Christian teaching on a variety of topics. I am an Anglican priest in Asheville, NC who has a deep appreciation for the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, a love of the Word of God written but more the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. I believe the entire Bible teaches one message and points to Him. I focus much of my teaching on merging the Old and New Testaments to show this very thing and bring new life to both testaments.
Is God able to do anything or is He limited? Abraham is 99 years old and finally has come to the place where he no longer believes he can become a father naturally and God shows up with a promise and a covenant. Jesus speaks of His persecution, passion and death and Peter takes Him aside to rebuke the one he had just confessed was Messiah because that makes no sense, Messiah won't die. Faith isn't a once for all thing, it is always being tested by God to take us higher in Him.
Lessons with links below. We serve a covenant making and covenant promise keeping God. We live with one foot in the kingdom of man and one in the kingdom of God while we are here on earth. Our lives are meant to be a proclamation of that reality. We are meant to be proclaiming the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in Jesus, to a world that is longing for a better world, a world that knows this world isn't right side up. They can see things are not as they should be, we proclaim they will be.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Lessons - Jonah 3.1-4.11, Hebrews 12.1-14, Luke 18.9-14
What is Ash Wednesday? Here's the preface I would read immediately after the service begins:
The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a dramatic statement by the Father about His Beloved Son. This comes just days after Peter has first confessed Jesus as the Christ and then, almost immediately, rebuked Jesus, the Christ, for speaking of His death and resurrection. The transfiguration is the answer to that episode, God's word on Jesus to the most important disciples, James, Peter and John. When they see Jesus with Moses and Elijah Peter refers to Jesus as Rabbi. A rabbi expounds the word of God, the Law and the Prophets of whom Moses and Elijah are exemplars. In no uncertain terms, without ambiguity, God puts all things in order for these disciples. They should no longer be confused. Let's make sure we don't allow people to be confused by our witness of who is most important.
Jesus has tremendous success in Capernaum, healing many and delivering many from spiritual oppression. The next morning He goes to pray and be alone with the Father. Peter seeks Him out to tell Jesus He is a rock star, people are seeking for Him. Jesus' response is we have to move on to the other towns, that is the reason I came out. We have two temptations, to stay where we find success and to keep doing what has worked. Jesus provides a different path, follow where God leads. Paul says he has been entrusted a stewardship for preaching the Gospel and, therefore, there is no particular reward for doing so. What have you been called to do? We get impatient or we get enamored with success, however, and we take matters into our own hand when the Lord has promised us something and in that we make a mess of things. Isaiah says you wait upon the Lord and wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Jesus didn't strike while the iron was hot, He waited on the Father to tell Him the next steps. So should we.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's not the end but it's also not something we discard along the way either. We need always to keep the tension of fear and love in mind because familiarity sometimes means we forget Abba is also Yahweh. The people at Sinai feared God so much they asked for a mediator but the mediator's great fear was they would get comfortable in the Land and forget that fear. And they did. In the Gospel lesson the one who fears is actually an unclean spirit, a demon, He fears what Jesus will do to the people of Capernaum. He fears so much he obeys Jesus' command to leave. The people are amazed and astonished but question who Jesus is. Paul says don't let knowledge and familiarity cause you to lose sight of the most important thing, love. They are inseparable, not phases.
Call and response. That's the way it works, God calls and we respond. We can respond either by following or running away. The first four disciples chose to follow immediately when Jesus called them. Paul knew about Jesus and chose to persecute the church until Jesus struck him blind and spoke to him from heaven on the road to Damascus. Jonah required even more convincing to follow God to Nineveh. God persists and perseveres in calling His servants to the work He has for them. When He calls us to a people He intends us to love those people. Jonah didn't but it seems he ultimately did. Jesus loved a world He knew would hate Him enough to come on a mission to save them. Let's do it the easy way by responding with Yes.
When we understand how fully God knows us and loves us it is meant to change us. We are one with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, not only to will and want Him but to do His good pleasure. Our bodies are an important part of the work of Christ. He was bodily raised from the dead so that we might know our bodies are not a meaningless shell housing an eternal spirit. The incarnation tells us the same thing, He came in the flesh, lived and worked in the flesh and died in the flesh. We must, however, not be dominated by things but, rather, by the Holy Spirit. His love for us was from eternity through eternity and He intimately knows us and gave us the Spirit that we might more fully know Him, unhindered by sin.
Epiphany isn't just a day for liturgical Christians, it is a season. We focus on the revelation of Jesus. We begin with the baptism of Jesus and look at the ways in which God made it clear Jesus was indeed unique in human history, unique in salvation history. He surpassed Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and all others. At the baptism the voice from heaven proclaims God is pleased with His Son. My challenge to you is to find any time outside Genesis 1 when God proclaims anything as good.
What difference does it make in your life that the Holy Spirit revealed the truth about all things to you? Today is the day we celebration the revelation of the incarnation to the gentiles, the wise men who came in response to the star for which they had been looking the last 600 years since the man Daniel saved the lives of their predecessors. I want to take a look at Johannes Kepler, a late 16th, early 17th century polymath whose faith in and commitment to the revealed truth of God allowed him to make more scientific breakthroughs than almost any man who ever lived. I want to challenge you to be committed to truth in every aspect of your life as well so that your life may be always lived in radical amazement as you submit to Him and He reveals more truth to you along the way.
Through Jeremiah the Lord declares, "I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness.” What is God's goodness? The beginning place to be satisfied with God's goodness is in Jesus Christ, the gift of His Son, through whom we obtain eternal life. To be satisfied is to say, it is enough. Can we say truthfully we are satisfied in God's goodness or do we have other things that we delight in too much or are we unsatisfied because we lack something? We need to be anchored in satisfaction in Jesus and then begin counting our other blessings and being thankful for them as subsidiary aspects of God's goodness. Let's determine to be honest with ourselves on this issue and set our hearts and minds on Jesus.
What difference does it make whether John's Gospel is intended for a Jewish audience or for Gentiles? It's intended for all but, like the other New Testament writings it's deeply Jewish in character because it's author was looking for the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and in the proclamation of John the Baptist who John previously followed. John found what he was looking for in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and tells us the signs which he finds most convincing so that we, the readers will believe not just in the death and resurrection of Jesus but he takes us back to the very beginning and before with the words, "In beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God" and then points to the Light which the darkness has never overcome, that Light that was the first created thing spoken into being, that Light, John says, is Jesus. In these first 18 verses John tells us that to understand Jesus, go back to the beginning and re-read the Old Testament through that lens. The entirety of Scripture is the Word of God, not just the red letters.
Mary is quite an unusual person. She's just contemplating what it will look like to be a married woman and suddenly an angel, actually an archangel, appears to her and tells her she is favored by God and she wonders what in the world that means. She questions how she can fulfill the promise this angel speaks of as she is a virgin and virgins don't give birth. The angel "explains" how this will happen in terms that make no sense at all and Mary's response is, ok, I am God's servant, whatever He wants. She actually responded better than the priest, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Her response is simply, I don't understand, can't understand actually but you're an angel and that's good enough for me. Are we prepared to believe and act as Mary did, trusting God?
