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For Sunday, 12.22.19

Readings

Isaiah 7:10-16  •  Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19  •  Romans 1:1-7  •  Matthew 1:18-25

Backstory

Isaiah 7:10-16

Before the Israelites ever entered the Promised Land they were human; when the Israelites received their label of ‘Israelite’ – as their ancestor Jacob was renamed Israel – they were human; when the ‘father of the faith’ of the Israelites, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, found out that he was going to have the label of ‘father’, Abraham, the ‘father of the faith’, was human. Humans disagree, they argue, they fight, they split and separate….they are human just like us.  So, it should be no surprise that the Israelites, in very human fashion, demanded that God let them have a king and then eventually argued, fought, and eventually split over who should be the King (the split was after just three Kings of the united Israel).  This typical, and expected, human behavior brings us to the backstory of our Isaiah passage.  The Israelites had split into two different nations, the kingdom of Israel was the northern consisting of ten of the tribes and the southern kingdom, Judah, consisted of two tribes. Isaiah is talking to the twelfth king of Judah, a guy named Ahaz, who was also very human, actually an extraordinarily bad human.  Ahaz, along with all of Judah, ad just been attacked by Israel and their temporary ally – Syria.  The attack and consequences of the attack were devastating and Ahaz knew that they were facing further aggression from the north.  The prophet Isaiah goes to Ahaz and suggests that the King ask God for a sign as to what steps he should take to avoid another loss.  Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign because he has already made up his mind without God, he has decided that he will also recruit an ally, he joins forces with Assyria (also a group of very bad humans, led by another bad human). Ahaz does not want to wait for God’s answer, and does not want to trust God. Even though Ahaz refuses to seek God, God speaks to him anyway.  God tells Ahaz that the next King has already been born (which is the next King, Hezekiah, a much better human).  Even though Ahaz finds immediate victory in his unwise alliance with Assyria, two years later, after defiling the temple and debasing himself, he is no longer King and Hezekiah is. Echoes of this story, the story of a child savior already being born for those who would wait, abound in the angel’s message to Mary in the gospel of Luke as well as the message to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew.  Echoes of ‘Peace’, ’wait’ and ‘trust God’ are the beginning of the encouragement to Mary and Joseph as they choose to accept God’s path laid out before them.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (responsive reading)

In this small collection of verses, the phrase ‘Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved,’ is seen three times.  The phrase is a key to the state of mind of the targeted readers of the verses.  It is a key to our frequent cries out to God as we are confronted with the misery of our own humanity.  As we saw the Israelites, during the exile, come to a realization that their actions had brought about their misery – they then were faced with the reality of waiting on God instead of making their own rash and unwise decisions.  Turning back to God was the right choice but it was not an immediate solution to their misery, they still faced waiting on, and trusting in, God.  The honesty of their wait is dialogue of Psalm 80; a dialogue that always takes them back to ‘Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.’

Romans 1:1-7

Paul’s letter to the Romans can be boiled down to a primary address/confrontation of the issues that divided the church at Rome.  These issues were social, economic, and religious dividing the rich and the poor, the Jews and the non-Jews, and basically every social grouping of the believes.  We will be reading through the letter to the Romans over the coming weeks to see how Paul uses these elements of division to teach us many basics of our beliefs.

Matthew 1:18-25

It is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that we find the birth story of Jesus Christ.  While Luke takes one and a half chapters – one hundred and eighteen verses – to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, Matthew takes two chapters – but only a total of forty-eight verses – of which, seventeen verses are a genealogy of the lineage of Abraham to Joseph. In Luke we see the story mostly from the experience of Mary, while in Matthew we see the story more through the experience of Joseph.  Matthew was written with a Jewish readership in mind wishing to prove the the lineage of Abraham to Joseph (the Davidic lineage), while Luke was written more to the Gentiles with the intention of proving the humanity of Jesus Christ.  In this reading, Joseph, defined as a good human with the best of intentions, finds that his reality and future are taking a very unexpected and inexplainable turn into the weird and onto an unprecedented path.  Both stories (Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts) of the radical news delivered by an angel bear the common refrain – ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘peace’.

