Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Acts 7:55-60

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Summary – Despite the tragic subject matter, this is really a precious, tender portrait of Stephen’s death, because of the ministry of Christ to him in the midst of his death (Ps 23:5).  Blessed by the light of Christ’s face shining upon him, literally, Stephen was granted sight of Heaven, and we’re told specifically that he saw Christ ‘standing’ to watch as His faithful servant was attacked.  Did you know that this is the only time in the New Testament where you’ll find Christ ‘standing’ at the right hand of the Father?  He is always otherwise found regally seated there, but not at this moment.  Christ knew the terror of a moment like that and He was not unaffected by it – He was not simply a casual Heavenly observer or disinterested witness. He was moved to His feet.  He’s not a High Priest above being touched by our pains (Heb 4:15).

Insight –  We are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). But there is a time when our faith will be transformed into sight; our vision into beholding. Stephen’s faith was sight at this moment. Christ was risen indeed and not only risen, but ascended and received into the most honored position of Heaven: the right Hand of the Father’s throne. Since Christ was there, it is only through Him that anyone can now approach the Father.  And with the sight of this, Stephen’s heart was no longer troubled.  He not only faced his violent death faithfully, but found the grace to repeat the words of His Savior, praying mercy on his foes . . . a prayer that was  answered, at least in part, through the life of the chief of sinners, to whom we’re also introduced in this passage: Saul, who would become St. Paul.

Child’s Catechism -What did Stephen see? He saw Jesus standing at the right Hand of the Father as his advocate.

Discussion – Why were the men so angry with Stephen?  Specifically, they lost control when he claimed that Christ was at the right hand of the Father, why was this statement so infuriating to them?

Prayer – Merciful Father, our times are in Your good hands.  We praise You for caring for us, Your people, so tenderly.  We praise and thank you for the way you shepherd us through the hardships You have for us.  We praise  You for Your steadfast love and sufficient grace.  And we praise You for giving us a Savior like Christ, Who was acquainted with suffering, and apart from Whom, no one can come to You.  Give us His heart of mercy and cause the light of His face to shine on us in our dark hours we pray, in His name, Amen.

(Contributed by Pastor Ben Rossell)

Year A – 1 Peter 1:17-23 – Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 1:17-23: If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Summary – Peter addresses those who are “in exile,” those who are scattered about, probably due to persecution. He encourages them to remember to behave in such a way as to acknowledge that God is impartial and his judgment is fair and based on the deeds of people. So, live with reverent fear. It also calls for them to remember that they were redeemed by Christ’s work, his blood. They have come to trust the God who raised Jesus from the dead. They have been born anew according to the word of the Gospel.

Insight – There is a saying, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Whenever there is a scare, whenever people believe that some major calamity is about to happen, when people prepare themselves for the worst, they tend to think of how they will defend themselves. I am thinking of Y2K: when people thought things may come to a crash because of computer failures. People stocked up on guns and ammunition. Thankfully, no one got a chance to test out their desperate measures philosophy. Peter is telling those who were in a desperate situation to remember that God’s judgment is impartial and according to deeds. No one may justify themselves because the circumstances are dire. When a person is suffering or in persecution or facing direct adversity, one may not excuse their bad behavior because of those circumstances. As James 1:20 says, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Rather, we are to look to Christ to redeemed us, who was raised from the dead and has given us a new kind of life. The best preparation for desperate times, even of persecution, is to practice being like Jesus who sacrificed himself in the midst of suffering.

Child’s catechism – How does God judge? God judges impartially and according to our deeds.

Discussion – Has anyone ever made fun of you? Has anyone directly attacked you for your faith? Did it make you feel like you wanted to retaliate against them?