John is approached by the Pharisees to give an accounting of sorts of himself and his ministry. There are two enigmatic and expected figures who are expected along with Messiah in Judaism. Elijah didn't die but was taken up in a whirlwind and Malachi speaks of his Elijah as forerunner of Messiah. Moses, in Deuteronomy 18:15, says "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen..." The Pharisees ask in turn if John is Messiah, Elijah or this prophet as his ministry is unlike any other and it is being blessed. John says, none of the above, I am the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of a voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the path for the Lord's coming. Like John, we are witnesses to the coming of Jesus but we have a better witness, a witness that says I can know with certainty if I am good enough to stand in that day. John spoke of one to come, we speak of the one who came and conquered death, not only for Himself, but for us as well.
It's not been a difficult year, it's been much worse. Everything has been postponed, all of life put on hold in one way or another or muted. The call of the Third Sunday of Advent, aka Gaudete Sunday is to stop postponing Joy, experience it now in the midst of pain and darkness. Advent is a penitential season where we worship in a minor key as it were, we put in abeyance the celebration of the birth of Jesus as we await His coming again. We acknowledge the need of Him today, in our current situation and we long for that coming again. Gaudete Sunday is named after the first words to be spoken or sung in liturgical worship today, Rejoice in the Lord always. The word rejoice, in latin, is Gaudete. Gaudete Sunday says, let's take a break from penitence today and rejoice. Are you ready to take a break from the world and it's problems today? Rejoice for what it but even more for what will be!
What are we preparing for? We are preparing to greet the Risen Lord, in His glory and as King. We are preparing for the new heavens and the new earth. We are preparing for the ultimate reality. It is is ultimate and real because, unlike this present reality, it will not pass away. What we know and what we are is illusory, we, all of us, me, you, the ones you fear, and all we see around us, good and bad, will die, it will be no more. That we, any of us, all of us, and everything we see and know exists is because of God's mercy. He could come in judgment at any moment, that He does not is His patience, the patience and mercy He showed the Canaanites by forcing His people to remain in Egypt over 400 years until the sin of the Canaanites filled the Land. We are called in the Epistle to be prepared in righteousness and godliness. We're being given an opportunity right now to re-evaluate ourselves, our purpose and our ways as individuals and as the church are we doing that work or are we just longing to get back to the way it was?
Advent is our call as Christians to reorient our lives and look and pray with longing for the coming of the kingdom of God. We look for Jesus to return in glory to judge the quick (living) and the dead and Advent is our time to sing and pray, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Are we dissatisfied enough with this world to desire the coming of God's kingdom? Today we are caught in a world of the fears of dystopian visionaries, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. We are fed disinformation all day on both sides of every issue and so many are chemically numbed by psychotropic drugs or self medication which makes us docile inhabitants of the kingdoms of man. We are lost and confused and in need of a true savior, Jesus. Let this be our time to come to truth, God's word, and hope, God's promise but we have to leave all the other stuff behind in order to do so.
In part two I look at the world in which Pope Pius XI ministered and compare it with the world we live in today. I take a look at the dominant philosophy of our age and contrast it with Christianity, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism. Most people aren't aware of it, it has become the spirit of the age. We as Christians need to learn to recognize it in all its forms, in the arts and humanities and in popular culture but also in our own lives and the lives of those close to us. We need to rebuke that in our lives and learn how to share the Gospel effectively with others who have imbibed the philosophy unwittingly. It all begins with the question, where is God in a world at war, in pandemic, in chaos. Sound like our world today? If Christians were more committed and submitted to Christ as King we would more effectively answer that question rather than joining the chorus in answering it.
As I began recording this episode I realized there were two episodes running around in my head and I was trying to cram it all into one. I am looking at Christ the King Sunday from two angles today. This one is why it is important for Christians to re-up their covenant commitment to the Lord as King and what that means. When the feast day was installed in the liturgical calendar by the Roman Catholic church in 1925 it was because Pope Pius XI saw something in the culture that greatly alarmed him and others like Gresham Machen saw it too (if you don't know Machen, follow that link to a short primer on the man, it's worth it). They saw it also in the church, and instituting an annual remembrance of Christ as the King was begun. Here is what Pius XI said he hoped to gain from this and I believe even we Protestants can agree with the importance of these particular aim. . "If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."
We have lost the thread and picked up another. I am watching (and too often participating) while we as Christians lose sight of what we have been given to do. Politics has taken over our thoughts and conversations and the only thought too many have of the kingdom of God is the escapism that seeks to know when the end will come and if they can avoid the hard stuff to come. We can't be salt and light if we are not filled with the light of God and we can't be filled with that light if we spend all our time and energy in the world of politics and fear. It's that simple. We, like Barak in Judges 4.1-7 have been given a task, make disciples, baptize and teach them to observe all Jesus taught. We are like the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 5.1-11), we have to be reminded to get our heads in the game, don't be preoccupied with the end times and don't be engulfed in other things. Jesus' parable of the master who entrusts his possessions to his servants and their attitudes towards his possessions in Matthew 25.14-30 reminds us of what we have been given and asks us what we are doing with it. Get your head back in the game and get to work. Stop the water cooler talk and get back to your job.
Are we as committed to the Lord as we were the day we first believed? His commitment to us never wavers or changes in any way but our commitment to Him does. In the events of this week can you look inward and see what your reaction to the election and all that drama is doing to you? Can you say honestly that it isn't consuming more of your time and energy than it should or have you lost perspective? Joshua confronts the people and their waywardness in worshiping false gods even though they vow to serve Him alone. He is asking his generation to renew their vows and in doing so they confess His faithfulness to His part of the bargain. Jesus tells a parable of foolish virgins awaiting the bridegroom's arrival but they are unprepared for his coming. Be in it for the long game, in case there is a delay, the game is only over when the bridegroom arrives so keep that the main thing. Paul doesn't tell us when the end will come in the 1 Thessalonians reading, only how it will work. Don't long so much for the coming of the Lord that you fail to recognize the importance of the incarnation for your life, it counts now, your future is secure. Don't let earthly concerns make you lose your heavenly reward. It's time to renew your vows with your bridegroom.
In the Old Testament lesson (Joshua 3:7-17) God confirms Joshua as the leader to replace Moses in the sight of the people. How? By parting the waters so the people can pass through on dry ground at Joshua's signal. Sound familiar? That's because it is familiar, it's what happened at the Red Sea but with a twist. Now the law has been given and another set of rulers is in place as well, the priesthood, and they have a part to play here as well in carrying the ark into the Jordan. In the Gospel lesson (Matthew 23.1-12), Jesus affirms the scribes and Pharisees, in their teaching, as authentic leaders of the people but their actions fail to match their words so Jesus says don't follow them in what they do. He then says not to call anyone rabbi for you have one teacher (who He doesn't name), don't call anyone father for you have one Father who is in heaven, and don't call anyone instructor for you are instructed by the Christ. Do you see the Trinity in that? There is a place for earthly teachers of the Word but ultimately we have the Holy Spirit to guide us as well. Leadership flows through the Trinity to the church through men and women but we all have the Spirit to guide us into all truth. In the epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13) Paul points to himself but only to the extent that he aligns with truth. He may be the teacher but his teaching isn't the word of man, it is the word of God or it is nothing. The source of all authority in the church is the Word of God.
