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For March 13, 2022

GENESIS 15:1-12, 17-18

THE BACKGROUND

This is the story of Abram and his wife Sarai.  Later on, God will rename him Abraham and his wife Sarah.  Abram had it good, back in the land named Aram.  But the Lord called him to leave his homeland, and travel to a distant land.  God made promises to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and Abram obeyed the Lord.  He packed up everything, and left home.  In the previous chapter, there was a battle between some kings.  Abram gathered some of his men, and did a good deed.  Afterward, he presented an offering to Melchizedek, a priest-king.

THE DETAIL

  • The “after these things” refers to the battles and offerings depicted in the previous chapter. Then, God reminds him of the promises that He made earlier (Genesis 12:1-3).  (v. 1)
  • But Abram has issues. God promised him to be the father of a great nation, but he has no heir.  His wife is barren, and Abram is 80 years old.  “What gives, God???”  Furthermore, according to custom, if a successful man has no heir, his senior slave inherits his wealth.  Abram can’t stomach this, apparently.  God promised him an heir, and it looks like this slave from Damascus is going to get all his stuff.  (vv. 2-3)
  • God answers that Eliezer will not be the heir; Abram’s own issue will be the heir.  He shows Abram the stars, and promises that he will have that many descendants.  Abram believes God.  (vv. 4-6)
  • Next, God reminds Abram that the land he’s standing on is (or is going to be) his.  But Abram’s not sure about that.  He says “how am I to know [this]?”  (vv. 7-8)
  • What happens next seems weird to us, but was a common custom of the day.  God instructs Abram to do what is called “cutting a covenant”. It goes like this:  you take some big animals, and slaughter them.  You cut them in half, and place the halves in two rows, with a pathway in between.  Then, you pass through the severed carcasses.  Sounds gross, eh?  But by doing this, you are saying that if you break the covenant, then you deserve to be cut in two like the carcasses you’ve just passed through.  It's a little like   becoming blood brothers.  (vv. 9-11)
  • Then, Abram falls asleep, and has a dream.  A smoking fire pot and flaming torch (which represent God) pass through the carcasses. By doing this, God states that if he breaks this covenant promise, He deserves to die.  He will definitely keep His promise to Abram.  (vv. 12, 17-18)

THE TAKEAWAY

This story is full of Abram’s faith and God’s grace.  Abram puts his trust in God, even when the details seem impossible.  God stands firm in His promises.  He is patient and caring, when Abram expresses doubt, or presses God for a commitment.  All of this applies equally to us, in our relationship with the Lord.
 

PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1

THE BACKGROUND

This is an excerpt of a letter that Paul wrote to the tiny church in the city of Philippi.  Paul was writing from a prison cell.  The letter is nevertheless very upbeat, full of hope and promise. 

THE DETAIL

  • Paul is offering himself up as a role model to this little church.  While that might appear to us as conceited, we must remember that he is writing from prison.  He is in jail because of his faith.  And, as we will see, this little church needs a role model.  (v. 17)
  • We hear of other options for role models.  It is not a pretty sight.  Having one’s belly as their god indicates to me that they were selfish and perhaps gluttonous.  Their minds are set on “earthly things”.  These are the “enemies of Christ”.  We should not be like them!  (vv. 18-19)
  • Instead, we should remember that we are citizens of heaven.  Paul does not say that we will become citizens; he says that we already are citizens of heaven.  We are expecting Jesus’ return.  Our humiliation will be transformed into glory, when he returns.  (vv. 20-21)
  • Therefore, we must stand firm in the faith, carefully selecting our role models.  (v. 4:1)

THE TAKEAWAY

These days, we are bombarded with many role models.  Some are successful sports figures, some are movie or TV stars.  We are also bombarded with commercials which show us all the good things to buy things that will buy us happiness.  It is clear to me that we must very, very careful where we put our trust and faith.  We need to carefully find a path through all this “stuff”, and find a way that is worthy of a citizen of heaven.
 

LUKE 13:31-35

THE BACKGROUND

This week, we return to the middle part of Luke.  We will be reading mostly from the gospel of Luke for the rest of the year.  At this point in the story, Jesus has been healing and teaching.  He has also begun to attract the attention of some of the high religious leaders.  The plot is beginning to thicken.

THE DETAIL

  • Some Pharisees come to Jesus, and tell him that he should go away, because “Herod wants to kill you.”  Now, not all the Pharisees were as bad as the bible makes them out to be.  In fact, Jesus dines with them on at least one occasion. So, maybe these were some of the good ones, looking to protect Jesus from Herod.  Or maybe they were the bad ones, trying to get rid of Jesus.  Maybe they didn’t want him to go to Jerusalem, and told him a lie.  We’re really not sure.  (v. 31)
  • Jesus’ answer is interesting on two counts.  First, he calls Herod a fox.  Back then, this was not a compliment.  Foxes were considered cunning and sinister.  Next, Jesus says that he still has work to do;  he says “on the third day I will finish my work.”  I think we all know what he was talking about when he said this!  (v. 32)
  • Jesus then indicates that he knows that he must go there, and that he knows that he’ll probably be killed there.  He knows what lies ahead, and he is planning to go anyway.  (v. 33)
  • In a sad lament, Jesus declares that he wishes to gather us up like a mother hen.  Instead, he knows, he’s headed for trouble.  (v. 34)
  • Finally, there’s a little hint of his “Palm Sunday” entrance into Jerusalem, where the people cheer blessings and praises to him.    (v. 35)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus is on the road that eventually leads to Jerusalem and his death on the cross.  He goes willingly.  He goes for us.  But he still has work to do.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What work does God still have for us to do? 