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11.17.19

Readings

Psalm 98  •  Isaiah 65:17-25  •  Malachi 4:1-2a5  •  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  •  Luke 21:5-19

Backstory

Psalm 98 (Responsive Reading)

Once again we are reminded that only God is truly God.  Last week we saw King David himself proclaim that an earthly King is not, and never will be, God. Psalm 98 takes that acknowledgement a bit further by proclaiming the fact that God is God is enough to call us to a joyful praise in the midst of every circumstance and situation.  Not only does our recognition of God bring us to praise but it also brings us to a joy filled trust in God as the one that judges each of us. A true knowledge of God brings us to a expectation of the new and renewed he brings to us.

Isaiah 65:17-25

In this third part of the book of Isaiah, the prophet begins to tell the people what God will do after the exile.  During the time in Babylon, the exiled Jews had been slaves, building houses for others to live in and basically never seeing the fruits of their labors.  In this look at the future, Isaiah tells the people that God is creating something new where they will see the fruits, experience health, and know freedom.  More importantly, the people will not remember the pain of their path and will experience forgiveness of their sin.  While this prophesy is often used by Christian eschatologist, it is directly written to the exiled Israelites to grab hold and prepare to be a part of this new work that God is doing.  It is a call to watch and work, mostly, however, it is a call to trust God.

Malachi 4:1-2a5

Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament addressing the people after the exile and after temple is rebuilt.  While being a prophesy of certain hope, Malachi is primarily pronouncing the sinful nature of the priests and people.  In the short time since the exiles have returned, rebuilt the temple and restored Jerusalem and Judah, they have also turned their backs on God once again. This short passage from Malachi confronts the sin of the people while reminding them, once again, of the healing and restoration that awaits at their return to God.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The church at Thessalonica was a community of believers that truly needed each other.  They were considered an enigmatic group to the non-believers of the city and a threat to the political and religious leaders.  Most in the church at Thessalonica did not have a Jewish past and were susceptible to the false teachers traveling through the area.  They also were faced actual persecution and, sometimes, were not allowed the basic freedoms of purchasing food and needed goods for their own survival.  They needed each other to help navigate life and faith.  There were those in their midst who had a very questionable faith combined with a draining one sided manner of relating.  They were not really functioning members of the Christian community but rather were selfishly using the other believers.  Paul tells the church to treat these questionable believers with the love of a brother while, at the same time, not permitting them to cause an undue burden on, or a distraction to, the church.

Luke 21:5-19

Jesus is now in the temple at Jerusalem with his disciples during the week leading up to his crucifixion.  As they stand in the temple an elderly widow give all that she has in the offering but the followers of Christ only seem to notice the man-made beauty of the building and ornaments. Jesus confronts their inability to see the sacrifice of the widow and instead focusing on things that will soon be torn down and destroyed.  As Christ points out their failure to see God’s work he addresses their priorities and faith knowing that they are soon to face a loss that will challenge everything they see as valuable.

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Haggai 1:14-2:9  •  Psalm 145  •  Job 19:23-27a  •  2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17  •  Luke 20:27-38

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Haggai 1:14-2:9 (it may help to also read Ezra 3:8-13)

The exiled Israelites are now back in Jerusalem, and Judah, after seventy plus years in exile and slavery.  They are rebuilding from the damage created by their own disobedience before the exile as well as the destruction of the invading Babylonian forces.  There is a great deal of vision, excitement, and exhaustion but also, among the elder returnees,  there is much disappointment.  The older generation, while excited to be home, remembers the beauty and grandeur of the past.  They watch the foundation laid for the new temple and see that it is smaller and in no way compares to the past glory of their memories.  While others cheer, this generation weeps.  The prophets remind them of God’s outpouring in their release from captivity and that he has much more to bless and give – but also caution that God’s new work may not look the same or live up to what they think was superiority of the past.