Jesus was unique in every way. When He says the first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and quickly adds the second is like unto it, He is uniquely qualified to not only say but show those truths and make them one. He had always loved God and in the incarnation He came down and made us His neighbor, He came to save those who bear the image of God by physically taking on flesh to be "the" image of God, the perfect image of God. He loves us enough to make us not only His neighbor but heirs of the kingdom of God along with Him. God loves His neighbor and then tells us to do the same. Who's your neighbor? Everyone created in the image of God. Jesus is the answer to all the questions they asked, all the questions we ask.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Ps. 90:1-6,13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46
The Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus in Matthew 22.15-22 by asking him a question about paying taxes. Do you hear how ridiculous that is, they are trying to trick Jesus? He turns it on them completely and they walk away learning nothing at all. They marvel that they were outwitted but they seem to have missed the larger message and challenge He gave them. When Jesus asks whose image and inscription are on the coin they say, Caesar's, the Roman king. Jesus says, well then, if it belongs to Caesar give him what he asks of you but render unto God that which is His. What is God's, that which bears His image. How do we give God what is His? Moses, in Exodus 33.12-23 asks God how he can continue to find favor in God's sight and he asks specifically for God to show him His ways so that he(Moses) may continue to find favor in God's sight. Rendering to God what is His is a matter of knowing God's ways and following them. Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10 that is exactly what he did when he came to them and, to their praise, the Thessalonian Christians have emulated both Paul and the Lord in their own lives. It is easy to know but requires the Holy Spirit to do, which means praying constantly in and for all things.
I'm testing some new equipment to boost the sound quality and I wanted to share a story that happened to us today that just blessed me immensely. God did a really nice thing today. Check out this little story.
If you believe in Jesus, if you know there is only one way to the Father and to eternal life, you have secured that golden ticket. It still matters how you live and who you are. In Philippians 4.1-9 Paul is clear on what that looks like. He points us to things above the sun as Solomon does in Ecclesiastes. He tells us where to set our minds. Most of us have our minds on the mundane things of earth, Paul points us higher, points us to eternal things like truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence and things worthy of praise and says, think on these things. How much of your time do you devote to those things vs work, politics, sports, or whatever? Yikes, let's reimagine life with a new focus and see what happens.
When Nicodemus came to see Jesus he left bewildered. He was there to see where Jesus was coming from but Jesus turned the conversation by talking about the necessity of being born again, born of water and the Spirit and Nicodemus had no earthly idea what that meant. In our epistle (Philippians 3.4-14) Paul says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." By "whatever gain I had" Paul meant all he had by birth as a Jew, circumcision on the 8th day, legal righteousness, all Nicodemus and Paul held dear, he meant being born again. Paul understood what it meant to be born again, all that mattered to him was Jesus since had that encounter on the road to Damascus when he heard the voice from heaven which said, "I am Jesus."
In our Exodus lesson (Exodus 20.1-20) we see the formation of the covenant community and the primary thing in evidence is fear. The sight of the mountain smoking, lightnings, the mountain covered by cloud and smoke as well as the sounds of thunder, the shofar, and, ultimately, the voice proclaiming the Ten Commandments provoked the people to fear and they plead with Moses to speak with God and then to them because they are afraid an encounter with God will kill them all. He has shown them grace in delivering them from Egypt now He shows them the importance of truth and in that they have fear.
Jesus tells a parable (Matthew 21.33-43) about a landowner who plants a vineyard, builds a fence around it, a tower so that enemies can be seen coming, and even built a winepress to extract the liquid and then leased it to tenants. When it comes time to pay rent, the tenants refused, violently, when the landlord sent his servants to collect. Ultimately he sends his son whom they also kill. Jesus asks those listening what will happen when the owner himself comes to collect and the answer is, he will toss them out and find others to take over. Jesus says, you're right and the parable is about you, the people of Israel.
What happens to a people who no longer fear the Lord. They lose their faith and they no longer serve as His representatives and He throws them out. We can only have that role if we keep grace and truth in balance. We can only do it if we keep Jesus first and foremost in our lives.
We need an eye exam. What we need is to see what's right before our eyes and then allow that to change the way we think and feel. The Israelites had seen plenty of evidence God was with them. They had seen the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of Pharaoh's army, the turning of bitter water sweet, and manna. Now they needed water after following the commandment of God and they get angry with Moses and demand he provide it. As Moses astutely observes, they are questioning whether God is still with them. We do the same thing. When Jesus begins teaching in the temple, the rulers, the authorities, ask by what authority Jesus teaches and heals. The implication is they alone have the ability to grant Him this authority and they didn't, so... Jesus refuses an answer and instead points to John the Baptist who had pointed to Him. The authority is the same, God, and there's ample proof. Finally, Paul tells us to have the mind of Christ, considering others more significant than ourselves and acting on that idea. He gives us evidence to say it's the way God intends by pointing to the exaltation of Jesus because He was obedient unto death. What more do you need to see to know these things and act on them?
It seems like that is our default setting as humans. We could be grateful but there's this other thing that says it's not quite good enough for us to be unreservedly thankful. God answered our prayer but... Jesus tells the parable of the master who hired laborers throughout the day for his vineyard. The only group of people he promised a specific wage to were the first hired. They worked 12 hours, others 9, others 6, some 3 and one group worked only 1 hour. At settle up time he gave the all the same wages. The first group had readily agreed it was a fair wage when hired. At the end of the day we get the, yeah, but. They worked a lot longer so it isn't fair now. Paul deals with that attitude in Romans, we have all sinned and the wages of sin is death. Our wages for faith is all the same, life, whether all your life on on your deathbed. That's not fair, it's grace. In Exodus 16.2-15 we see the same, we don't have meat here so we grumble. Wait, you were rescued from slavery and the killing of your male children. Yeah, but there we at least had meat and bread. Paul reminds the Philippians they were blessed to share in suffering for the sake of Christ. Yeah, but never seemed to enter Paul's mind. If the church is going to thrive and survive in a post Christian world, we have to get over the yeah, but mentality.
If there is one trend that bothers me it is the trend of people walking away from relationships over disagreements on issues. A 17th century German theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, put forth a principle, In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity, in hopes of bringing together a divided church. Paul, in Romans 14.1-12, agrees with that idea. He speaks of not judging another Christian because of what they eat or don't eat or by what they make of specific days (likely he's talking about those who have chosen to keep the Old Testament feasts versus those who do not). He gives the guiding principle that should keep us from judging others on non-essentials, do what you do in honor of the Lord. If we did that we would be consumed with His honor and not our own which is the root of judgment. Jesus speaks of the failure to forgive others as a deal breaker in receiving God's forgiveness now and eternally. How does that comport with unfriending people with whom you used to be friends but now you don't want to hear what they say because it conflicts with your opinion about issues? What if you are wrong and God did to you what you have done to others? Finally, the Exodus lesson tells of the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the Israelites have crossed on dry ground. In the seder meal on Passover the Jews remove some of the wine from the cup. Those drops mean joy isn't complete because God destroyed some of His creatures, the Egyptians, some of those created in the image of God and that means sorrow keeps joy from completion. Let us not be guilty of walking away from brothers and sisters, judging them as bad or evil if we disagree and in so doing denying our own status as sinners saved by the work of Christ.