For March 6, 2022

DEUTERONOMY 26:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

The entire book of Deuteronomy is given as Moses’ final address to God’s people the Israelites. They are about to enter the promised land, and he will stay behind.  The final chapter of the book gives the details of his final days and his successor. This book has a little history in the first two chapters.  But it is mainly a book of law and of instruction.  Today’s passage is a series of instructions for the people on how to prepare a thank-offering at harvest time.

THE DETAIL

  • Remember that Moses is not going into the Promised Land with the people.  So, he’s telling them what to do, once they are settled in the land. (v. 1)
  • Once they have harvested their crops, the Lord instructs the people to bring the first pick of the harvest to Him as an offering.  They are to bring it to His house, give it to the priest, and declare it to be their offering.  (vv. 2-4)
  • They are to recite these sentences, which recall their slavery, and God’s act of saving grace. (vv. 5-10a)
  • Then, once the offering has been placed on the altar and the speech spoken, it is party time! The person presenting the offering is to host a harvest celebration, inviting the clergy (Levites) and everybody including the foreigners in their midst (aliens).  ( vv. 10b-11)

THE TAKEAWAY

Remember how sweet those first peaches and strawberries are, each year?  These are the first-fruits of the harvest.  The Lord tells Moses to have the people to bring these first-fruits to Him as a thank-offering for all the blessings that He has provided them. 

Verses 5-10a are a sort of creed.  It is a statement recalling the history and suffering of the Israelites.  It also recognizes God as the source of their salvation and prosperity.  Perhaps we should write a similar creed, based upon our own lives.  A creed that recalls our “wanderings” and God’s saving hand. How would yours read?
 

ROMANS 10:8-13

THE BACKGROUND

In this passage, Paul is discussing salvation.  Specifically, what it is that saves us.  He’s examining scripture to find hints of the new law that is contained there.  This is the new l that is coming with the Messiah. He is compares “the Law of Moses” with other parts of Holy Scripture.  (Keep in mind that for Paul, Holy Scripture was what we call the Old Testament.)  Before our passage, in verse 5, Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5.  Moses states that if a person lives righteously, as prescribed by the Law, they shall live.  Then, Paul offers a rebuttal, by quoting three Old Testament passages.

THE DETAIL

  • The first quote is from Deuteronomy 30:14.  The word is on our lips and in our hearts.  (v. 8b)
  • He goes on to explain that by confessing our faith with our lips, and believing in our heart in Jesus’ resurrection, we are saved—we have life.  (vv. 9-10)
  • Verse 11 is a variation of Isaiah 28:16.  We are reassured that we will not be put to shame because of our belief.
  • Finally, Paul reminds us that absolutely everybody who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  It doesn’t matter if you are Jew or Gentile [black or white, American or foreign, etc.], we are all the same in God’s eyes.  He quotes Joel 2:32 as Old Testament support.  (vv. 12-13)

THE TAKEAWAY

While the Law of Moses, such as the Ten Commandments, aid us in knowing God’s prescription for righteous living, it is not our means of salvation.  The only thing that can save us is to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Our salvation is a free gift from Jesus; all we need to do to claim this gift is to have faith in him.


LUKE 4:1-13

THE BACKGROUND

In recent weeks, we have been reading the gospel of Luke, and are already up to chapter nine.  But we have been saving one story for the beginning of Lent.  Now that Ash Wednesday is behind us, we will backtrack and look at the story called The Temptation of Jesus.  Luke 3 is the story of John the Baptist.  Verses 21 & 22 are about the baptism of Jesus.  The remainder of the chapter is Jesus’ family tree. 

THE DETAIL

  • Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit leads him into the desert wilderness, where he will be “tempted by the devil”.  I’ll call them “trials” here.  We’ll discuss this at length in the takeaway.  (vv. 1-2a)
  • He is fasting, which indicates to me that this is partly a spiritual retreat.  Jesus will eat nothing for 40 days.  He was famished by the end of this time.  That’s when the devil shows up.  (v. 2b)
  • The first trial is related to Jesus’ physical needs.  He is famished.  But he has divine power.  Remember the story of the loaves and the fishes?  Surely he can make bread to eat.  But he declines, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3b.  (vv. 3-4)
  • The second trial is about the abuse of power.  Jesus has divine power.  If he wanted to, he could topple Caesar, eliminate the Roman Empire, and establish his own peaceable kingdom.  Surely, this would accomplish the will of God, wouldn’t it?  All Jesus has to do to accomplish this is abandon God’s plan, and follow this worldly plan.  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, stating that only God [and God’s plans] must be honored. (vv. 5-8)
  • Jesus’ final trial is the suggestion to test God’s protection of Jesus.  “Surely if you jumped off a high building, God would send angels to soften the impact.”  Jesus again responds by quoting scripture; in this case Deuteronomy 6:16. “Don’t put God to the test.”  The trial is over, and the devil departs… for now. (vv. 9-13)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is interesting that Luke calls the tempter “the devil” here.  Later, Judas is tempted to take the thirty silver coins it is Satan who plants the tempting seed. (Lk. 26:2-4)  They are different words.  Plus, one is capitalized, and the other is not. 

This story has always been entitled “The Temptation of Jesus”.  I have learned that the word is Greek that we’ve always translated as “tempted” is better translated as “tested”.  After his baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested.  This makes more sense than having the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to Satan, and say “Here you go, Satan, our only Son.” 

Perhaps this devil was more like the devil of Job.  In the beginning of that story, he sat with God and talked about the strength of Job’s faith.  That devil suggested that they needed to test the strength of Job’s faith.  This devil is a sort of tester.  In our Gospel lesson, the freshly baptized Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tested.  We know the hardships and suffering that Jesus is going to face.  Perhaps God is having him tested, like he had Job tested.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Can you name a time when your faith was tested?  How did you overcome the test?  Did you use Holy Scripture or prayer?  It is comforting for me to know that even Jesus experienced times when the strength of his faith was tested.  He is like us.  He knows our temptations and struggles. 

