Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Readings for January 30 2011

This week we continue our readings in Corinthians and we get the first of five readings from the Sermon on the Mount.

Micah 6:1-8 – This passage reads like a court case. Micah calls the mountains, hills and foundations of the earth to hear the Lord’s indictment against Israel. The Lord then speaks his case asking Israel if he has done anything to drive them away. The Lord reminds Israel of the freedom he gave them from Egypt. Micah, or Israel, then asks about what must be done to make things right. Sacrifice 1,000 rams? Offer 10,000 rivers of oil? Sacrifice their first born sons? Micah reminds the people of the three simple things that the Lord wants: justice, kindness, and humble partnership with God.

Psalm 15 – The psalmist asks, “Who are God’s family/guests who abide/dwell in God’s home?” Micah has three positive attributes while the Psalmist has eleven things, both positive and negative: walk blamelessly, do right, speak truth, no slander, no evil to friends, no reproach to neighbors, despise wicked, honor those who fear the Lord, stand by their oaths, no lending at interest, and take no bribes.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Paul is writing this letter to a church in Greece. The Greeks valued philosophy, reason, logic, and debate. The Christians were proclaiming that someone who was convicted as a common criminal and executed in the most horrifying manner the Romans could devise as their Lord, Savior, and Son of God. In the minds of the Greeks, this was foolishness. Paul argues that God work through foolishness and weakness (and service). For those who believe, this is salvation. For those who don’t believe it is a scandal and absurd. Let me quote verse 23 from the Amplified Bible (they put in all possible meanings for different Greek words), “We preach Christ (the Messiah) crucified, [preaching which] to the Jews is a scandal and an offensive stumbling block [that springs a snare or trap], and to the Gentiles it is absurd and utterly un-philosophical nonsense.” God chooses the weak, the foolish, the low and despised to work his salvation.

Matthew 5:1-12 – This passage begins the Sermon on the Mount which will conclude at the end of chapter 7. The next four Sundays will cover all of chapter 5, and the fifth Sunday will be one section of chapter 6. Please, Please read all three chapters before you concentrate on any one passage. That will give you the full flavor of the Sermon which is about living to a higher Righteousness. These first 12 verses are commonly called the “Beatitudes”. According to one commentary, verses 3-6 and 8 are about dispositions which God will favor: humility, mournfulness, meekness, passion for justice, and purity of heart. Verses 7, 9-11 refer to actions that are favored by God: giving mercy, making peace, and seeking justice. These echo the Old Testament passages such as Micah 6 and Psalm 15 and in many other places. Jesus knew his stuff!

Blessed be those who love God’s Word and allows that Word to dwell in them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Readings for January 23, 2011

Our readings this week make one connection, Isaiah and Matthew. The epistle reading is the 2nd in a series of 7. Matthew quotes Isaiah, hence the reading in Isaiah. I'm not sure how the Psalm connects with Isaiah, which is a usual connection.

Now, on to the lessons:

Isaiah 9:1-4 - This lesson is part of a slightly larger passage that is read at Christmas. The Christmas reading is 9:2-7. You may particularly remember verse 6, "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." For the larger passage, Isaiah envisions when everyone will have an epiphany of what God is doing and will do for them. This will bring joy and exaltation. This will also bring freedom from oppressors.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 - I suggest that you read the entire Psalm, 14 verses. I am not sure why the Lectionary Committee decided to leave out verses 2, 3, 10-14. The reason for the Psalm lies in those passages. Evildoers, enemies, armies, and adversaries has come against the Psalmist (verses 2, 3, 10-12) and he is seeking refuge with God (verse 5). The Psalmist is assured of God's protection and he shouts for joy (verse 6). He looks forward to a time when the goodness of the Lord will rule the land (verse 13).