God is preparing a community to change the world. That community has certain characteristics, they love Him, which means they are committed to knowing Him and loving Him by keeping His ways as revealed in His Word. They are also those who love Him and His word and show that in worship and service. The other chief characteristic is they love one another as themselves. They do that by keeping the "negative" commandments towards one another, they don't bear false witness against one another, steal from one another or covet what the other has. They also love one another positively by celebrating and serving one another, they rejoice with those who rejoice and they weep with those who weep. The first community, the people gathered for that first Passover, had to come together as families and neighbors and they had to do exactly as God commanded or they would not survive that awful night. The community of obedience was spared and glorified and they were delivered from bondage to God's kingdom. We are called to the same. We are to deal with sin in our midst as Jesus lays out in Matthew. The power of that obedient community to God's word is the community we read about in the book of Acts where God moved among them and performed signs and wonders. Let's be that community that takes God's word seriously and sees those mighty acts of God. Believe it or not, the world needs us to be just that community for it to have hope.
Exodus 12.1-14, Romans 13.8-14, Matthew 18.15-20
Jesus says if we follow Him it is by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. Is that saying we have to negate the self like Eastern religion? No, He promises that, like Him, if we lay down our lives we will find ourselves and our life. We have constructed a false self apart from God and Jesus says you must lose that false self, be born again, in order to find the true self, immersed in the creator and lover of your soul. Our forever identity is bound up in our story meshing into God's story and that was the original intent for our lives. Paul tells us what the contours of that life should look like in the Romans passage. In the reading from Exodus we see Moses, at 80, already having lived two lives, one in Pharaoh's household as a child but knowing his real identity. A second lifetime spent taking care of his father in law's sheep is suddenly burst in upon by God speaking to him from a burning bush at the foot of a mountain. That encounter is to call Moses to his real purpose, to re-insert him into God's redemptive story for His people. It's never too late and you're never too old or too lost for God to find you when it's time.
Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28
At Caesarea Phillipi Jesus asks the disciples first, "Who do men say I am?" then, "Who do you say I am?" When Simon says "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" Jesus congratulates him on his astute observation by saying it isn't flesh and blood that revealed that to him but the Father who is in heaven, through the Holy Spirit. Afterwards Jesus says, I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. Peter didn't always live up to that name but when he did it was glorious. When he failed it was often because either he feared men or because he wanted their approval. Sound familiar? Essentially we are always answering those questions, "Who do others say I am?" and "Who does Jesus say I am?" The way we answer that makes a lot of difference, it reveals who we fear and whose approval we value. Our identity is first and foremost in Christ, co-heirs with him of the kingdom of God, the redeemed of God, the beloved of God. Is that who you want to be or do you want to be defined by men?
Exodus 1:8—2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
All three of our lessons today deal at some level with the sin of prejudice, ethnic, racial, and religious. What we can take away is that it is part of the human condition since the Fall. Jesus came as one with the Father, to make us part of that family, one family of all nations and races under the headship of one Father. He came that we might call all who believe in Him brother and sister, no matter their race or ethnicity. We are one in Him. Paul dealt with the issue by extending the love of Christ to Gentiles without requiring circumcision and that had the possibility of overthrowing the entire enterprise but he knew the blood of Christ was all that was necessary for not only him but all people to enter the covenant. Jesus with the Canaanite woman challenges the disciples who want him to heal her daughter so she will shut up and not embarrass them. Jesus, however, shames them by provoking her great faith as the condition for the healing. She humbles herself by allowing and embracing the comparison with a dog and in doing so is praised by Jesus Himself. Her reward is greater than simply the healing of her daughter. God sends us among non-believers as salt and light not to judge them, but for the same reason He sent Jesus, because He loves the world and gives His sons and daughters as witness of that love.
Genesis 45.1-15, Romans 11.1-2, 29-32, Matthew 15.10-28
Faith, that's it, that's the message. Faith in Jesus who was raised from the dead, Faith in the Father who raised Him from the dead. There will be many challenges to faith, many times when we can doubt. We won't pass every test in real time but ultimately He will restore us. Sometimes bad things happen to us because God's doing something in us to change our character, sometimes it happens for some other reason we will never know (see Job to whom God never revealed the reason for his suffering). We are called to believe though that our lives are part of a far grander, far more important story and that everything is significant in that story, even the smallest things. Our lives are truly important to God and others who need us to be truly people of faith, not just in word but in deed. It won't always make you popular but that isn't the goal, it is to magnify Him to a world in need of the message you were uniquely designed to give.
Genesis 37.1-28, Romans 10.15-25, Matthew 14.22-33
When Jesus hears of the death of John the Baptist he seeks to be alone and ends up in a "desolate place" with over 5,000 people whose sick He heals and then He feeds them miraculously. When He had been baptized by John, Jesus went to a desolate place to be tempted by satan. Those temptations began with questioning Jesus' identity, "if you are the son of God..." Was Jesus wondering what was going on when John was beheaded, if so, it was certainly affirmed that the work would continue that day.
As Jacob heads home after leaving Laban, he hears Esau and 400 men are coming to meet him and he was greatly afraid. After sending his family, his servants and flocks and herds on ahead and went back by himself across the Jabbok river. There, that night, in the form of a man or angel, God met him and wrestled all night with Jacob, dislocated his hip, changed his name and blessed him. After 20 years away from home after stealing Esau's blessing, and all that happened in those years, Jacob returns and is afraid to deal with his brother who had promised to kill him. Instead, the first thing that had to be dealt with was Jacob himself and his fears. He had work to do before he could meet his brother.
Desolate places come in all shapes and sizes and so do God's answers to our prayers.
Jesus tells several small parables that begin with, "the kingdom of heaven is like..." All these have one basic thing in common, that is the kingdom of heaven is of immeasurable value but not all will perceive that value. Those who do, however, will give everything else to possess it. Paul confirms in Romans not all will perceive or possess the kingdom. He tells us God foreknows who will and predestined them, justifies them and glorifies them and then gives assurance they will persevere no matter what, nothing will stop or separate those ones from the kingdom and their inheritance. He assures us of these things because in this world it will frequently seem that nothing is working out and that what we believe is unattainable. No matter what, keep believing in Him. He who promised and who called will see it through to the end He has promised. In the Old Testament lesson we see Jacob agreeing to serve his uncle Laban for the hand of his younger daughter, Rachel, in marriage. At the end of those seven years he demands his wages and Laban agrees then, as they go to consummate the marriage, Laban pulls a switcheroo and substitutes his older daughter Leah. The next morning Jacob sees what has happened, confronts his uncle who says, we don't do things that way here, older daughters have to get married first. In spite of his anger and disappointment Jacob agrees to yet another seven years of service. Even after that, he stays another 6 years, 20 years in all and Laban continues to cheat him before he leaves. Jacob forgot all about God's promise because Rachel was more important than that. We sometimes lose our focus and it takes "bad" things to get us back to our call. Today is a day to say to God, I've lost my focus, what is the main thing but now I want to come back to my first love.