For Februay 27, 2022

EXODUS 34:29-35

THE BACKGROUND

Way back in Exodus 19, the wandering People of God arrive at Mt. Sinai.  They set up camp at the foot of this holy mountain.  Moses goes up the mountain, and receives the Ten Commandments. The two stone tablets were written “by the finger of God” on the front and back.  Meanwhile, down in the camp, the “people of God” have other ideas. They pool their gold, and cast a golden calf idol.  When Moses returns to camp, he is so angry that he throws down and breaks the stone tablets.  Bad things happen.  People died.

In Exodus 34, God tells Moses to cut two more tablets, and he’ll write it down for him again.  Our reading begins with Moses descending the mountain from this meeting.

THE DETAIL

  • Moses is coming down the mountain with the stone tablets.  What he doesn’t realize is that his face is shining because he has been in conversation with God.  (v. 29)
  • What we do know is that for those back at camp, Moses’ shining face was too much to take.  They were afraid to come near him.  (v. 30)
  • But they got over it, to a degree.  Once Moses read the law written on the tablets, he covered his face with a veil. When talking with God, he’d remove the veil.  But when talking with the people, he’d wear that veil.  (vv. 31-35)

THE TAKEAWAY

What was this face-shining thing???  Was it shiny, or emitting light?  We don’t get any details.  Sometimes, heavenly apparitions are just too hard to describe in human terms.  But it was weird enough that it made the people “afraid to come near Moses”.  Keep in mind that 1) the people had recently made a golden calf idol to worship.  And 2) Moses had just come back looking all holy and shiny and all.  So, maybe their fear was because of their feelings of guilt.  The consequences of the golden calf incident were dire. Maybe they feared another round of reprisals. 

 But the grace in this story comes with the veil.  Rather than Moses saying something like “just deal with it”, he puts a veil on his face to calm them down.  
 

2 CORINTHIANS 3:7-4:2

THE BACKGROUND

Paul had established the Christian church in Corinth.  After things were going well, he moved on to share the good news with others.  During his absence, a group of evangelists come to Corinth.  They are more eloquent in their preaching than Paul.  They are clever.  They think nothing of putting Paul down just to raise themselves up.  They seem to lack true Christian values.  Much of this letter is Paul’s answer to these accusations. We won’t talk too much about his defense in this study, but you may sense the tension.  At one point, which I will note, he takes a little “dig” at these evangelists.  But Paul defend himself by attacking his opponents.  Instead, he teaches us the simplistic beauty of the Gospel. 

Two things to note

  1. The passage to be read in church begins with verse 12.  To help with our full understanding, I’ve begun this study with verse 7. 
  2. I found the New Revised Standard made it difficult to understand what Paul was saying.  I’ve attached the passage from The Message at the bottom of this entry, below Gospel lesson.

THE DETAIL

  • In verses 7 & 8, Paul is contrasting the old way (law/sin/death) with the new way (sin/faith/forgiveness/life).  He uses an odd expression.  In the NRSV and the King James, the word “ministry” or “ministration” of Death is used. The Message uses “government”.  Using the word “government” helps explain Paul’s intent, but it is still seems a little odd.  If I were to try to boil this paragraph down, it would be something like this:  “Do you think the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai was a dazzling experience?  The forgiving way of the Holy Spirit is far more dazzling!”  Also, the comment about it “fading soon” was Paul’s way of saying that the Law was temporary, and would fade away once the way of the Spirit takes over.  He mentions this again in verse 13.
  • Verses 9-11 express the same thoughts in different words.  The “Government of Affirmation (or Spirit)” is way better than that old law that only condemns.
  • The little word to circle in this next paragraph occurs just a few words in—hope.  This hope of forgiveness and life is exciting!  We don’t need a silly veil—we have nothing to hide!  Then, referring to those Jews who have not accepted Jesus as their Messiah, he says that their understanding of God is “veiled”.  It takes Jesus and only Jesus to lift that veil! (vv. 12-15)
  • Verses 16-18 are just dripping-rich with Good News!  No longer is God present in chiseled stone laws.  No!  He’s a living Spirit!  Those old laws are obsolete!  Yes, that’s what it says.  They are obsolete, and we are free of them.  We now live in the Spirit.  No wonder our faces should be shining.  The ending phrase is so sweet that I need to repeat it here:  “And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” 
  • Verses 1 & 2 are the words of encouragement to us who now have seen God’s salvation plan which Jesus has brought us.  It is not a time for wearing masks and playing games.  We don’t twist God’s words to suit ourselves.  (This is a little slam on those other evangelists.) What we are to do is put the whole gospel truth on display for the whole world to see.

THE TAKEAWAY

Now that I understand this passage (thank you for requiring me to do the work), I see the difficulties in living under the strain of the Law of Moses, and the hopelessness & death that results.  I also more fully appreciate the blessed freedom we have, living our lives in the Spirit.  I am thankful and praise God that he has seen fit to send his only son to live, teach, die, and be resurrected for our salvation.

 

LUKE 9:28-36

THE BACKGROUND

On the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, we look at the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Since we’re working our way through Luke this year, we’ll look at Luke’s description of the event.  To fully understand what was going on, I looked up the word “transfigure” in the dictionary.  It means “to give a new appearance to something, usually for the better”.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus has been teaching and healing.  After eight days, he takes three of the apostles up a mountain to pray.  (v. 28)
  • While Jesus was praying, his face and clothes change.  (v. 29)
  • Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear.  These are God’s all-star prophets, by the way.  They talk to Jesus.  (v. 30)
  • They are talking with Jesus about his “departure”.  The other word that can be used here is “exodus”.  They are talking about what is about to happen, once he gets to Jerusalem.  (v. 31)
  • If that wasn’t weird enough, Peter says something strange.  The three apostles were tired, maybe even sleeping.  But in his sleepy stupor, he offers to make some tents, so they could all spend a little more time together!  (vv. 32-33) 
  • The prophets disappear into a cloud.  Then, in another cloud, “a voice” declares Jesus to be His Son, his Chosen.  They are told to listen to Jesus.  (vv. 34-35)
  • Once God has spoken, it was all over.  Jesus is alone.  Presumably, his appearance reverted to its original condition.  The interesting thing is that they kept all this to themselves, at least until after the resurrection.  (v. 36)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is interesting that Moses and Elijah are discussing Jesus’ “exodus” or “departure” with him. Are they filling him in on the details? Or are they offering words of encouragement to him for what lies ahead is God’s plan?  We don’t know.  In fact, Luke’s gospel is the only one that tells us what they were talking about. 