Prayer – Almighty God, in this Eastertide, lead us to a better understand of the meaning of your Son’s death on the cross and especially, the Resurrection. Grant that we may be more like Christ who was like a lamb led to slaughter and who gave himself for others, resulting in true exaltation and victory. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Year C – The Fourth Week of Lent – Luke 151-3,11-32

Gospel Lesson – Luke 15:1-3,11-32 NRSV

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Summary – This classic story is known to us as “The Prodigal Son.” While most of the narrative is fixed on the wayward son, the real “moral of the story” has to do more with the father’s forgiveness than with the younger son’s repentance. In the story the father symbolizes God. The prodigal son symbolizes the tax collectors and sinners of verse 1 specifically, and generally all who are lost in sin. The elder brother symbolizes the self righteous Scribes and Pharisees of verse 1, or anyone for that matter who claims to serve God, while resenting the fact that God forgives sinners. Jesus’ teaching is simple and powerful – through God’s gracious and unmerited forgiveness, those who are lost in sin and not worthy to be considered sons, are restored to son-ship and made heirs of the kingdom. We should rejoice.

Insight – While rummaging through the pig slop looking for food, the lost son realizes his self inflicted predicament. He comes to his senses, and goes home and tells his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your slaves.” The younger son was an heir, but he spurned that blessing, and lost it. He repented, and was content to being only a slave in his Father’s house. His father was not content with him being a slave though, and restores him to his status as a son and an heir. The older son, though externally faithful, was an heir, and yet did not recognize the blessings he had. Rather he considered himself a slave (v. 29). Through anger, un-thankfulness, resentment, and self-righteousness, the older son that was an heir found himself not on the inside feasting with his long lost brother and his father, but rather on the outside (v. 28). He had refused to go into the feast, and thus he had disinherited himself from the blessings of his father.

This Lenten season, let us be reminded once again what Galatians 4 says, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7). True sons repent. True sons are thankful. True sons count their blessings and do not consider their service to God as slavery. Therefore be encouraged that you are an heir of God, and that you have the Spirit of His Son given to you at your baptism. But take heed, lest your heart becomes deceitful and wicked and unthankful and resentful at God’s goodness toward you and towards others. If not checked now, you might not have opportunity to check it later. Then you might just find yourself on that final day, just like the older son, on the outside of the feast looking in. Take the time now and confess your sins, be thankful that you are one of God’s children, and that you have other brothers and sisters to feast with in the kingdom of God, especially your Big Brother, Jesus who purchased the feast, and your adoption, with his own blood.

Catechism – Why is the Lord’s Supper a celebratory meal? Because we were once dead, but have come to life, we were lost, and have been found.

Discussion – Discuss the importance of repentance and thankfulness, and the relationship that has to being a son and an heir of God.

Prayer – O Lord, our Father, we give you thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We were dead, and your Spirit made us to live. We were lost, and you found us. We were hungry, and you feed us with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. You prepare a feast for us when we deserve to eat with the pigs. You embrace us anew with love and joy, even after we rejected you and spurned our inheritance. Thank you so much Father for loving us, and giving us the Spirit of your Son Jesus, that we might cry to you, Abba, Father. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Submitted by Michael Shover

Year B – Proper 17 – James 1:17–27

James 1:17–27 NRSV –    Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 1:20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Summary – Though there are different views, I think James (the brother of John) wrote this Epistle very early prior to his martyrdom (Acts 12:2) in the context of the church in Jerusalem prior to the expansion into the Gentile world. This is a time when Jewish persecution is rising against the followers of Jesus. [For more information on the background see my paper here.] In this passage we see that James exhorts his followers that since they were given new spiritual birth by the word of truth, they should receive this word and walk according to it. One of the temptations when there is adversity is to be quick to anger, but James urges, “for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

Insight – In getting angry, some of us are like coal which takes a whole other fire to even get our ire up at all. And some of us are like gasoline. The slightest spark creates an explosion robbing the atmosphere of oxygen temporarily.  Some of us suppress our anger impulses and have a nice 500 degree, grey charcoal fire which is good for grilling for several hours. Others of us have a five minute solar flare which ends in domestic abuse charges. What are you like? To this challenge James gives us very practical advice. If we listened righteously and spoke effectively, that would eliminate most wrath before it caught on fire.

Catechism – What does our anger not produce? Our anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

Discussion – What gets you the  most angry? What happens when you get angry?

Prayer – Father in heaven, your are gracious and kind, your wrath is always just but our wrath is always unjust. Grant to us the grace to be slow to anger and to be quick to hear. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.