Year A – Lent 3 – Psalm 95

Psalms 95:1–11 – O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” 11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Summary – The event in Exodus 17 becomes part of the living memory of God’s people in Psalm 95. This Psalm begins with a call to worship in God’s presence, to thank Him and praise Him with song. He is the Maker of the world so we should worship Him on bended knee. But even more, He is our Shepherd and we are the sheep of His hand. This means that our Shepherd feeds and cares for us by His hand. The Psalm ends acknowledging Israel’s failure as they grumbled and showed hard hearts at Meribah and Massah in the wilderness. The consequence is that many did not enter into their rest from the wilderness.

Insight – Psalm 95 turns the experience of the Israelites (Ex. 17) into a song. In hard episodes in life we want to completely wash them from our memories. This is especially so in terms of sinful and shameful things we have done. Israel did not get to sweep their sin “under the rug.” Many American textbooks revise our national history to make us look noble and valiant, but it was not so with Israel. Israel’s failures were written into their history and their hymns. True worship arises from truth. Proper worship arises not only from knowing God’s power and love, but from reflecting on our failures. Let us shout to the “Rock of our salvation,” while also know that we must not harden our hearts.  In this anthem, they recognize the power of God their “Maker” over all the earth and that they were His sheep which He cared for, the very thing they forgot in their grumbling.

Child’s Catechism – Why should we make a joyful noise? Because God is our maker and our Shepherd.

Question to Consider – If you were to write a song that recounted your disobedience, what would it say and where did it happen?

Prayer – [BCP Collect for Purity] Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Year A – Lent 3 – Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7 – From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Summary – This passage provides one example of God’s miraculous provision of water. The focus here is that God provided even in the midst of their faithlessness. In the Numbers 20 at the end of their 40 years is another event which is similar but the focus  is that Moses in anger struck the rock (who was Christ) twice. “And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them'” (Num. 20:10-12). In this place, as Psalm 95 notes, Moses called it Massah (“testing”) and Meribah (“quarreling”).

Insight – During Israel’s time in the wilderness (a forty-year Lent) we often see them being sustained by God’s miraculous power and yet grumbling. They were being led by a spectacular vision of cloud and fire, as well as getting bread literally from the sky (manna). God was their provider. Yet they are worried about water, as though God could give them deliverance from Pharaoh, bread like rain, but was utterly unable to quench their thirst. Now rock and water are very different. They are opposites. Men today can make mud into pure water. Men today with filters can turn the sewage into a sparkling beverage. But only God can bring forth water by striking a rock. Such is God’s power. Learning from their disobedience, rather than provoke God (“tempt”) with our rock-hearted unbelief, let us be refreshed with His thirst-quenching water.

Child Catechism -Why was God displeased with the people? Because they grumbled and tested the Lord.

Discussion  – Are there any “hard” things in your life that God just can’t do?

Prayer – Father in heaven, we are thanking You that You have given us both the Bread of Life and Living Water in the person and work of Jesus our Lord. We know that all the hard things of our lives are not hard for You. You can make hard rocks into liquid streams in the desert. Please do so in our hearts today, In the Name of Jesus our Rock, Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – Psalm 121

Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills; *  from where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, *  the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved *  and he who watches over you will not fall asleep. Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *  shall neither slumber nor sleep; The LORD himself watches over you; *  the LORD is your shade at your right hand, So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *  nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *  it is he who shall keep you safe. The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *  from this time forth for evermore.

Sing this Psalm! See Psalm 121 Here

Summary – Psalm 121 is one of those psalms giving great comfort to God’s people. One phrase has been frequently used as a call to worship:  “From where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” For those in covenant with God, like father Abraham, God has promised to bring about His covenant promises and will bring protection. Since God is the maker of the world, the elements of the world will not harm us. We can sleep with ease, because the sun will not hurt us, the moon will not hurt us and we are defended from enemies on all sides. This psalm functions as a benediction upon God’s covenant people.

Insight – All benedictions are general. If we receive the blessing that, God bless you and keep you, it may seem that sickness or trial would be inconsistent with this. But is it? To the unbelieving, every difficulty is a sworn witness against God’s goodness and His willingness to bless His people. But to one who is saturated in God’s word and promises, we know that all things work together for good because He is conforming us to the image of Christ. Abraham went through trials, but they all resulted in His receiving promised blessings from His Covenant Lord. So this psalm calls us to look to the Lord for goodness. We are to look to Him and from His hand we are to receive goodness. We are to trust that the Lord will preserve us from all evil. In believing this, we can weather trials and hardships because the Lord who is sovereign overall does not intend these as evil, but for our eternal good.

Child catechism – From where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Discussion – What are some ways we could use blessings and then benedictions in our lives?

Prayer – O Lord God we trust you because you are the maker of heaven and earth. Grant that we who call upon you may be ever hopeful in your goodness and trustful and your mercy. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – John 3:1-17

John 3:1–17  – Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Summary –  Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews discusses Christ’s Messianic ministry (v. 2) and the “kingdom of God” (vv. 3, 5) with Jesus. Many hearers are stuck in wooden and dumb literalisms (e.g., “destroy this temple,” ch. 2). Here Nicodemus misunderstands this “new birth” as a literal natural birth. Jesus is describing a spiritual renewal. The word in“again” (v3) in the popular phrase “born again” in Greek is anothen. It often means “from above” rather than “again.” Hence the NRSV has it as born from “above,” just as John 19:11 – “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (anothen, 19:11). We have new life from Spirit of heaven “above.” a) The cross as the basis of our kingdom acceptance (v15); b) God’s love is the motivation for kingdom salvation (v16); c) God’s kingdom purpose is that the world might be saved (v17).