But the main point is that here on this mountain, not only is Jesus’ appearance glorified by transfiguration, but he receives an encounter with these two prophets.  And if that isn’t enough, God himself speaks, telling us who Jesus truly is, and that we need to heed his words. 

For February 20, 2022

GENESIS 45:3-11, 15

THE BACKGROUND

The story of Joseph and his coat of many colors is loved and known by all. There’s even a hit play about it. The whole story takes up the last thirteen chapters of the book of Genesis.  Our passage intercepts the story right at the climax.  Joseph has become Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Joseph’s brothers are seeking food, since there’s a famine in the land.  Joseph reveals his identity.  They can’t believe that the brother they despised and sold into slavery is sitting on the throne before them.

THE DETAIL

  • Joseph reveals his identity to them, and asks about his beloved father.  His brothers are struggling with a wild array of emotions, and cannot answer.  (v. 3)
  • Joseph draws them nearer, so that they might recognize him.  He identifies himself again, and adds “…Joseph, who you sold into Egypt.”  (v. 4)
  • He goes on to explain that they should not be distressed that they almost killed him and sold him into slavery, because it was part of God’s plan.  (vv. 5-8)
  • He sends them to get their father, and bring everybody back to Goshen in Egypt.  The famine is going to rage on for five more years, but they will be protected, fed, and prosper there.  (vv. 9-14)
  • Then, he kissed all his brothers, and cried tears of joy.  They were reunited, and forgiven.  They sat and talked with each other.  (v. 15)

THE TAKEAWAY

I could talk about the recurring stories in Genesis about sibling rivalry, beginning with Cain and Able. But I won’t.

There are two things that I draw from this story.  First, that God has a plan to save a “remnant” of the house of Abraham.  His plan was announced to Joseph many years earlier in a dream.  Sharing that plan was one of the things that got him sold off to Egypt by his brothers in the first place.  But God’s plan was not to take away the famine, but to save his chosen ones.  We will read about God saving a remnant of His beloved people time and time again.

Mainly, though, this story is about reconciliation.  Joseph had every right to hold a grudge against his brothers.  After all, they almost killed him, and even sold him off as a slave. But Joseph recognized God’s plan. He forgave his brothers, and wept tears of joy at their reunion.  We should be so loving and forgiving!


 

1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-38, 42-50

THE BACKGROUND

As you may recall, last week we studied the first half of chapter 15.  The subject was the resurrection of the body—our resurrection. This week Paul gives us some detail. 

THE DETAIL

  • Finally, someone asks the question that has been on my mind all along—“How does the resurrection happen?”  They want details, and so do I.  (v. 35)
  • Paul calls me a fool for even asking the question!  But then he goes on to explain it.  He uses the analogy of a seed.  The seed is the product of a plant, often of a flower.  The flower must die and the seed buried in the ground for new life to begin. (vv. 36-38)
  • Paul says that it’s just like this with our resurrection.  (vv. 42-43)
  • Now, we get a glimmer of knowledge or truth—There is a distinction between our physical body and our spiritual bodies.  The physical body dies, but our spiritual bodies live on.  (v. 44)
  • In this next section, Paul uses an interesting concept.  He calls the Adam of Genesis 1&2 “the first Adam”.  Then, he calls Jesus “the second Adam”.  Jesus is the first of a new “race” of resurrected humans. So, in these verses, Paul contrasts the first Adam with the second Adam, Jesus.  We, like the first Adam are of the earth; we are from dust, and will return to dust.  But the second Adam, Jesus, is from heaven, and will return to heaven.  (vv. 45-48)
  • Since we are now Jesus’ brothers and sisters, we are both “dusty” and heavenly.  (v. 49)
  • Then, we are encouraged not to focus on the perishable, “dusty” aspect of our bodies, because they are temporary.  It is the spiritual body that will inherit the kingdom.
  • The last verse of this chapter is not in today’s passage.  But verse 58 is worth adding to our thoughts and meditation.  It is a beautiful conclusion to this whole discussion:

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Paul offers some insight into the mysteries of the resurrection.  In last week’s reading, he made it clear that the resurrection is an essential part of our faith.  In this week’s reading we receive the seed analogy, and the idea that our physical bodies are not part of this process, only our spiritual bodies.  This is the Good News that I wish I had shared with one of my nursing home friends years ago.  She had serious concerns about the resurrection, since her body was in pretty bad shape.  She didn’t want it back!  I could have shared this with her, to assure her that the body she no longer appreciated would be returning to dust.  But the parts that were talking to me would live on.  Now, she is with the Lord, and is at peace.  We live on, and are told to “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord”.  Our labor will not be in vain!

 

LUKE 6:27-38

THE BACKGROUND

This is the second half of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain.  Jesus is teaching us about what matters most to God—our thoughts and actions.  God sent Jesus to earth to instruct us on how to live, think, and act.  Today’s reading is a prime example of how God wants to behave.

THE DETAIL

Rather than do the usual bullet points, I’m going to make a list of Jesus’ main points.  I’ll reserve my comments for the takeaway.