The parable of the wheat and weeds is a cautionary tale about making premature judgments as well as a truth claim about the reality of final judgment. Jesus tells us who the players are, the sower is the son of man, the good seed are children of the kingdom, the bad seed are the children of the evil one, the enemy is the devil and the harvesters are the angels. It is the business of the angels to ultimately carry out judgment, not ours. We can easily make premature judgments about ourselves and others and we need to leave that to the one with perfect judgment. Our job is to live by the Holy Spirit within us, by the Spirit of adoption that cries Abba, Father. Paul says that life by the Spirit has cosmic significance, all creation groans in anticipation of the revelation of the sons of God that it might be liberated from the bondage to which it has been subjected by us. The story of Jacob's ladder tells us the story isn't over until it's over. Jacob may be a complete knucklehead now but God promises him the kingdom and Jacob will always want to come back to this place, the house of God, the gate of heaven. He has some growing up, some character flaws, that have to be attended to before he can claim that promise though. God's not done with Jacob, with me, you or anyone else who will seek Him.
Genesis 28:10-19a, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
We need new eyes to see the way God intended us to see and understand the world around us and our place in it. We see things as they appear rather than the way God sees them. This world, broken by sin, is all we have every known and it does not compare with what God intended, what might have been or what will be. We know how to live in this kind of world intuitively but we really need the Holy Spirit to live rightly. We need that no less than Jesus needed it but we have to get our aim right. We weren't born with the right aim and we are hardly encouraged along the right path. That right aim is what Paul says and what Jesus showed it to be, pleasing God not gratifying our desires. It's not an easy journey but we aren't alone.
Psalm 45.11-18; Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49,58-67; Romans 7.15-25; Matthew 11.16-19, 25
Do we see as God sees? The people in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus missed a great blessing by not seeing who they were or what God was doing. Eliezer, in our reading from Genesis, saw aright because he knew what he was looking for in finding a wife for Isaac, a family resemblance but not in physical form, but in character. Paul didn’t see aright, he persecuted the church because he believed it was following a lie, that Jesus was not Messiah, until God opened his eyes and you can see in his letters that Paul’s eyes were always looking for people with the right hearts and characters, whether slaves like Onesimus or the slave master Philemon, women who sold dye or kings and queens. It is incumbent on us to recognize one another and to be recognizable to one another.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
No, you're not, based on the merits of your life. You're good enough based on Jesus' merits, His sinless life. He did the work to get you eternal life and we know His sacrifice was acceptable because the Father raised Him from the dead to life. We are saved by grace through faith in Him. Does that mean your life doesn't matter? No, it means you are of infinite importance and your life has meaning and possibility every single day because of Him.
Abraham had more or less retired. Between Genesis 21 and Genesis 22 lies maybe 25 years or more of life with Sarah and Isaac and then God speaks and tells him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain God will tell him of. Abraham passes the test by faith, telling his son God will provide the ram for the sacrifice, and so God did. Abraham believed God because of his experience of God, walking before him all the days of his life. Choosing a life of faith doesn't mean there won't be tests, we are always challenged to have more faith, experience more of His goodness.
A life lived in faith is always pregnant with possibilities.
CS Lewis said - Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
Jesus makes clear demands on His disciples. "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." When He speaks of the kingdom of God He tells this little parable, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Do we give ourselves a pass on that? Do we consider Him and His kingdom as worth sacrificing everything else to obtain or is He just an afterthought in our lives? How we spend our time is the honest answer to that question, not pious platitudes.
He has made us His treasure, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus laid down heavenly crowns, equality with God, in order to take on flesh and save us. He's shown His commitment to us? How does our commitment measure against His? He wants more for you than you can ever know or imagine but He asks much of you.
Summum bonum is a philosophical term meaning "the supreme good from which all others are derived." We all have one but it probably isn't what we say it is in our life. What is the evidence in our lives for what we say is our summum bonum. We can search about for what will be our summum bonum but likely what we will discover is that will change over time. We have to look to something unchangeable for that summum bonum. We have to ask what is God's summum bonum and then align with that since we are His image bearers to the world. Jesus tells us His summum bonum was to make the Father know, the Father's glory.
We have been sold a bill of goods in many churches in the 20th century in America. That bill of goods is that God's highest concern is with our health and wealth, prosperity. The Bible tells us that what God is more concerned with than my comfort is my character. His promise to those who would be His people is they can be His treasured possession if they obey His voice and keep my commandments. Jesus tells the disciples that the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. Let's take this time of irregular life to check ourselves and re-align with God's summum bonum.
Exodus 9.1-8, Matthew 5.1-11 Matthew 9.35-10.23 and Psalm 100
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It's a trick question. I'm not talking about a woman in a convent and a habit. The word "nun" is both a Hebrew letter and word. At the beginning of Numbers 10:35 and the end of Numbers 10:36 there are inverted nuns, the letter written backward. For that reason Jewish sages have wondered for centuries what that means since it is the only place in the 5 books of Moses where this appears. There is much dispute about what that means. We are in the midst of multiple things in our world where we are looking at inverted nuns, things that are strange and cause us to ask what they mean. In the lessons for today there is a common theme, there is something we don't know and we can only know if God reveals them to us. The world is pushing and pressuring us to take a stand on one side or the other but reality is the more you pressure me to make a quick decision the more I have to push back on you. I need to know where God is. Injustice is injustice and Christians must always be vocal about that but if we only focus on one form of injustice we can be blind to a great deal of injustice. We have to confess we don't know and ask Him to show us truth. Then we have to act on that truth.
This is a rough one for me, emotionally draining. We're going through so much right now and for a while we were in it together but the past few days we have been anything but in it "together." It has been us and them and those divisions are partly artificial, partly real but mostly they point to the real problem, we are too willing to believe the worst about one another and too quick to separate. Pentecost is a celebration of unity, it is the original e pluribus unum, out of many one as expressed on our currency. People from all nations came and heard the mighty works of God proclaimed by the apostles but they heard them in their own languages. They became able to understand not because the curse of Babel was removed but because the Spirit of God gave understanding and now they could go and tell others in their languages. The church became one as the families or tribes of Israel became one tribe at Sinai when they encamped together to wait for the Lord to speak. The cure for division in the cross where we all gather and in Jesus, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. He is the one who unites, not the one who divides.
What does it mean that Jesus ascended into the clouds? Seems cool but so what? The answer to that question is extraordinary. After the "Last Supper" He prayed "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." What happens after humans last saw Him is the glorious and amazing answer to that prayer. Men rejected Him, heaven acclaims Him as the conquering hero. After the Spirit is sent, we get to join them in worship and proclamation!