Insight – Jesus came to bring a new age. Being “born again” relates to the Messianic kingdom of God. Elsewhere it is called the “regeneration,” or the new world (palingenesia, lit. “rebirth,” Matt. 19:28). Here the same idea is in “born again/from above.” Nicodemus should have known this (v. 10). This was not “new revelation” (e.g., Ezek. 36:26, Jer. 31:33). In Isaiah 59:19–60:4ff, the essential terms and concepts of this dialogue are found: “For He will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. And a Redeemer will come to Zion. . . . My Spirit which is upon you. . . . Nations will come to your light.” Jesus calls for faith in Himself because He is the unique (only-begotten) Son of God (vv. 16-18). God’s action in sending Christ was “that the world might be saved through Him.” God’s purpose and intention is expressed as world salvation (1Jn 2). Like many kingdom promises, this can only be fulfilled progressively. Like the mustard seed, the leaven, the growth of the waters covering the sea and entrance of nations into the new Jerusalem, this is best understood as the cumulative outcome of all salvation history.

Child’s Catechism – Can your recite John 3:16? For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Discussion – Do you believe that God is good and that good will be ultimately seen in the world?

Prayer – God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit. Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Summary – Paul explains that Abraham’s righteousness did not rest upon his works. Moreover, the promises God made to him did not rest upon works. He received a promise to be heir of the world, the land promise, now extended to all the world (v13), through faith. If you read the entire context of this passage, the argument Paul makes is one of history. Abraham received the promises of his covenant prior to his circumcision. So Paul reasons that this could not have been based upon the law or identity markers of Israelites or keeping of things such as circumcision and the Mosaic code. Rather, Abraham believed God and that was accounted to him as righteousness and that is the basis for the promises.

Insight – To be polite we always congratulate people who have been awarded for hard work. Sometimes our words may (out of kindness) express that their achievements have been completely earned by their efforts. However, a thoughtful person receiving such an award, will note how often they were dependent upon others or how grateful they are for others, and to some extent how much they were unable to do it without the help of someone else. Paul cuts through all of this in the discussion of justification by simply saying the father of our faith Abraham had nothing to boast about. It is certainly one of the most precious promises in Scripture that God declares righteous, justifies, the ungodly by faith in Jesus. We are called to trust Jesus and then to obey. This is what Abraham did. In the argument of Romans Paul is making the point that it is not distinctive Jewish practices like circumcision that make one righteous, it is not being “hearers of the law” (Rom. 2:13), but faith in the God who raises the dead. Abraham did not have anything to boast about and neither do we.

Child’s catechism – How did Abraham gain acceptance before God? Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Discussion – How would you contrast the Christian way of righteousness against other religious or secular ways of righteousness?

Prayer – Our merciful Father, we thank you that you justify the ungodly by faith in Jesus Christ and that you take such ungodly people as Abraham and turn them into fathers of the faith. Grant that we may also rest in faith in Jesus, and as a result of your Spirit’s work, be faithful to you. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – Genesis 12:1-4a

Genesis 12:1-4a – Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Summary – Genesis chapter 12 is one of the most important passages in the Bible. It references the call to Abram to leave his father’s land and to go to the promised land. God had promised that he would make Abram great and would bless all the families of the earth through him. Through Abram God would restore to the world what was lost by Adam . The promise involved giving him land, a Seed, and blessing all nations through him. When this promise is fully unpacked by the new covenant era, the land is the whole world, see Romans 4:13, the seed is Christ the new Adam, and the blessing of all nations is the gospel great commission bringing salvation through Christ to the multi-ethnic Church in all the world.

Insight – The story of Abraham is the story of a man who heard God’s word and then believed. It was Abraham’s faith that made him unique. Abram, as he was called then, believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Abraham’s faith in God meant that he would also step out to go the land God showed him. In other words he not only believed that God’s word was true, but then put his feet into action. In the New Testament we discover the promise that God made to Abraham now is true of us. We are incorporated into the promises God made to Abraham. This is especially clear in Romans 4:16, “The promise will be guaranteed to all descendants, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” What this means for us is just like Abraham we may have a place in the world which God provides, wherever that may be, we are the rightful heirs of the world (Rom 4:13). It also means that like Abraham we may be fruitful and have a “seed” whether that is physical children or spiritual influence or both, and we may be a blessing to future generations through our faithfulness. To the extent that we accomplish these things it will mean that we ourselves have acted like Abraham. We embraced God’s word in faith and then took action.

Child catechism – What did Abraham do when God called him? Abraham believed God’s word and acted on it.

Discussion – Do you think that God can bless you with place, purpose, and influence? Or do you think those kinds of blessings are reserved only for the people that were in the Bible?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we thank you for the example of father Abraham. Grant that we may also have the grace to hear your voice and trust in your Word and then take action to accomplish what you call us to do. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.