  1. Love your enemies. (v. 27)
  2. Do good to those who hate you. (v. 27)
  3. Bless those who curse you. (v. 28)
  4. Pray for those who abuse you. (v. 28)
  5. Turn the other cheek. (v. 29
  6. If someone steals your coat, give them your shirt, too. (v. 29)
  7. If someone steals your belongings, don’t try to get them back, let it go. (v. 30)
  8. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (v. 31)
  9. Lend like you’re never going to get it back. (v. 34, 35)
  10. Be merciful. (v. 36)
  11. Do not judge. (v. 37)
  12. Do not condemn. (v. 37)
  13. Forgive. (v. 37)
  14. Give. (v. 38)

THE TAKEAWAY

This is a tough list!!! Why is it that we take only one of these, number 8, put it in a picture frame, and call it the Golden Rule?  It’s the easiest of the whole lot!  Are we saying that we’ll work on the easy one for now, and maybe the tough ones later? Some of these are downright impossible. 

BUT

This is God’s way, God’s plan for us.  This is how God would like us to behave with one another.  This is what God’s World should be like.  This is part of the reason He went to the trouble to send His only son to earth.  He wants us to reorder our thinking and priorities to be like his.  He wants us to become His World.  But He has set the bar high.  We have a long way to go, don’t we?

THE GOOD NEWS

God is all of the things on this list.  He is loving, giving, merciful, and forgiving.  He expects us to be like him.  He also forgives us when we fall short of His expectations.

For February 13, 2022

JEREMIAH 17:5-10

THE BACKGROUND

During Jeremiah’s time, both the Egyptians and the Babylonians were strong adversaries. God’s people were threatened from both sides.  Some advocated forming an alliance with Egypt against the Babylonians, others supported doing the opposite.  In today’s reading, Jeremiah begins by saying “Thus says the Lord…”  This indicates that he is not offering the hearers his opinion; he is alerting the listener that the words about to be spoken come directly from God.  We are about to hear what God has to say about the situation.

THE DETAIL

  • The first sentence is a real attention-getter.  If you put your trust in “mere mortals”, and turn away from the Lord, you are cursed.  Note that this is an either/or statement.  There is no room for trusting in both.  (v. 5)
  • The Lord says that trusting in other people is like planting a shrub in the desert. There’s no hope of survival.  (v. 6)
  • Instead, those who trust in the Lord will be blessed.  (v. 7)
  • Trusting in Him is like a tree planted by a river, growing rich and strong.  It is able to withstand threats of heat or drought, and will bear fruit continuously.  (v. 8)
  • Here, God asks a rhetorical question.  It’s sort of like the question that men ask about women—“Who can understand them?” (v. 9)
  • Finally, God reminds us that He tests our minds and our hearts.  He knows in whom we place our trust.  (v. 10)

THE TAKEAWAY

This passage uses the word “trust”.  You could easily substitute the word “faith”.  The meaning would be the same.  It is clear from this passage that we should put our faith and trust in God.  We should not pin our hopes on promises made by mere mortals.  All too often, we put too much trust in our friends, family, and elected officials.  Yet, they come and go.  Our trust should be devoted to God and God alone.   Anything else is asking for trouble. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I’d like to say that I ascribe to this message totally.  But is this really true?  I trust my wife.  I trust my family and certain friends.  We must depend upon others to successfully navigate our daily lives.  But ultimately, it is only our faith that saves us. Trusting in the Lord is our only true hope for the future.


1 CORINTHIANS 15:12-20

THE BACKGROUND

Much of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth was written to address concerns that had arisen there.  There was some disagreement within the congregation about the resurrection of the dead, as stated in the opening verse of today’s passage.  You may recall from last week’s reading, that Paul provides a good list of eye-witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. (1 Cor. 15:5-8)

THE DETAIL

  • It is clear from this first verse that some in Corinth claimed that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  Paul challenges them with logic, stating that you cannot say that Jesus was resurrected, and yet not believe in resurrection.  (v. 12)
  • Paul continues with this logical line of reasoning, stating that if there is no resurrection, then even Jesus did not rise from the dead.  And if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain. In other words, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he was simply jus another very good preacher.  (vv. 13-14)
  • To make matters worse, if Jesus was not risen from the dead, it makes all the apostles liars! (v. 15)
  • The remainder of the paragraph addresses the consequences of not believing in the resurrection (vv. 16-19):
    • This king of faith is futile—it gets us nowhere.  It is like believing in the Easter bunny.
    • Our sins have not been forgiven, so we still bear them all.
    • Our loved ones who have died have no hope of eternal life.
    • If we pin our hopes on an un-resurrected Christ, we are a pitiful lot.
  • But since we do (don’t we?) believe in the resurrection, Jesus is the “first fruits” of the dead.  [And the little list above is null and void.]  (v. 20)

THE TAKEAWAY

I will be the first to admit that I find the resurrection of the dead a difficult concept to comprehend. I have many unanswered questions about the details.  But Paul makes it clear in this chapter of his letter that:

  1. There were many, many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus.
  2. Without believing this, Jesus was just a really nice guy.  Nothing more.

Since we are all disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ, we know that Jesus was the son of God.  We trust in the witness of those who have gone before us.  We proclaim the resurrection of the dead when we recite the creeds, even if we do not have all the details.  We have faith.

 

LUKE 6:17-26

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s reading goes to the core of Jesus’ teaching.  This passage is usually called Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain”.  In Matthew 5 & 6, we read of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Here, Luke describes a different location—a level place.  But if you read the Sermon on the Mount, you will notice some similarities as well as some differences.  We don’t go into that sort of analysis here, but I encourage you to do that for yourself. 