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 - When it comes time to report to the denomination all of the statistics of our churches, many pastors would love to quote Paul in 1:14, "I thank God that I baptized none of you . . ." and then report 0 baptisms. Now, in all seriousness, Paul is beginning his examination of the divisions in the church he founded in Corinth. He pleads with them to be united in the same mind and purpose. The first, maybe the biggest, division is the person that is claimed as the authority of the church: Paul, Peter (Cephas), or Apollos. Paul even throws in Christ into this list, which is a bit odd. We should all follow Christ, right? Perhaps some in the Corinthian Church claimed that Christ was just the leader of their small group and no other. Paul says that the only thing that counts is the gospel and the cross which is the true power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23 - We are back to Matthew and we have skipped the story of Jesus' temptation. We will read that at the beginning of Lent. After his temptation, Jesus returns to Judea around the Jordan River. When he hears that John the Baptizer is dead (a later story in Matthew), he headed to Nazareth in Galilee and then moves to Capernaum. Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 in conjunction with Capernaum. Jesus starts his message with the same words as John the Baptizer, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." With that message many assume that Jesus will be another John but we will soon find out differently. We then get the very familiar story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to become "fishers of people". I like the old King James Version where fishermen are called to become "fishers of men". I think that Matthew intended that word play in the Greek.

Have a great week reading God's good Word.
Peace in Christ

Monday, January 10, 2011


Following the shooting deaths of 6 people in Tucson, AZ, USA, on Saturday, including a 9 year-old girl and a US Federal judge, and the wounding of 13 others including Congresswoman Giffords, many people may be asking themselves the age old question "Why?" It is the question of Job and the Psalmists. Even here in central Minnesota, we sometimes encounter the violence of this world. A 16 year-old who dies in a car crash involving alcohol. A 19 year-old boy who, while driving, drops his cell phone, reaches down to pick it up and swerves into an oncoming garbage truck. A 45 year-old man who has broken up with his girlfriend and then kills her and commits suicide. Two men from the Twin Cities, high and looking for a friend's house with more drugs, breaking into another house and murdering a mother and her two teenage children. And always we ask "Why?"

There is never an easy answer to the question and it may seem a bit flippant to say the reason is that the world is enslaved to "sin and death". We, humanity, are so desirous (covetous) of other's that we resort to anything that will get what we want. Sometimes what we want is not an actual thing, but may be something like recognition, revenge, or the defense of what we believe. Therefore, to get what we covet (#10 in the Ten Commandments), we lie (#9), steal (#8), have affairs (#7), and, finally, we murder (#6). What generally holds community together is mutual respect and the following of the laws of that define how we should act with each other. When there is disunity and discord within the the community the foundations of that community seems to be crumbling.

When community begins to fight within itself about how the community is to be governed (like the Democrats and Republicans today?) there is usually a scapegoat who is singled out as the originator of the problem and that scapegoat is either expelled or sacrificed. Blame is placed on the victim for the violence within the community and when the problem is dealt with (expelled or killed) peace returns to the community. Perhaps (and this is a big perhaps) that is what the young man who did the killing in Tucson unconsciously felt: he thought that his world was coming undone, someone had to be blamed and then that someone had to be expelled from the community.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, the killing of a scapegoat does not bring peace to the community anymore. Yet, because we are enslaved to sin and death, we continue again and again to seek peace by violent means, both personally and nationally. However, violence only brings more violence and violence in the name of "Good" is no better then the violence of the evil and wicked.

What is the answer? Jesus Christ. In his life Jesus taught us how to love all people and how to love God. The Lamb of God (who takes away the sin of the world, John 1:29), the Son of God, God-With-Us, in his arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion shows us the nature of our scapegoating process: the innocent victim must die to bring peace (John 11:50). And even as Jesus hung on the cross he forgave his killers, his disciples, and us because we don't know what we do (Luke 23:34). But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, we now do know what we do and that process has lost its power. To those who believe in Jesus Christ he has given us something new to desire: God's love, acceptance, and forgiveness. With the power of the Holy Spirit we no longer desire what others have but we desire to do God will as a member of God's family. Why should we desire only God's way? Because God is love (1 John 4:7-12).

If, in his death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated sin and death why is there still violence in the world? Because sin, death, powers, and principalities haven't gotten the message yet. The power of sin and death to bring peace is waning and violence must be used more and more to try to hold onto its power. The outlook for the future seems bleak as violence seems to increase every year. Either the world and all of humanity will destroy itself in an extreme paroxysm or it will come to know the truth about God's love and seek the forgiving grace of God so that God's kingdom will truly come.

