Year A – Palm Sunday – Philippians 2:5–11

Philippians 2:5–11 – Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Summary – The Church at Philippi was a healthy church, but not a perfect church. There were issues of disunity and disharmony (ch. 2-4). They needed the direct command, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). Paul extorted two women by name to, “live in harmony in the Lord” (4:2). In this well-know passage (ch. 2) he urges the church to make his joy complete, “by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2). Paul gives a deeply poetic basis for unity resulting from humility: be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus who humbled Himself even to death on a cross.

Insight – Have you ever heard a familiar tune with different lyrics? Sometimes we do this for fun, but sometimes we hear a new verse written by the songwriter, but was wasn’t recorded in the version we know. Though we’ve never heard these words before, we know the song. Paul is doing this here. He’s giving us a different verse to an old song – the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (chapter 53). The Servant of the Lord (Is. 53) empties or “pours out” himself unto death. He bears griefs and sorrows, is wounded, is bruised, is chastised, is oppressed, is afflicted, is cut off, is stricken, is put to grief, is an offering for sin, and has poured out His soul unto death for all “we like sheep that have gone astray.” Paul summarizes the entire humiliation of the Servant in “emptying Himself.” All of this, as Isaiah 53 anticipates, brings about an exaltation. The stone table of death is shattered when He was “bruised for our iniquities.”

Child’s Catechism – Why should we stop grumbling and complaining? Because we should be like Jesus who humbled Himself.

Discussion – Do you have any hard relationships with others? How can the example of Christ’s humility help you deal with difficult people in your life?

Prayer – [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.

Year A – Palm Sunday – Psalm 118

Psalms 118:1–2, 19–29  – O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!   2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.   20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. 27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.  28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.  29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Summary – Psalm 118 was used by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles after the exile. It calls worshipers to acknowledge the goodness of their Covenant Lord. The worshiper desires to enter into the gates of God’s house (temple). Then in the verses 22ff there is a turn toward Messianic prophecy. The builders rejected the chief cornerstone and yet it is the Lord’s doing. This must have been puzzling for worshipers anticipating Christ, but now it is crystal clear. This is the day the Lord made – the day of Christ’s rejection. The Psalm foreshadows Palm Sunday – Bind the procession with branches to the altar. Christ Himself entered into Jerusalem like a pilgrim with a festal procession with branches and then was rejected as the chief cornerstone. Through this God will save his people. O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good.

Insight (from Jared McNabb) – This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. This event calls to mind that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey the crowds were praising Jesus with the words from this Psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt 21:9). Later on in Matthew 21, Jesus quotes from verse 22 of this Psalm and applied it to himself. Christ was the stone that was rejected by the people, and he went to the cross. But his work on the cross was not defeat, but actually the work of the very foundation of the House of God, laying the cornerstone. The cornerstone of the building was the most important stone in constructing a building; it was foundational. Christ’s work on the cross has laid the foundation for our salvation.  What looked like rejection and defeat was really the cornerstone for history and our lives.  And THIS, “it is marvelous in our eyes! Let us rejoice and be glad!”

Child’s Catechism – How is Jesus described in this Psalm? Jesus is described as the chief cornerstone.

Discussion – In what ways is Christ the cornerstone of history? In what ways is Christ the cornerstone of your life?

Prayer – O Lord, You are our Rock, our Cornerstone, and we are thanking You for building the foundation of the Church and our salvation with Your own sacrifice of rejection, torture and death. Forgive our forgetfulness of this foundation and make us ever mindful: “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Amen.

Year A – Lent 5 – Romans 8:6-11

Romans 8:6-11 –  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law-indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Summary – The Epistle reading provides instruction on our new identity in the resurrection life of Jesus. Many get confused on the idea of being “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.” St Paul is speaking of our Identity in Christ vs our Identity in “fleshly” Adam. He means that “your are not in the sphere of Adamic flesh but in the sphere of the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (v9). Christians have a radically new identity from the fallen Adamic race of men through Christ Himself. The Spirit gives us life and shall give us resurrection bodies in the last day (v11). This new identity is to redefine everything about our life, who we are and what we do. We are the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

Insight – Imagine that you had been sick for a while and had accepted that were going to die soon. You had made all your final plans and you expected that you would not be around in a month or two. All your affairs were in order. But then after living that way for some time, the good news came that it’s all gone. You are completely healthy. There is no reason why you won’t live for decades and decades. Good news! Now you have a “new lease on life.” Now you are no longer identified as a terminally ill person, but a healthy person. This is a change of mindset. You would need to stop thinking about death and dying, and begin to think about life and living. You would then think of what you now “could” do, rather than what you “couldn’t” do. Now you have life. How are you going to live it? The passage above is teaching that we have a new identity in Christ and because we are united to Christ by the Spirit’s indwelling, we have resurrection life, now. The Old Testament promise that resurrection would come to Israel (Ez. 37) is true for all those connected by faith to Jesus (True Israel). New creation has come through His resurrection. Learn this verse: 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (NKJV)

Child’s Catechism – What does Jesus do for us? He gives life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit.