Psalm 145 (responsive reading)

The Psalm, written by King David, is a personal, and national, recognition that God is God and a King is not God.  Following slavery, the people who are still discovering themselves as well as well as grasping who God is, are now free but under the thumb of the Persian Empire who conquered the Babylonians.  They have demanded of God, and received, their own King, but now are having to learn that a King is not God – and, it is their own King who is making this proclamation.  This moment is emphasized through a recognition of who God is and all that he has done.

Job 19:23-27a

Job is struggling.  His life has been turn upside down and now he is thought to hold the blame for his own suffering.  A great deal of the book of Job is an account of his quest, and demand, for vindication of this perceived guilt.  In chapter 19 he is now vacillating between receiving this vindication post mortem via a relative who can attest to his innocence or, his true desire, to hear and see God proclaim Job’s innocence.  His desire for an earthly, and eternal, vindication comes at the end of the book of Job as God meets him – then, Job is satisfied.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Someone, or some group, has stirred up the church at Thessalonia teaching that the end days, the time of judgement (the Day of the Lord), are upon them. While many, even today, mistake this passage as being fully apocalyptic (end times teaching), it is actually a message of comfort and peace.  Paul reminds the church of what God has done while encouraging them to keep holding tight to God and what they have already been doing.  Paul tells the church to not be deceived by these false teachers of division and fear and, instead, to let the God of love and grace comfort and strengthen their hearts so they can do the same in the midst of their community.

Luke 20:27-38

The Sadducees were a community of priests who did not believe in the afterlife or resurrection.  They were, as a rule, more legalistic than the other primary priests community, the Pharisees.  In Luke 20 we see Jesus, now in Jerusalem and in the temple, facing an onslaught of religiously motivated intellectual attacks by the different religious leaders.  Our focus passage involves a group of Sadducees who attempt to engage Jesus in a debate about the reality of resurrection and life after death. They do this through a less than subtle legalistic approach revealing their attitudes towards women.  As the Sadducees think they have a fool proof plan to ‘win’ intellectually against Jesus, they instead, have many of their own faulty beliefs destroyed. Jesus not only presents proof of the resurrection, from the sadducees’ own accepted source, he also discredits their non-belief about angels. In the end, all the different religious leaders give up their effort to defeat Jesus on an intellectual and religious front choosing to walk away for the moment.

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Posted 10.28.19

Lectionary Readings

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  •  Psalm 119:137-144  •  Isaiah 1:10-18  •  2 Thessalonians 1:1-12  •  Luke 19:1-10

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Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 – Little is known about Habakkuk except that he was a prophet in a time of troubles and trials for the Israelites. Many scholars are unsure of the time period, some feel that it took place just before the exile to Babylon.  Regardless of the period, the questions and message of Habakkuk are timeless – they reach forward even to us and our times.  Habakkuk asked legitimate questions and expected honest answers from God.  He is a perfect demonstration of the struggle between our faith and our reality. He asks ‘why does God allow injustice?’ and ‘how can God justify using the unrighteous to correct the Israelites?’  Habakkuk makes it permissible, and advisable, to struggle with questions, even questions directed at God. If possible – take the time to read all of Habakkuk.

Psalm 119:137-144 – The reality of the Israelites is that they are a suffering people.  They are consistently under attack, scorned, mistreated and usually hated. Their very existence is a struggle with, against, and for, God – it is the meaning of the name ‘Israel’.  In the midst of that struggle, however, is a constant return to ‘Who God Is’ looking at his faithfulness looking for truth.  Let these eight verses remind you ‘Who God Is” in the midst of your life. This will be our Responsive Reading passage.

