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For February 21, 2021

REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS

FOR FEBRUARY 21, 2021

A NOTE ON THE SEASON OF LENT

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17th.  It is a time that we set aside, to prepare for the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of our Lord on Easter weekend.  It is a period of reflection and self-examination.  While we put our trust in God’s free and abiding grace, and use this time to reflect on our shortcomings, our sinful nature.  Many observe the practice of fasting during this time.  This sacrifice can become a frequent reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.  I pray that God blesses your Lenten journey this year.

 

GENESIS 9:8-17

THE BACKGROUND

The story of Adam comes to a close in Genesis chapter 5. In chapter 6, we learn that the people had become wicked and violent.  God has decided to hit the reset button—to start over. You know the story-- Noah and his family are called upon to build a ship, gather the animals two-by-two, and so on.  Today’s lesson intercepts the story after they have found dry land, and all the people and animals are off the ship.  Noah immediately builds an altar, and makes a sacrifice to God.

THE DETAIL

  • God takes the initiative, and establishes a covenant—a solemn promise. This covenant is not only made with Noah and his sons, but with the animals of the arc as well.  God promises never again to destroy the entire earth by flood.  (vv. 8-11)
  • God creates the rainbow, to act as a visual reminder of his promise to all living things on earth, that he will he will never again destroy all flesh by flood.

THE TAKEAWAY

We do not request God to make this covenant with us, He decides to do it all on his own.  This is yet another example of his steadfast love for an undeserving people.

In preparing this study this week, I learned that in ancient times, hanging one’s bow up meant that the fight was ended.  You could say that by God hanging his rainbow in the sky, He understands that we are not going to be rid our sinful nature. If you read on, you will see that it is true.  In the verses starting with 9:20, Noah gets drunk and naked, and weird stuff happens. Even Noah!

 

1 PETER 3:18-22

THE BACKGROUND

In the verses immediately preceding today’s selection, verses 13-17, we learn that Peter is talking about the suffering we sometimes get when we do the Lord’s work.

THE DETAIL

  • Peter reminds us that Jesus also suffered for doing the will of the Father. He died once for all.  He died one time, on the cross, and  died for all mankind of all time.  He did this, to bring us all closer to God. (v. 18a)
  • Verses 18b – 20 need to be read as one chunk, but they also need to be broken down.
  • After his death on the cross, his spirit (which was very much alive) descended into Hell (or the dead) to proclaim the gospel message even to those who had died.  Remember the Apostle’s Creed?  (vv. 18b-19)
  • These spirits in prison/hell include the disobedient ones from Noah’s time.  (v. 20a)
  • The same water that saved Noah saves us through our baptism.  (vv. 20b-21)
  • Jesus now reigns in heaven at God’s right hand, and all angels, authorities, powers, etc. are under his authority.  (v. 22)

THE TAKEAWAY

Peter reminds us that it is okay to suffer the faith. It is Jesus’ suffering that saves us, and that in our baptism we are cleansed from our sin.  Jesus’ one-time sacrifice of himself saves us all!
 

MARK 1:9-15

THE BACKGROUND

  • The lectionary is a list of bible readings that we use as a chart to navigate the church year.  It is a three year list, labelled A, B, and C.  We are currently in cycle B, which features the gospel of Mark.  Mark’s gospel is the smallest, most concise of all the gospels.  What it lacks in detail, it makes up for in energy.  Today’s gospel reading covers the baptism of Jesus and his temptation, all in six verses.

THE DETAIL

  • Verses 9-11 describe Jesus’ baptism.  He is baptized by John the Baptist before he calls any disciples, performs any miracles, or does any teaching. This is the beginning of his ministry, and baptism is a great place to start.  As Jesus comes out of the water, his Father proclaims “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
  • Immediately, Jesus is whisked away to spend 40 days of fasting and meditation in the “wilderness”.  While there, we are told that he was tempted by Satan.  No details are given by Mark.  You need to look elsewhere for detail.  But we do know that angels cared for and protected Jesus from “wild beasts”. (vv. 12-13)
  • After Jesus’ retreat in the wilderness, John the Baptist is arrested. This signals the end of his ministry, and the beginning of Jesus’.  (v. 14)