Discussion – What are some ways you identify yourself? By our work, our location, our talents, our family? What is the most important Identity that you have?

Prayer – [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.

Year A – Lent 3 – Romans 5:1-11

Romans 5:1-11: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Summary – In the last part of the previous chapter, it says Jesus was “delivered up because of our transgressions and was raised to-cause our justification” (4:25). The next verse (5:1) declares the powerful result of being declared one of God’s righteous people. We have peace objectively in the Hebraic sense – Shalom (wholeness, well-being, completeness) which should produce conscience-clearing rest/acceptance with God. Faithful Jews could (temporarily) enter into God’s peace-presence by the liturgy of the Temple, ascended and acceptable as the aroma of transfigured animal sacrifices. This kept the faithful longing in hope for a time of fulfillment. Chapter 5 says that the time has come! Now we have been justified – past tense – through Christ and currently we have (present tense) peace with God and enjoy a state of reconciliation which yields fruit inside-out. Hope is produced from the power of this peace. Without peace, then a desire for a better future is just anxiety. Only from a standing of peace with God is real hope even possible. And this hope has a present benefit. “Through the Holy Spirit who was given to us, our love for God wells up within our hearts” (5:5). The nature of true hope, powered by the Spirit, transforms desert hearts into streams in the desert. Our motivation is that God saves us when we are “unsaveable” of ourselves. Sovereign grace in salvation calls forth the cry, “Lord, Why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear Thy voice and enter while there’s room when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come.” (Watts). Because of the Justification, Peace, Hope, Love and Reconciliation in Christ – We boast in God. Our “stock” and pride is not in ourselves, our ethnic status, our culture, but Christ alone.

Insight – Romans 5:1 is worth knowing by heart – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace or “rest” in terms of Psalm 95, is the result of being right with God through Jesus’s completed work grasped by faith alone. Yet this faith is not “alone in the person justified” (Westminster Confession 11.2). This peace results in changed lives. In this case, those who believe, “stand and rejoice,” “persevere,”  have “character,” “hope,” and love. In Lenten pursuit, do you “stand” in Him? Do you live in joy? Are you persevering or giving way? Is your character being shaped by your peace with God? Does hope characterize your life? Do you walk in love toward others or hatred? If you have peace with God through Christ, cease any wars with yourself or anyone else.

Child’s Catechism – What do we have as a result of being justified by faith? We have peace with God.

Question to Consider – What is one result of peace with God do you need to exercise in your life?

Prayer – Father in heaven, thank you for gift of grace in Christ, that through His life, death and resurrection, we have acceptance and peace with You forever. Strengthen us in believing this and we are thanking You for changing our lives into those who stand faithfully, rejoice frequently, persevere in difficulties, have character to weather storms and especially, live with an outlook of hope and a an ever-present love for others. In Jesus’s mighty name we pray. 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 – Epiphany 4 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18–31 – For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Summary – This passage falls as a “parenthesis,” or a “side-note” in the midst of Paul dealing with a particular problem in the Corinthian church.  The Corinthians were boasting about which apostle they followed, in other words parading their “wisdom” around, showing off to other Christians how much they thought they knew.  Paul chastises them, reminding them that they’re all “on the same team.”  Then in this passage he uses his own preaching as an example to show them that the world’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, Paul’s gospel proclaims the crucified Christ who is the power and wisdom of God.  He goes on to show that God uses the weak things to shame the wise, so don’t boast in yourself: Christ is your life and your wisdom.