I have often wondered: “Why would Jesus repeat himself, once on a hillside and once on a level place?” This is what I’ve surmised.  When a presidential candidate is on the campaign trail, he or she gives a speech to the listeners.  Some of this speech is tailored to the needs of the crowd, but the core of the speech will be the same throughout the entire campaign.  The conclusion that I’ve come to about Jesus’ speeches is that its contents are the core of Jesus’ ministry-mission.  They are part of reason why he was sent to us in the first place—to tell us what is important to God.  I have a feeling that Jesus spoke this message more than twice in his life.  These two gospel writers chose to only include one occurrence in each of their accounts.   

THE DETAIL

  • In the previous verses, Jesus was on a mountain, praying with his apostles (the 12). Afterward, at the beginning of our passage, he came down [off the mountain], where he was joined by his disciples*, and a “great multitude”.  Note that this large group also included people from Tyre and Sidon.  These were gentile areas.  (v. 17)
  • We read about the people who came to hear and see Jesus.  Some wanted to hear his teachings.  Others came out of desperation.  They were ill, either physically, mentally, or spiritually. They came to be healed.  (v. 18)
  • Jesus cared for them, healing them, and teaching them.  What a sight it must have been, to see “the power came out from him”, as he healed the sick!  As you may recall from my explanation of previous healing accounts, Jesus did this for two reasons.  First, he did this out of love and compassion for those in need.  Second, these miraculous healings alert those around him that Jesus is something out of the ordinary; somebody who requires them to stop, listen, and contemplate.  (v. 19)
  • Now that Jesus has accomplished his two-fold purpose in healing, it is time for him to teach.  These next verses sound very much like the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.  We’ll summarize them in the takeaway.  (vv. 20-23)
  • New to this speech are a series of “woes”.  These are in direct contrast to each of the “blessed” statements.  You can make a little chart, if you like, to line each up with the other.  (vv. 24-26)

THE TAKEAWAY

Most of Jesus’ teachings, the Sermons on the Mount and Plain, as well as his parables tell us about what is most important to God.  Jesus uses the phrase “the kingdom of God” to explain these priorities. Since we are unfamiliar with kingdoms, the words lose their value to us.  I suggest that we consider these teachings to explain to us what God’s World is like.  These are the priorities and values He holds dear.  They should be the priorities and values we also hold dear.  This is how we should think and behave in “God’s World”. If you take a close look at these, they are in direct contradiction to normal human values.  We value the “woes”!  This is not good.  If we are Jesus’ disciples, then we need to try to embrace Jesus’ values, not our own human values. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In case you’d like a list of human values, here’s a starter list for you.  Compare this to Jesus’ “blesseds” in today’s reading, as well as his parables about the lost sheep and coin, the Good Samaritan, etc.

  • Look out for #1, because nobody else will. 
  • Keep your own back yard clean, and don’t worry about the others.
  • It’s all about getting ahead, about being Top Dog. 
  • The lead dog in a dog sled team has the best view.  BE THE LEAD DOG!
  • Avoid the sick, lame, and lazy at all costs.  They just want to take your money.
  • I’ve worked hard for my money.  It is all mine.  I don’t owe anybody anything.
  • Don’t worry, be happy!
  • Life is short, grab for the gusto!

I think we have a long way to go, before our world conforms to God’s world, don’t you?

 

* In Luke, the apostles are the 12 that Jesus chose to be his inner circle of pupils.  Luke uses the word “disciples” to include not just the 12, but all of the followers of Jesus.  This is why we are all Jesus’ disciples.  We, too, follow Jesus in our daily faith-walk.

 

FOR FEBRUARY 6, 2022

ISAIAH 6:1-13

THE BACKGROUND

This event records Isaiah’s call as a prophet of God.  Both Israel and Judah have experienced a level of prosperity, but it was at the expense of the lower class.  Just as to this day, the rich got richer and the poorer got poorer.  Meanwhile, Assyria to the north is gaining military might. To Isaiah, the future looks bleak. God needs a spokesman to instruct His people on the consequences of their actions (and inactions).

THE DETAIL

  • Things went from bad to worse on the death of King Uzziah.  The united kingdoms of Israel and Judah were threatened by Assyria. This was a political crisis.  In the midst of this crisis, God provided Isaiah with a vision.  Isaiah is in the temple in Jerusalem, when he receives this vision.  God comes to Isaiah.  In this vision, he sees God sitting on a high throne.  His regal robe fills the temple.  (v. 1)
  • The Lord is attended by seraphs.  We actually don’t have an accurate description of them, other than what is given here.  The word “seraph” is only used six times in the Old Testament.  The word means “fiery ones” or “serpent”.  Ancient Hebrew scholars consider them not to be angels, but a different sort of being.  Whatever they were, they had three pairs of wings.  One pair was used for flying, and one pair for covering their faces. Apparently, they also could not gaze upon the face of God without perishing.  The third pair was used to cover their “feet”.  Now, you can believe that Isaiah really meant their feet, but most scholars feel differently.  A euphemism is like when you are at a restaurant with friends, and you tell them “I’m going to go ‘wash my hands’”.  Everybody knows that you’ll probably do more than just wash your hands, but it is the polite thing to say.  The word “feet” is used in the Old Testament as a euphemism for their private parts.  Another example can be found in the book of Ruth, chapter 3, verses 1-6.  Ruth “uncovers the feet” of Boaz.  Simply because of this, they get married and have a child.  So, with the third pair of wings, the seraphs were being modest in the presence of the Lord. (v. 2) 
  • Back to the story.  As the seraphs flew, they praised the Lord, causing the whole place to shake like an earthquake.  If that wasn’t enough, the temple was filled with smoke.  (vv. 3-4) 
  • Isaiah panicked. Not only does he feel out of place here, but he has seen the face of God.  By rights, Isaiah should be dead.  (v. 5)
  • Next, something cool happens.  A seraph carries a burning coal from the altar fire to Isaiah, and cauterizes his lips. He declares Isaiah’s sin and guilt to be gone.  (vv. 6-7)
  • Now, the Lord speaks, asking for someone to speak for us*.  Isaiah volunteers, saying “send me!”  (v. 8)
  • In most churches, the reading will end with verse 8.  But the lectionary allows the option of continuing to verse 13.  We will call this the “fine print”.  God gives Isaiah a heads up as to what to expect. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to take a long time.  (vv. 9-12)
  • There’s a slight glimmer of hope at the very end.  Almost all of God’s people will be wiped out; cut down like a tree.  But in the stump is a holy seed.  (v. 13)

THE TAKEAWAY

God came to earth to speak to us as well, in life-work of Jesus.  God calls us to speak for Him today.  The world is in political crisis.  It is also in environmental crisis, people are starving, the rich still neglect the poor, and on and on.  There is much work to do.  People will stop their ears, and shut their eyes.  No matter.  We must press on, and do the Lord’s work.