The lessons for the week are Psalm 148.7-14, Acts 17.22-31, I Peter 3.1-8 and John 15.1-8. Peter challenges the Christians to whom he writes "have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." The sad reality is that on many times in my adult life I have seen a complete lack of charity in the church. I've experienced it as a layman bystander watching clergy get attacked, I've experienced it as a clergy person with people in the church and I've seen it between clergy people. If you want to know the biggest problem in the church (at least in America) it is the way we treat one another in public but far more often in private. Why would anyone want to be a part of such an unhealthy community? We don't love one another. The second huge problem we have is that we don't even pay enough attention to John 3.16 to realize that God loves the world. We don't. We love those parts of the world that appeal to us but that very means the people of the world, those created in His image. We don't bless each other and we certainly don't bless "the world" in the biblical sense. And we expect to grow? There's one word for the church. Repent of those attitudes. Then, really abide in Him and allow Him to abide in you to have the mind and heart of Christ who prayed for those reviling Him, cursing Him and crucifying Him.
In our Gospel, John 14.1-14, Jesus makes clear declarations about Himself, He is going to the Father to prepare a room for His bride, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, if you have seen Him you have seen the Father. The disciples can't get their heads around all of it. Peter, in our epistle, 1 Peter 2.1-10 say Jesus is either the chief cornerstone or He is a stone of stumbling. Either way, you have to deal with Him. He is either savior or He is not. He is the determining factor of our salvation. Those who do not believe, Peter says are not His people and are not shown mercy. Those who do believe are God's chosen people, those who are beneficiaries of His mercy. Deuteronomy shows us the meaning of what He has done, we are to be those who obey because of what He has done for us. Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy and is the Rosetta stone for understanding all things because He is the Foundation Stone. What's the Foundation Stone you ask? Listen in for that remarkable story.
1 Peter 2:19-25
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that is fantastic news because, boy do we need one. We are wayward sheep like Peter says in that reading and wayward sheep need a good shepherd to keep them safe and secure. In this time of plague and fear, we need to know our Good Shepherd and we need to stay close to him. We need to remind ourselves all He has done for us but that includes knowing church history, all that He did in times of war, plague, famine and persecution. Knowing that gives us comfort that the church has persevered through the millenia by God's grace and goodness, it is, for some reason, His chosen vessel and it has and always will persevere. And so shall we.
1 Peter 1:17-23
When two of Jesus' followers are leaving Jerusalem on the day of the Resurrection headed to Emmaus they are overtaken by a man they don't recognize who asks what they are talking about. First, they are astounded he has no idea what has happened in the crucifixion. Then they are astounded when this man explains why these things actually confirm what they believed about Jesus. Finally, they are astounded to discover this man is Jesus. They immediately abandon their supper and lodgings and hurry back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. As a people we are to be those who are constantly gossiping the Gospel to one another. If we do that, we might become more attractive to those who don't already know Him. What is your conversation when you talk with Christian brothers and sisters? How often do you share your insights from study or what God has doing with your Christian friends? How often is your talk entirely worldly things? Hmmm.
Genesis 8:6-16; 9:8-16
1 Peter 1:3-9
Life in the time of COVID is different to say the least but is it? In Genesis 8 we see Noah testing to see if the flood is over by first sending out a raven and then, three times, a dove. Even after the dove doesn't return, when Noah looks and sees the ground is no longer covered by water, he remains in the ark for nearly two months until, finally, God commands him to come out. This points to a portion of the reason the Jewish people don't consider him to be all that special, just a righteous man for his time, an especially wicked time. He is too passive to be revered by them, he does exactly what God tells him to do, nothing more. He is afraid to begin living again. The disciples too, even after the resurrection, are afraid to begin living again and are constantly behind locked doors until the day of Pentecost. We aren't supposed to live in fear. One of the prime reasons Christianity took off after the fall of Rome in the early 5th century is that Christians remained behind in the ravaged city and rebuilt. Another catalyst for the growth of the church is that when plagues struck and everyone fled, Christians remained behind and cared for the sick and dying. Are we similarly working today or are we hiding in fear?
Are we children of God simply by virtue of being alive? John 1.9-13 says: "The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." That would tell me the answer to my question is no, we are not God's children, we are created in his image and that isn't the same.
From the beginning, in Genesis 3 we were given a choice of life or door #2. From that time, we chose badly. The end result of that choice is the rejection of Jesus on the cross. The resurrection is the great second chance for all humankind. Let us choose life.
On that first Easter no one believed the explanation for an empty tomb was resurrection. No one, Thomas didn't even believe it a week later with the testimony of his 10 fellow disciples, the women and the men on the road to Emmaus who all claimed to have seen him. The first people who met the risen Lord didn't recognize him for two reasons, they had seen how he looked on Good Friday and they weren't prepared to see him alive. They didn't disbelieve, they weren't even considering the possibility. Resurrection changes everything. A pre-resurrection world has great but limited possibilities. If resurrection is a possibility then nothing can be considered impossible, there is no such thing as a lost cause.
FYI - not like my normal recordings. On Good Friday the past 15 years when I preached I chose to do so in character as someone looking on and watching the events. This time it is from the perspective of the man born blind from John 9 and he is telling what he has seen to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
The night of Jesus' arrest in the Garden has been known as Maundy Thursday because of John 13.34 - A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. The Latin words for new commandment are mandatum novum and is from that word mandatum we take the name of this day. For Jesus to give a commandment is interesting and is straightforward and surely an easy thing to do. Well, there's a problem, two people to whom Jesus gives this very commandment, after washing their feet and presiding at the Last Supper commemorating the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, will betray him before the sun comes up. We just aren't that loveable, it requires a commandment and it requires the Holy Spirit. Tonight we reflect on a night fraught with meaning, a night of celebration and hope broken by betray and hopelessness. A night of chaos, madness and evil and it began with a command to love.
One of my favorite people asked me about I Corinthians 7:4 - "For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does." This is in a little part of the epistle that is subtitled in the English Standard Version, "Principles for Marriage." I believe in order to unpack that we need to go back to Genesis and the creation of the woman from the rib of the man. We need to understand what it means for a man and woman to become one flesh. To think about that the guiding principle is from the Song of Songs, I am my beloved's and he is mine.
Matthew (26:36-75) 27:1-54(55-66)
On Palm Sunday we have two conflicting emotional experiences. We begin by recreating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9. We wave palm branches and sing All Glory Laud and Honor as we, as a congregation, enter the sanctuary together. Following this we get to the Gospel reading which is the entire Passion of the Christ, from the praying in the garden with the disciples to the betrayal by Judas, the trial before the Jewish leaders, then before Pilate, Herod and back to Pilate, the mocking and scourging by the soldiers, the crown of thorns mashed onto Jesus' head, the crucifixion and the death of Jesus. In our tradition we the congregation join the crowd shouting "Crucify Him!" In the space of 15 minutes we have acclaimed Him as king and also demanded He be crucified for blasphemy. What Jesus did in coming in the form of a man, submitting Himself to His own creation and dying on the cross is unimaginable. No other religion has anything close to that idea. That He did so that we might live isn't even a concept other than in Christianity. Without the resurrection this is simply an incredibly tragic day in history. The resurrection changes everything and provides the interpretive key to His identity and the meaning of our lives and hope eternal!