Insight –  Things can be upside-down in the kingdom of God sometimes.  Imagine if an extremely TALL person as well as a very, very SHORT person were standing beside each other, looking at a table, and I told them, “There is a $100 bill in front of you.”  Now imagine if the money was taped to the bottom of the table: the short person would say, “I see it!” while the tall person would say, “Where is it?”  Normally, people who are tall and strong are considered to be more powerful people, but in this situation, for all his strength, the tall person couldn’t see the money while the short person, looking up at the bottom of the table, could!  This is how the kingdom of God is.  Jesus told stories called “parables” so that the Pharisees whom everyone thought were really smart couldn’t understand, while simple fishermen could.  Paul teaches us the same thing in this passage of 1 Corinthians.  The people who we often think are the most smart, intelligent people think that the truth of God is false.  Just like the tall man who couldn’t see the money because he wasn’t looking in the right way, the people who say they will believe God if they can make the gospel “make sense” will miss it.  God calls people to himself by the preaching of Christ crucified so that we won’t think our own “smart-ness” is why we believe.  Jesus “became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Thank God today that He has revealed His truth to you: because it is a gift!

Child Catechism – What is the Good News you believe?  That Christ was crucified for me.

Discussion – Paul says that the Gospel is foolishness to “those who are perishing.”  Does this mean we shouldn’t try to gain wisdom?  Why/why not?  Paul says, “the world did not know God through wisdom.”  What do we know Him through?

Prayer – Dear God, you tell us that your foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.  Since in your great wisdom you have saved us through our crucified Christ to show us that we are not saved by our wisdom, we thank you for calling us to your truth.  We acknowledge our helplessness to find the truth without your grace and we pray that you give us the strength to cling to Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.  We pray this in His name.  Amen.

Contributed by Jon Herr

Year A – Advent 4 – Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a willing slave, of the Anointed King Jesus, called an apostle, distinguished in service for the Announcement of God, which he promised long before through His prophets in holy scriptures, concerning His Son, of the line of David in terms of biological ancestry, distinguished as Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, out of resurrection of the dead ones, Jesus the Anointed King, our Lord, in whom you are also called to belong to Jesus the Anointed King. To all that are in Rome, in the covenant love of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed King. (Romans 1:1-7, Gregg Strawbridge, trans.)

Background – The term “Christ” does not mean Jesus’ last name. Christ means the anointed One, but for what was this person to be anointed? King. Jesus is the anointed King. And of what is He king? He is the Lord over all. This is the key point in Romans. It seems that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth or nearby in about 57 A.D., as evident from the greetings of Gaius, who lived at Corinth (16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), and of Erastus (16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Phoebe (16:1-2), who possibly carried the letter, was from an area near Corinth. Why does Paul address the themes he does? In the first century there was a great displacement of the Jews due to some seditious behavior (Acts 18:2). “[In Corinth Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.” When Claudius died, Nero permitted refugee Jews back to Rome and it seems they were integrating into the Roman Christian congregations. Paul’s burden for his people is prominent in Romans and the very issues of integration of Jews and Gentiles are clear in Romans. Hence we find replete references to Jews throughout Romans (“Jews” – Rom. 1:16; 2:9f, 17, 28f; 3:1, 9, 29; 9:24; 10:12; “Israel” Rom. 9:6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25f; “My people/His people” Rom. 9:25f; 10:21; 11:1f; 15:10).

Let’s Start Where They Were – Imagine that you are a household slave, previously from a tribe conquered by one of the Roman legion. Imagine that you were once a “free,” but you were sold into slavery and are now a blacksmith to an aristocratic Roman family. You have always known that a great god exists above all gods and now other slaves in your household have told you of the Announcement that the true God is redeeming all peoples through a god-like man. You have begun to gather with those that  follow, “The Way” (Acts 9:2). If we listen to what they would have heard, Paul’s emphatic point to frame this letter is the “gospel.” But what is the gospel? Is it like “gospel preaching” or “gospel music” or “gospel fried chicken”? Is it a way to have a personal experience of peace and purpose? What did these first century believers hear. And perhaps more importantly, what did Paul think as he wrote the term. The word “gospel” has two connotations in Paul: one of the good news of the end of the exile (Is. 40-42), the other is quite Roman, as an announcement-celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor in Rome. Therefore, Paul means the “gospel” is God’s announcement fulfills prophecy of the royal enthronement of Israel’s anointed king, the Lord of the whole world. Jesus was the Davidic King in fulfillment of the Promised Seed (Ps. 110) and the resurrection made clear to the world that He is the Anointed King. “The root of Jesse shall rise to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope” (Isa. 11.10, cited Rom. 15.12). In a word, the “gospel-announcement” is that Jesus is the LORD.

Discussion – Why would a “gospel/goodnews” that Jesus is the King over all have been a problem in first century Rome? Why is a problem today?

Prayer – Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Reign of Christ)