 

* The Lord uses the plural “us” instead of “me”.  Some like to reason that this is a reference to the Holy Trinity.  This would not have made any sense to Isaiah.  The concept of the Holy Trinity would not begin to form for another 800 years.  We Americans are not familiar with how kings speak.  Even into the 19th century, kings have used a verb tense called the “majestic plural”.  They rarely said “I”, but used “we” instead.  Another example of this occurs in Genesis 1:26.
 

1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

So, we’ve finally “eaten” our Oreo cookie about the gift of tongues.  (Chapters 12-14)  If you didn’t read last week’s reflections, you might want to ignore this last sentence. This week and next, we will study the concepts of salvation and resurrection. 

THE DETAIL

  • Paul starts out as if he were starting a new letter.  He reminds them of the Good News (the gospel message) that he proclaimed to them, they received, and stand.  (v.1)
  • The next verse contains an interesting point.  But overall, he says that they are being saved, if they hold to the message he taught them; otherwise his teaching was in vain.  But notice in the beginning of this verse he doesn’t say “which also you were saved”, he says “you are being saved”.  Many of us Christians like to point to the time and place, long ago, when we were saved.  I only need to look back to yesterday to recognize this saving grace.  For me, salvation is an ongoing action.  Trust me—I need this saving grace daily!  I suspect that you need it too.  So if someone asks me when I was saved, I hope I say “yesterday” or “this morning”!  (v. 2)
  • Verses three and four make up a concise description of Jesus’ mission on earth.
  • Next, comes a listing of the times that the resurrected Jesus was seen by his followers, ending in Paul himself.  These witnesses to the resurrection become important in next week’s study.  (vv. 5-8)
  • Paul starts out humble in verse 9, but by the middle of verse 10 he begins to brag a little. But then he checks himself, and credits it all to the Holy Spirit’s work, all for the purpose of bringing these Corinthians to Christ.  (vv. 9-11)

THE TAKEAWAY

There are several things that we can take away from this passage.  But I want to focus my thoughts on verse 2.  One of my pastors taught me that salvation is “God’s salvaging operation on each of us”.  This operation is on-going; it needs to continue in all of us daily, as long as we draw breath.

 

LUKE 5:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

This year, we are studying the gospel of Luke.  This week, we read about Jesus’ calling of his first apostles.  In chapter 4, we have the temptation of Jesus, which we are saving for Lent.  Also in chapter 4, verses 31-39, he teaches in the synagogue in the lakeside town of Capernaum.  There, performs some miracles, including healing Simon  Peter’s mother of a high fever.  He is preaching, teaching, and performing miracles.  Word spreads.  People gather.

THE DETAIL

  • He is teaching on the shore of Lake Gennesaret (AKA the Sea of Galilee).  The crowd presses closer.  He sees some fishing boats, and one is Simon’s.  They hop in, and he continues to teach from the boat. (vv.1-3)
  • Here’s where it gets interesting.  Jesus, a carpenter by trade, suggests that they go into the deep water and lower their nets.  Everybody knows that fish are not in the deep water, but inshore.  Peter’s crew has spent all night fishing, and has come up empty-handed. But what the heck.  Why not listen to the carpenter?  (vv. 4-5)
  • You know the story.  The catch is so abundant that their fragile nets are breaking; the boats are so full they nearly sink!  (vv. 6-7)
  • Simon Peter knows a miracle when he sees one, and falls on his knees.  His words sound a lot like Isaiah’s words in the first reading. (v. 8)
  • All of the fishermen were amazed at this catch.  So much so, that Zebedee’s sons James and John, along with Simon Peter, abandon their fishing business and follow Jesus to become “fishers of men”, or “catching people” as our NRSV translation calls it.  (vv. 9-11)

THE TAKEAWAY

Everybody in this story was common folk.  Even Jesus was “only” the son of a carpenter from the hick town of Nazareth.  None of them were qualified clergy.  Jesus performed miracles for two reasons.  One was out of compassion for the outcasts, the suffering, and the sick.  The other reason was to alert those around him that he wasn’t just your ordinary Nazarene carpenter.  Something bigger was going on.  Simon Peter, James, and John recognize this, and drop everything to heed the call. We, too, are called to do Jesus’ work in our surroundings.  People are weak and suffering.  People are living lives without purpose or meaning.  We are ordinary people, called to share the Good News just as Paul shared it with the people of Corinth.  None of us may be pure or qualified, but that doesn’t matter.  Jesus calls us all.

For January 23, 2022

NEHEMIAH 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

THE BACKGROUND

Our first reading is from the book of Nehemiah.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are considered by biblical scholars as one book.  Both books are the memoirs of each person, and each book includes the other.  They both lived during the same time period and the same place.  Both were Jews in exile in Babylon.  Ezra was a scribe & priest, Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the Babylonian king.  Cupbearers were charged with tasting the king’s wine first to ensure that a) it was good wine, and b) not laced with poison.  They lived in Babylon at the time that the Jews were allowed to return to the Promised Land.  Ezra went with the first wave, Nehemiah with the second.  Ezra was responsible for the spiritual guidance of the returning Jews. Nehemiah’s job was to lead the work crews who would repair Jerusalem’s city walls and gates.