The final sign pointing to who He is Jesus gives prior to his own death and resurrection is the resurrection of Lazarus. In Ezekiel we have the story of the dry bones being brought back to life and it only happens when the prophet speaks to the bones as the Lord commands him to do. There was no way to resurrect those dry, very dry bones but when the Lord asks Ezekiel if it is possible he say, Lord you know. Wise man, he knows there is always hope, even in "impossible" situations so long as God is involved. The mourners at the grave of Lazarus, including Mary and Martha, don't believe there is anything that can now be done for their brother. They believe if Jesus had shown up when they sent for Him He could have healed Lazarus, they had seen Him heal others. This, however, was too hard. We know that because when He asks for the tomb to be opened, they protest that there will be an odor. They had no idea why Jesus wanted the tomb opened and they got instead a personal demonstration that there was no limit to His power.
1 Samuel 16.1-13
Four verbs define faith: see, know, believe and act. First we have to see clearly, not with jaundiced eyes or pre-conceived notions of what is true and what is not. We have to then interpret what we see so that we may know truth. Third we have to believe the evidence of our eyes, mind and heart so that we may obtain greater knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Finally we have to act on that belief as if our lives depend on it being true. That is the actual definition of faith, not some blind leap into the unknown. Samuel shows us faith in anointing David as the next king. David expresses that faith in the 23rd Psalm, he has experience of God that allows him to know that tomorrow God will also be there. Paul knows because he was given sight and a heavenly witness on the road to Damascus. A blind man is healed and comes to faith in Jesus in spite of the fact it cost him "everything" and no one around him joined him in that faith.
Do you know anyone who is discouraged or afraid? Chances are pretty good you do at this moment in time as we face so much uncertainty in the world with the Coronavirus. The new nation was discouraged after they had a couple of days to celebrate the Red Sea miracle. They realized they weren't going to be magically transported to the Land, they would need things like water and they looked to Moses to make that happen. In our Gospel, Jesus meets a woman who is discouraged too and offers her water, a very specific kind of water, living water. After some religious talk she admits both her discouragement and her thirst for what He seems to be offering. The terms for getting it, truth. We don't need to be afraid and soft pedal the truth because it is the most wonderful news in the world, He is still that living water for our souls.
Can an Anglican Priest and Missionary really not be born again? Yep, it happened to John Wesley. Wesley knew a lot, patterned his life on biblical standards but was well aware he was more or less faking it. He was as confused as Nicodemus in our lesson this morning from John 3.1-17. Nicodemus had a lot of religious knowledge, he was a Pharisee and a teacher in Judaism but when Jesus spoke to him of spiritual things he was clearly lost. The good news is this isn't the last we hear of Nicodemus nor was Wesley's failed attempt at mission work the last word on his ministry. Paul was another guy who had a lot of religious knowledge but it was insufficient to know the Messiah when he saw Him. Both Paul and Nicodemus thought they won the eternal life lottery when they were born into the right people group and circumcision sealed the deal but both realized that being born again was necessary. Paul argues in Romans 4.1-17 that circumcision is nothing at all without faith in Jesus, he saw the truth, that Abraham's faith was counted to him as righteousness not his circumcision. Life is a journey that begins with a step of faith, just like Abram's faith in leaving everything familiar behind when God called him to do just that in Genesis 12.1-8. We never know where the journey leads but we know it begins at the cross and ends in eternity.
What is Ash Wednesday, why do something like Lent?
There is a purpose to the church calendar year as observed by the liturgical year. It's purpose is to build a rhythm of life into God's people that keeps us anchored in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We follow a different drummer than the rest of the world. It causes us to touch all the bases regarding Jesus, not just focus on parts of His life and teaching. It grounds us in His life in a profound way. Lent is nobody's favorite season but it is necessary to re-orient our lives, to tell us take a season to remove the clutter and get back to keeping the main thing the main thing. I've started a new exercise regime in my life and what I am discovering is that my body is warped in a strange way and I am working to get that righted. I know it will take a long time to undo what has developed over many years of not paying attention to the alignment of my body. It's strong from years of weight lifting but not flexible and not as strong as it could be. I am committed to getting that corrected no matter how painful it is at times or how long it takes because I want to be able to live long and get the most out of life and my body as possible. Who wouldn't? That's exactly the same principle as Lent calls us to.
Jesus takes three disciples up on a high mountain with, it seems, no advance warning for what will happen there. They see and experience the most amazing revelation of Jesus' identity they would receive until the resurrection. They see him transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah who have been dead at the time for centuries. The disciples are not sure what to make of this scene and yet there has never been anything like it. It was obviously intended to galvanize their faith for what was ahead, to cease questioning Jesus' authority when He said things that conflicted with their pre-conceived notions about his ministry and role. He obviously knew what was going to happen, that He would be fully revealed as greater than and different to anything that had come before or would come after.
6th Sunday after Epiphany 2020
1 Corinthians 3.1-9
Paul sees a problem in the early church. They have a preferred preacher, Apollos, and it isn't jealousy that motivates Paul to speak into the situation. It was Paul who first preached the Gospel to the Corinthians and then they found someone whose style was more pleasing to them. Paul sees the danger in factions based on the preacher, an issue I have seen at close hand to divide a church. If that guy is preaching I will stay home, I prefer the other person's style. I also see people who follow a TV preacher to the exclusion of everyone else and then judge everyone else based on their opinion of their guy. We are to have a hunger for the Word of God, both the word written and the Word made flesh. No one preacher has everything we need and it shouldn't start with the preacher and it certainly shouldn't end there. We are to have a passionate desire to read the Word for ourselves if we are Protestants that was what our forebears fought for, but too often we only get the word from another man who digests it for us and then regurgitates it for our consumption. If you aren't in the word you are in a dangerous situation where you can easily be led astray. More than that, you are missing out on great blessings, the opportunity to spend time with Him and allow Him to speak directly to you. If you leave it to the preacher occasionally you will get a blessing of feeling God is speaking to you, if you are in the Word you'll have that experience more and more often.
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 27.1-7, Habakkuk 3:2-6,17-19, 1 Corinthians 2:1-11, Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus says unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we won't enter the kingdom of heaven. Thankfully, it is His righteousness that gets us into the kingdom of heaven, but... Obviously from the rest of the sermon on the mount our righteousness, our lives, have kingdom meaning.
In this episode we first watched the first 7 minutes of this video as we focus a little on how Jesus changed the understanding of Torah commandments in a way that causes our Jewish brothers and sisters even today to cringe and say, no. It's worth a watch if you want to get a feel for how radically Jesus pushes His listeners that day and all the way to today. He wasn't just teaching what the rabbis of His day were teaching, He expanded the meaning and the scope of the commandments dramatically, in a way that is impossible except He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and help us and then to comfort us when we fail.
