is God’s action that does this. It is a gift.  (v. 24)
  • During Paul’s time, and earlier, the high priest would make a blood sacrifice for the peoples’ sins.  God himself made a blood sacrifice of his son’s blood for our sin.  We, too, receive this atonement through faith. (v. 25)
  • God did this to show that He is a righteous God.  He loves us so much that He did this for us.  (v. 26)
  • So, what have you got to brag about?  Can you brag that you are a Jew, or a Greek, or a Baptist or a Lutheran? Can we brag about being good or doing good deeds?  Paul emphatically says “NO!”  God has all the bragging rights.  (v. 27)
  • Salvation comes not from keeping God’s rules, but by living our lives in faith. It is a free gift from our Father in heaven.  (v. 28)