Isaiah 1:10-18 – We return to the beginning of the ministry of Isaiah as he begins to call the people of Jerusalem and Judah back to God.  This is the first of a long time call to repentance that will be proclaimed by Isaiah and then Jeremiah, as well as others, and ultimately unheeded by the Israelites.  This centuries long prophesy will not be heeded until after the Israelites have spent over seven decades as slaves in Babylon.  Isaiah begins it all by confronting the hypocrisy in their religious practices and spiritual conversations.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 – Though often used as an attack on those who do not believe, or practice differently,, the letter to the Thessalonians is actually a love letter.  The author is telling the Thessalonians that their growing faith is an example for all.  The harsh sections of the letter must be viewed with the audience and attitude of the author in mind.  The letter is an acclamation of their faith and an affirmation of the unjust nature of the attacks on them.  The letter is a reminder to persevere.

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the Cross, on his way to Death. Jesus has taught about prayer, equality, love, mercy, riches, and more, all while being judged and condemned by the religious leaders.  The familiar story of Zaccheus is about a rich man with a questionable vocation, a vocation that puts him in the spot of being hated and scorned by all.  It is also a story of Jesus noticing the unnoticeable again, once again, and a story of grumblers and haters. We will be looking at the familiar story of Zaccheus in an unfamiliar fashion.unfamiliar fashion.

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Lectionary

Joel 2:23-32  •  Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22  •  Psalm 65; 84:1-7  •  2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18  •  Luke 18:9-14

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Joel 2:23-3  Joel is a welcome word to the Israelites who have heard little to nothing from God during their exile.  Joel begins with the people repenting and returning to God and therefore adverting the destruction of their fields by locusts. We then see the outpouring of rain on the land to nourish and grow the crops with an abundance of produce being the result.  There is also an outpouring of God’s spirit on the people resulting in the sons and daughters, the old and young men, and even the male and female slaves prophesying God’s truth.  This is a radical prophecy in respect to who is included (for some it is radical and outrageous even thousands of years later).  Joel is calling the people to turn and follow God.

Jeremiah 14:7-22 We return to the beginning of the exile (before Joel) and Jeremiah’s warning of the coming consequences of turning away from God.  Not only a confrontation of their sinful actions but also of the fact that they have chosen to listen to false prophets.  However pleasant and affirming the false messages may be, the people have put themselves in a place of peril and hopelessness as they set their hearts, and their ears, on rejecting truth.

Psalm 65  Our responsive reading comes from Psalm 65, a thanksgiving Psalm (song) focusing on the harvest..  The Psalm, in usual fashion, begins with praise, however this praise is very unusual, it is a call to silence.  Much like the Selahs, the crowds are given a chance to breath, to recognize and grasp all that God has done, an opportunity to pour themselves out before him.  The Psalm has a strong emphasis on one element of God’s provision – water.

II Timothy 4:6-18  The second letter to Timothy is Paul’s final writing.  This particular correspondence is very personal and intimate.  Paul reflects back on the good and the bad, a self evaluation of his life and ministry, and a request for Timothy to bring him his coat, books, and writings. We also see the struggle in Paul to forgive.  This goodbye gives Paul’s conceptional analysis of what is going on in his final days – ‘As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation…’

Luke 18:9-14  In this parable, Jesus presents two men, both of whom need forgiveness, peace, and hope.  One man enters with an attitude of repentance while the other enters comparing himself to others.  Both men enter the temple, one enters with self justification but the other leaves with true justification.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 31:27-34  •  Genesis 32:22-31  •  Psalm 119:97-104; 121 •  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5  •  Luke 18:1-8