THE TAKEAWAY

  • The words that God speaks at Jesus’ baptism, are similar to those spoken at his transfiguration, but they are also different.  Here at his baptism, God is speaking to Jesus—“…with you I am well pleased”.  At the transformation, God is speaking to Jesus’ apostles—“…listen to him”.
  • When I hear the word “wilderness”, I think of forests and perhaps mountains. Jesus’ wilderness was different. It was more of a rocky, near desert terrain, similar to New Mexico.  And there were definitely wild beasts there.  Most notably lions, bears, snakes, and scorpions inhabited this region back then.  He needed those angels for protection. 
  • Jesus must have been on an emotional high after his baptism.  After all, some pretty incredible things took place.  But isn’t that the way it always goes—just when things are going great, that’s when we are most tempted to stumble.  We know from the other gospels (Mt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13) that Jesus is tempted to use his divine power for personal gain. I find it a comfort to know that Jesus was indeed tempted, and endured them.  It tells me that he understands what it is like to be human, and how difficult it is sometimes to do the right thing rather than the tempting thing.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We are all blessed with certain gifts from God.  For some, it is compassion and understanding; for others it is prosperity and power.  Whatever blessings we receive from above, we are expected to use them wisely. All too often, we are tempted to keep them to ourselves, and use them for our own personal gain.  Instead, we are called upon to use them to build up the Body of Christ.  How are we doing with this challenge?

For February 14, 2021

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

2 KINGS 2:1-12

THE BACKGROUND

Let’s do a little time travel!  Let’s go back in time nearly 3,000 years.  We’ll set our destination as the northern kingdom of Israel, and the time to about 850 B.C.  This was a long time ago, and in a culture totally different than ours.  In order to land on our feet, we’d better know the lay of the land.  They didn’t have a Bill of Rights or a constitution, they had a king.  There was no separation of church and state; they were completely connected.  Worst of all, no messiah/savior Jesus.  Elisha was the main Hebrew prophet of the day, and Elisha his apprentice.  Elisha has followed Elijah for many years, and was a devoted companion. 

The people of Israel had drawn away from the Hebrew God Yahweh, and found the Canaanite god Baal more appealing.  There is repeated confrontation between Elisha and the prophets of Baal.  The problem worsened when the Hebrew King Ahab married a Canaanite woman named Jezebel. With her came a host of prophets of her god Baal.  Maybe Ahab was more interested in expanding his trade options than in serving the God Yahweh. The grass must have looked greener in Canaan.  There was constant conflict between the prophets of Yahweh and the prophets of Baal.  These stories of conflict are found starting in 1 Kings 16:29.  They set the stage for today’s reading. 

Today’s reading is about the transfer of authority from Elijah to Elisha, and the end of Elijah’s stay on earth.  Understanding Elijah and this story is key to our study of the gospel lesson for today, the transfiguration of Jesus.  Elijah and Elisha are on a journey to cross the Jordan River.  They both know that Elijah is about to “check out”.  I can’t say “die”, because the story is not that simple.

THE DETAIL

  • So, they set out, and find their way to Bethel.  Along the way, Elijah urges Elisha to stay behind.  But Elisha is too devoted to him, and swears that he will never leave him.  (vv. 1-2)
  • At Bethel, they are met by some Hebrew prophets came out from the city to greet them.  They confide in Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him.  He says “Yeah, yeah, I know.  Now keep it to yourselves.”  (v. 3)
  • The exact same thing happens at Jericho—“Stay here”.  “No, I will never leave you.”  And the prophets telling Elisha what is about to happen.  (vv. 4-5)
  • By verse six, they are collecting an entourage.  Again, Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind.  You should know by now that that ain’t happnin’!    (v. 6)
  • Now it gets interesting.  At the bank of the Jordan River, Elijah takes off the outer coat he’s wearing—his mantle. It is the garment worn by the main prophet.  He rolls it up, and strikes the water with it!  The waters part, and the two cross the river without getting even wet feet.  (vv. 7-8)
  • After crossing, Elijah asks his companion if he has any requests.  Elisha really sticks his neck out, and asks for a big one.  He doesn’t ask for the power and authority that Elijah has, he asks him for twice the amount!  Elijah’s answer is interesting.  He doesn’t laugh.  This is serious.  He says that if Elisha can endure the intensity of his being taken up to heaven, that this wish will be granted.  If he can’t handle that power and glory, then he’s out of luck.  (vv. 9-10)
  • The scene is nearly indescribable.  But Elisha holds on, and keeps watching.  He cries out.  It is over. He tears his clothing in two, which is an act of grief and mourning.  (vv. 11-12)

THE TAKEAWAY

There are several points to take from this story.

  1. Elijah was one of the most famous of all the Old Testament prophets.  He worked many miracles, as would Elisha. The parting of the Jordan River is a hint to the reader that this prophet was on a par with Moses.  This is a key to understanding the meaning of the gospel reading for today.
  2. Elijah was one of only two people in the Old Testament to never die, but go directly to heaven.  Enoch was the other person (Genesis 5:24).  The tradition was that Elijah would return to earth to herald in the second Davidic kingdom.  Gospel writers Matthew and Mark are quick to identify John the Baptist as their Elijah.
  3. The people of Elijah’s time were torn between worshipping two deities—two ways of living and being governed, since religion and politics were intertwined. Some chose one, some chose the other. I imagine that there were many in the middle, trying to cover all the bases. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

To me, things are no different today than in Elijah’s time.  Our two-party system has become so polarized, that there is no longer a middle ground. Both sides claim to be holy.  Both sides are far from holy.  How do we find our way?