The fortifications were just completed when our passage begins. 

THE DETAIL

  • A meeting has been called.  Attendance is not optional, it is required.  Everybody must attend. (v. 1)
  • Ezra brought the scrolls containing the law of Moses.  He read the law to the people, and it took all morning.  Everybody was very attentive.  (vv. 2-3)
  • Ezra opened with prayer, and the people said Amen.  (vv. 5-6)
  • The book of the law was read with interpretation.  You see, the scrolls were in Hebrew.  By this time in Judah’s history people were speaking Aramaic.  It was like the difference between modern English and the English of the 10th century.  If you've ever read Chaucer or Beowulf, you know what I'm talking about.  (v. 8)
  • The next paragraph consists of words of comfort from Ezra and Nehemiah.  They tell the people not to weep, because the law is good and just. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Why might they be weeping?  It does not say, specifically.  For sure, reading the law is like standing before a magnifying mirror; you see all your wrinkles, warts, etc.  Those assembled in Jerusalem had not heard the law in a very long time, if ever.  They had a lot of “warts”.  (vv. 9-10)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Self-examination is not easy, but it is necessary.  We all need to take an honest look at ourselves, from time to time. It is good to remember that “The joy of the Lord is our strength”.  The way of the Lord is good.  But sometimes we stray off the path.  It is good to read Holy Scripture, and periodically reflect on our actions.  Lent is coming soon.  We’ll have plenty of time for self-examination.

 

1 CORINTHIANS 12: 12-31a

THE BACKGROUND

This week’s second reading is a continuation of last week’s.  In verses 1-11, Paul addressed an issue they were having in the church in Corinth.  Those who had received the gift of speaking in tongues from the Holy Spirit claimed a spiritual superiority over the other members of the congregation.  Paul has already made his point.  But, since he is a caring father to this congregation, he follows it up with a metaphor, to drive the point home.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul likens the church to a human body.  Our bodies have many parts, but we are still only one body.  He reminds the people of their diversity (Jews and Greeks, slaves and free), even so, they are all one body together.  (vv. 12-13)
  • In verses 15-21, Paul goes into great detail.  It would be absurd for any one part of the body to exist without the other.
  • I love verse 22, where it says “even the weaker parts are indispensable.”  I think Paul is using a little sarcasm here, aimed at the so-called “stronger” members who speak in tongues.  We all know that we need to honor and respect our bodies, even the lesser body parts.  There was little honor or respect for the “lesser” members of that congregation. (vv. 22-25)
  • Paul concludes this metaphor by saying something like “When you hurt in one place, your body hurts all over.”  They need to fix this. (v. 26)
  • Starting in verse 27, Paul presents a short list of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The gift of tongues in last in this list.  Nobody has all of these gifts.  We are all given one or another.  It takes all of these to make a full body in Christ.  (vv. 27-30)
  • He concludes the discussion by urging us to strive for the greater gifts, which he will tell us about next.  We’ll look at that next week. (v. 31)

THE TAKEAWAY

The important thing to take away from this lesson is that every single baptized Christian has been blessed with at least one spiritual gift.  Not only is it important for us to identify and use ours to build up the body of Christ, we must also need to realize that everybody has a gift.  There are some members at my church whose gifts are obvious, and it is a beautiful thing to see these gifts in action.  But there are other members whose gifts are not as obvious.  Like some body parts, they are more hidden.  But God gives us all whichever spiritual gift He chooses.  Let us learn to love and respect each other, knowing that together, we are one body. 

 


LUKE 4:14-21

THE BACKGROUND

This year, we will be working our way through the gospel of Luke.  Today, we are only in the fourth chapter.  So far in Luke, We’ve read about the birth of Jesus, the work of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism.  Last week, we read (in John) that three days after his baptism, he performed his first miracle (or sign).  What happens next in Luke is the temptation of Jesus, but we’re saving that for Lent (March 6th).

THE DETAIL

  • After the story of Jesus’ temptation, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He traveled about in Galilee, teaching in his homeland.  (v. 14)
  • At that time, worship in the synagogue consisted of two scripture readings followed by an explanation.  The first scripture reading was from the law of Moses, from one of the first five books of our bible.  The second was a reading from “the prophets”.  Oftentimes, visiting teachers would be invited to explain the readings. It appears that As Jesus traveled around Galilee, his reputation grew.  He was asked to give the explanation of the text.  People liked what they heard, and spread the news.  (v. 15)
  • He came back to his home town of Nazareth, and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The attendant gave him the scroll containing “the prophets”.  Standing, Jesus searches the scroll, and finds the text he’s looking for:  Isaiah 61:1-2a.  He reads it and sits down.  (vv. 16-20a)
  • All eyes were on Jesus, waiting for the explanation.  (v. 20b)
  • His explanation is simple:  “Now is the time Isaiah was talking about. This scripture is fulfilled now!”

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THE TAKEAWAY

You might remember how the crowd reacted to his explanation.  We’ll get to study that next week.  This week, we’re going to focus on why Jesus chose that passage, and what it meant.  Verses 18-19 are from Isaiah.  Jesus said:

  • “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  • because he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor.
  • he has sent me to proclaim release of the captives 
  • and recovery of sight to the blind, 
  • to let the oppressed go free, 
  • to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In modern business, it is expected that companies have what is called a Mission Statement.  It is a statement that captures who they are and what they do.  Churches even have them.  I believe that when Jesus stood up, chose this passage, and read it, he was stating his mission statement.  In other words, Jesus was saying “God sent me here to fulfill this prophecy, and I’m going to do just that.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Jesus’ mission is also our mission here in this time and in this place.  Reread his mission statement above.  How do you and I continue his work here and now?

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