The way we live matters, just as it mattered that Jesus lived out this radical way. If we take His name, we take up our cross and accept that way for our own lives and, calling yourself a Christian invites others to examine your way of life and evaluate it. Let's commit ourselves to taking that seriously this year.
Today's lessons are Psalm 37:1-6, Micah 6:1-8, I Corinthians 1:18-31 and Matthew 5:1-12
The Beatitudes point us in another direction from the world. They tell us our values are wrong in some ways and validate the best of who we are. They ground us in the world we live in, Christianity is not escapism, it isn't your best life now, it re-connects us with the world around us. We tend to get into our isolation chambers of self seeking and what Jesus says is that, as Jacob Marley told Ebenezer Scrooge, my business was mankind. We are to be pointed towards the rewards Jesus promises here but the path is directly into the pain and suffering of the world, meeting it head on, not seeking to rise above it. He immersed Himself in the messiness of humanity and the Father was always enough for Him. Our task is to do the same, we must always challenge ourselves to fall deeply in love with Him and His mission and say, It is enough.
Epiphany is the season immediately following Christmas and it means revealing or manifestation. During this season we look at several vignettes from the life of Jesus beginning with His baptism by John that reveal His identity. We have been talking lately here about the Christian understanding of satan versus the Jewish understanding and the differences are significant. I love the Jewish roots of the faith but the reality is that if Jesus gives us a new revelation on something, I have to let go of that previous notion and resolve the difference via His words. How did that come up today? The reading from Acts ends, "He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." Jesus referred to the devil quite often and so do the other writers of the New Testament. We need to be aware who is our enemy.
Jesus told us to wait but that doesn't mean waiting and doing nothing. He gave us the Holy Spirit so we can long for the fullness of the Kingdom of God. That groaning Paul speaks of in Romans 8. He gave us a picture of what it will look like in the healing miracles, the restoration of what was broken in the lives of His people. We should long for that in our lives, wholeness. We should also long for a world where there is no longer brokenness, the world that will be new again after the final judgment. We need to know what we're waiting for and it isn't living in heaven for eternity, it is life on the new earth. This is the life and the world you were actually created for, the longing in your heart is for that world to come. The healing miracles of Jesus and the miracles He works now are meant to give us vision and hope for that future. Do you really want that world or are you satisfied with this one? Pray the Lord's Prayer with hope and desire, it's coming!
Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. That's what most of us think of when we hear that name and that is a shame. Zacchaeus is an important person in the story of Jesus. On the way to Jerusalem to be crucified Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus' home. Zacchaeus is a short man, a rich man and a despised man by the Jews of the region, with good reason. He is an important man in Rome though but he realizes a far greater person, Jesus, is in town and he is desperate to see him desperate enough to check his dignity at the door and run and climb a tree to see HIm. What happens next is scandalous and life changing not just for Zacchaeus but for everyone in Jericho and everyone who will pass through that place. Listen and you will see how important this story actually is. It is a story of extraordinary grace changing not just one life but many lives.
Hesed is the Hebrew word translated in the King James Version of the Bible as "lovingkindness." The word refers to the steadfast, covenant keeping love of God. In Judaism it is perhaps the most important concept, that when God makes a covenant there is no reason to ever doubt it is as eternal as He is. Jewish scholars and mystics see the hesed (or chesed) love of God as the active and operative force in creation. God pre-determined all things prior to actually creating the universe and knew already how that would work out. He knew that those created in His image would do all things we have done to His creation. Because of that hesed love He created anyway. He loves those created in His image and continues to forebear with us as a species and as individuals because He predetermined to love us. Jesus is the greatest expression of that love and the cross the supreme act of hesed.
We looked at where we find the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy last week, Exodus 34.6-7: The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” That revelation was given to a nation who had just committed terrible sin against the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. A sinful nation needed a merciful God if they were to co-exist and fulfill their destiny of being a kingdom of priests and living in the Promised Land.
The Jewish sages see this as a second covenant if you will rather than a renewal of the first covenant when the 10 Commandments were given at Mt Sinai in Exodus 20. There is a difference between the two because of the new revelation of God as not only great and good to His people but merciful above all else. He isn't just a jealous God who punishes, that isn't even His primary characteristic, but until they understand who they are, a stiff necked people prone to sin, they can't understand why it is vitally important that He is, above all, merciful. That God can even dwell in the midst of a stiff necked nation and in Him all His promises are fulfilled for those who love Him and confess their sin. That's the Good News Jesus came to bring not to a nation only but to all mankind.
That is the reason all heaven sings a new song when Jesus appears before the throne, as a lamb standing, as though it had been slain in Revelation 5. Whereas before the nation of Israel was a kingdom and priests, listen to the new song:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
The 13 Attributes of Mercy are found after the incident of the Golden Calf, when God threatened to destroy the people of Israel rather than forgive them (Exod. 32:10). According to the Talmud, Moses felt that Israel’s sin was so serious that there was no possibility of intercession on their behalf
At this point, God appeared to Moses and taught him the 13 Attributes, saying: “Whenever Israel sins, let them recite this [the Thirteen Attributes] in its proper order and I will forgive them.” Thus this appeal to God’s mercy reassures us that repentance is always possible and that God always awaits our return.”
The 13 Attributes of Mercy are based on two verses in Exodus: “The Lord! The Lord! God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses (but does not cleanse completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generations)” (34:6-7).
The 13 Attributes of Mercy, according to the generally accepted opinions of Rabbenu Tam and Abudraham, are as follows:
– The Lord! (Adonai)–God is merciful before a person sins! Even though aware that future evil lies dormant within him.
– The Lord! (Adonai)–God is merciful after the sinner has gone astray.
– God (El)–a name that denotes power as ruler over nature and humankind, indicating that God’s mercy sometimes surpasses even the degree indicated by this name.
– Compassionate (rahum)–God is filled with loving sympathy for human frailty does not put people into situations of extreme temptation, and eases the punishment of the guilty.
– Gracious (v’hanun)–God shows mercy even to those who do not deserve it consoling the afflicted and raising up the oppressed.
– Slow to anger (ereh apayim)–God gives the sinner ample time to reflect, improve, and repent.
– Abundant in Kindness (v’rav hesed)–God is kind toward those who lack personal merits, providing more gifts and blessings than they deserve; if one’s personal behavior is evenly balanced between virtue and sin, God tips the scales of justice toward the good.
– Truth (v’emet)–God never reneges on His word to reward those who serve Him.
– Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations (notzeir hesed la-alafim)–God remembers the deeds of the righteous for thebenefit of their less virtuous generations of offspring (thus we constantly invoke the merit of the Patriarchs).
– Forgiver of iniquity (nosei avon)–God forgives intentional sin resulting from an evil disposition, as long as the sinner repents.
– Forgiver of willful sin (pesha)–God allows even those who commit a sin with the malicious intent of rebelling against and angering Him the opportunity to repent.
– Forgiver of error (v’hata’ah)–God forgives a sin committed out of carelessness, thoughtlessness, or apathy.
– Who cleanses (v’nakeh)–God is merciful, gracious, and forgiving, wiping away the sins of those who truly repent; however, if one does not repent, God does not cleanse.