For more on humanity's violence and God's love see Paul Nuechterlein page on his core convictions: Nonviolence and the Christian Faith. It is long but well worth the read.

May God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Readings for January 16 2011

Please continue to pray for all the victims of violence around the world today as our nation mourns the death of the six in Tucson, AZ.

Our lessons this week are:

Isaiah 49:1-7 - The is the second of four of the Servant Songs found in Isaiah. Last week we read the first one. This one is both personal, "The Lord called me before I was born," and corporate, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." As I asked in Sunday's sermon, "Is the servant an unknown person or the nation of Israel?" My answer is "Yes", it is both. The servant is hidden amongst other people/nations and in whom no one takes notice. The servant is to be a light to the people of Israel and Judah and to their respective nations. But that is not enough for God who calls the servant to be a light to all people and nations so that all may be saved.

Psalm 40:1-11 - This Psalm is 17 verses long. In this portion, the Psalmist proclaims that the Lord has rescued him and he has told everyone about that salvation. He is a light to his congregation, community, and nation. In the unread verses, the Psalmist continues to ask for God's deliverance from the enemies that surround him.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 - These are the opening greetings from Paul to the church he founded in Corinth. In verses 4-9, Paul gives thanks to God for their faith and knowledge and gifts they have received from God through Jesus Christ. Once these niceties are out of the way Paul digs into the the many troubles that this church is having: divisions, arguments, favoritisms, not sharing the Communion, and arguments over spiritual gifts.

John 1:29-42 - John the Baptist witnesses about the person of Jesus whom he declares to be "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." This sentence alone would fill an entire sermon. What is "the sin of the world"? Why is it singular? Why the imagery of a lamb? What is the lamb's significance? How does the Lamb take away the sin? Much of these latter questions concern the Passover rites and the Day of Atonement rites in the Temple. Following John's testimony two of his disciples follow Jesus. One of these two is Andrew and he invites his brother, Simon, to follow with them. Jesus declares that Simon will be called "Cephas" which means "Peter". The Hebrew word "kepha" and the Greek word "petra" both mean "rock".

Have a wonder week digging into the Word of God.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Readings for January 9 2011

Hello Everyone and Happy New Year,

Thank you everyone who participated in this past Sunday's Covenant Renewal Service. I enjoyed the service and I had several positive comments. I hope it becomes a meaningful worship service that we use every year.

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday after Epiphany and is the Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. All of our scripture lessons relate to this baptism.

Isaiah 42:1-9 - Verses 1-4 of this passage is considered the first of four "Servant Songs" (see also 49:1-7, 50:4-11, and 52:13-53:12). In the Servant Songs the Lord declares or chooses his servant who suffers without complaint for the Lord. Christians see these songs as pointing to the suffering of Jesus during his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, especially the fourth song. The remaining verses are a declaration of the Lord that he has chosen the Israelites, his people, to be a light for all nations so that they may know the Lord.

Psalm 29 - The Psalmist calls on all creation to recognize the Lord in the storms. The Psalm uses words like thunder, power, breaking, flashes of fire, shaking of the wilderness, oaks whirling, and forests stripped bare.

Acts 10:34-43 - Here Peter preaches the Good News to Cornelius, his family, and his servants. Key phrases in this passage that are worthy of study include "God shows no partiality", "preaching peace by Jesus Christ", "God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power", "We are witnesses", "He commanded us to preach", and "All the prophets testify about him." In the verses that follow, the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and family and Peter says that they should also be baptized with water.

Matthew 3:13-17 - These five short verses pack a lot of information: Jesus comes to John to be baptized; John doesn't want to do it but Jesus insists because it would fulfill "all righteousness"; as Jesus is coming up from the water the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descends like a dove, and the voice of God declares Jesus as his son. Jesus is the premier servant who will suffer and be a light (Isaiah 42), the voice of the Lord comes from the heavens (Psalm 29) and the Spirit anoints Jesus with power to serve (Acts 10). This anointing will lead to the cross.