Backstory

Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob, the primary character in this passage, comes from a long line of ‘less than perfect’ humans and greatly dysfunctional family environments. His grandfather, Abraham, twice gave his own wife away in an act of self protection, grew impatient with God’s promise so he birthed a child with his wife’s servant and then sent the child away to keep peace with his wife. Jacob’s own parents, Isaac and Rebekah, pitted Jacob and his brother Esau against each other through their blatant favoritism. It is no surprise, then, that Jacob continued to perpetuate this ‘less than perfect’ husband and father tradition creating an equally unhealthy life environment. Our passage today begins after Jacob has decided to return to his birth family and home. His decision was made after angering his in-laws and fearing for his life. The journey home was a fearful one for Jacob – he had originally left his own family fearing for his life after stealing brother Esau’s birthright. Now, after decades apart, Jacob was about to reunite with his brother having no idea if the brother was still furious and justifiably vengeful. A wrestling match, a new name, a painful limp, and a surprising reunion are all pivotal moments on Jacob’s journey home.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 We are nearing the end of our journey in the writings of Jeremiah and now see him preparing the people for the time that they will be able to return home to Judah. Jeremiah specifies two primary lessons in this passage. 1) each person bears personal responsibility for their own sin which cannot be blamed on their parents or others, and 2) their new relationship with God will be personal and internal rather than external and institutional. There will be a personal responsibility for repentance and personal accountability in life.

Psalm 119:97-104; 121 Our verses in chapter 119 remind us that wisdom and purity come from our own meditation on God’s truth. In Chapter 121, our responsive reading, reminds us that our true help comes from God.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Following the the teachings/cautions from Paul to Timothy about the coming false teachers, the conversation now turns to foundational truth. Paul begins to bring his mentoring letters to a close by focusing Timothy’s teaching, leading, living, and correcting on a foundation of truth.

Luke 18:1-8 Our focus passage this week is another strange parable from Jesus in which the focus is an odd mix of prayer, persistence and justice. Jesus makes a, possibly confusing and troubling, comparison between an unjust judge and God. Take a moment to let yourself wrestle with this comparison as well as the overall take-away for you from this parable.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12  •  2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111  •  2 Timothy 2:8-15  •  Luke 17:11-19

Backstory

Psalm 66:1-12 Our responsive reading comes from Psalm 66 – a praise to God for the deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. The first twelve verses focus on remembering and praising God for their deliverance.  In the remainder of Psalm 66 the Psalmist turns from a remembering praise that is internal to a remembering praise that is external, a physical response –  a demonstrative transformation.

2 Kings 5:1-15 The common thread in the books of Kings is the rulers’ abuse of power and God’s provision of the prophets to provide accountability.  Elisha, who followed Elijah as the prophet of the Northern Kingdom – Israel, is in the beginning stages of his ministry.  The successful captain of the army of Aram (an adjacent country – current day Syria – and frequent enemy to Israel), a man named Naaman, is sent to see Elisha to be healed of leprosy (a situation which terrifies the King of Israel). The entire story is an interesting tale of the unexpected avenues of rescue and transformation.  A slave girl from Israel tells Naaman’s wife about the miraculous acts of Elisha and then the healing is almost sidetracked by Naaman’s own arrogance.

Jeremiah 29:1-7 A familiar text to us as we see Jeremiah addressing those who have already been, and those who are about to be, exiled from Judah.  He tells them that they are to continue on with life in the midst of their slavery for the decades to come.  They are to build homes, have children and give their children in marriage….and to work to make their captors successful.  An ironic instruction as Jeremiah himself was forbidden, by God, from marriage and having children due to the fact that they would be part of the coming exile and slavery.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 Last week we saw Paul reminding Timothy to remember his faith.  Now, Paul is calling Timothy to a security and confidence in that faith and of truth itself.  The reason for this urgency of faith is that Timothy is about to come face to face with false teachers who are set on misleading the church.

Luke 17:11-19 Our gospel reading takes place after the parables we have seen in the past weeks the teaching about faith from last week.  Jesus, as he is during most of the gospel of Luke, is one his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.  His encounter with the group of lepers gives us an enhanced understanding of personhood, redemption, cleansing and even salvation.  It is an undeniable demonstration of God’s love and the transformative act of recognition, gratitude, and praise.