 

2 CORINTHIANS 4:1-6

THE BACKGROUND

Paul is continuing to address the problems he is facing as he spreads the gospel message.  Some people do not receive this message well.  It either falls on deaf ears, or they stir up trouble for Paul. The passage chosen for this Sunday begins with verse 3, but verses 1 & 2 are worth adding.  We’ll start there.

THE DETAIL

  • We can’t become discouraged in our efforts to spread the gospel message. God has given us this task, and we can’t lose heart. (v. 1)
  • We must lay it all out before our audience, including the shameful things. Nothing should be hidden, or wrapped in clever speech.  The whole truth should be presented, so we may have a clear conscience.  (v. 2)
  • Some may think that our gospel message is shrouded in mystery; that we’re holding some facts from them.  But this is only because they are blinded by outside influences.  (vv. 3-4)
  • It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus, and letting His light shine through us.

THE TAKEAWAY

In the verses preceding this passage, 3:7-18, Paul also uses the word “veil”, to call to mind how Moses veiled his face from the people, after he had seen the glory of God on Mt. Sinai.  The people couldn’t take it.  Moses had to tone it down.  Some of Paul’s detractors were complaining about his preaching style and message. Paul says that their veil is different. Whatever “the world” was, it hid the true meaning of the gospel from “those perishing”; from those who will not gain eternal life by accepting Jesus as the messiah.  He tells everyone to keep it simple, and proclaim Jesus.  Let your gospel light shine! 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Our job is to keep the message simple, complete, and true.  Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9) reminds us that some of the good seed will fall on the soil, and take root.  But other seed will fall on stones, or be eaten by the birds.  The gospel message will not take root in everyone who hears it.  Our job is to scatter the seed.  Sprouting and growing are the Holy Spirit’s responsibilities.

 

MARK 9:2-9

AN EXCERPT FROM MY PARAPHRASE OF THE BIBLE

Peter:  “Well, we thought that Jesus was taking James, John and me on a hike.  Then, it looked like we were going to do a little mountain climbing.  Little did we know what was in store for us.  Once we got to the top, Jesus’ whole appearance changed.  It was hard to describe.  He was dazzling white, I guess you could say.  I wished I had brought my sunglasses.  Then, it got really weird.  Suddenly Moses and Elijah showed up, and started talking with Jesus.  I wonder what they were saying.  Then, I started babbling, and said something about building little shelters for all three of them.  Man, was that a stupid thing to say!  But I was scared out of my wits.  You’d probably do the same, if you were in my shoes.  Anyway, suddenly it got cloudy.  That’s when a voice came from the cloud proclaiming Jesus to be his beloved Son, and that we should listen to him.  And then, just like that, BAM!  It was all over.  We walked down the mountain with Jesus.  The killer was that Jesus gave us clear orders to keep this to ourselves.  We couldn’t tell anyone until he had risen from the dead, whatever that meant.  Do you realize how hard this was going to be?” 

THE TAKEAWAY

The transfiguration of Jesus has always been a curious story to me.  Why did it happen?  What am I supposed to do with this story?  Over the years, I have come away from the story with a couple of points that I’d like to share with you.

  1. On the mountain, Jesus’ appearance makes a radical change.  We get a temporary glimpse of his heavenly glory. This “glory”, as we call it, is a hard thing to take.  Moses had to put a veil over his face after his encounters with God on Mt. Sinai, because the people couldn’t stand to look on this radiance.  Elisha’s ordeal during Elijah’s ascension also required strength and endurance, to overcome the intensity of the moment.  Peter’s delirium is evident in his encounter with heavenly glory.  For one brief moment, we get to see Jesus in his true heavenly state, and we can’t take it.
  2. Why Moses and Elijah?  I think of this occurrence as a sort of divine summit meeting.  Moses was there, because he was the first and biggest of the Old Testament prophets.  He was the shepherd, who lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.  He was the giver of the law.  Elijah was there, not only because of the miracles that he performed, but because of his ascension into heaven.  Since it was expected that Elijah would return at the right time, he is a key player in this summit meeting.  The fact that these figures meet with Jesus and have a discussion cements Jesus’ place in the grand scheme of things.  This is not merely the son of a Jewish carpenter, but the messiah.  The Son of God!
  3. The voice of God makes two appearances in the New Testament.  One is at Jesus’ baptism, and the other at his transfiguration.  Both times, He calls Jesus his Son.  This time, we are instructed to listen to him.  This is our takeaway.  Listen to Jesus.

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