Year A – Epiphany 7 – Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38–48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Summary – In the Sermon on the Mount thus far, we have seen 1) the beatitudes that picture character of the Kingdom of Jesus; Jesus embodied these characteristics and in His passion and death he was denied all of the blessings of the beatitudes. poor in spirit (humble), who are mournful (who acknowledge sin), are meek, desire righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted and are slandered for righteousness sake. 2) Kingdom people that express the character of Jesus are salt and light in the world and they are righteous, beyond the righteousness of hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. In this section, Jesus directly contradicts the teachings of the religious leadership of Israel. This is signaled by a variation of the statement, “You have heard that it was said.”

Matthew 5:21 You have heard that the ancients were told … But I say to you (MURDER VI Commandment)
Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (ADULTERY VII Commandment)
> Matthew 5:31 It was said  . . . but I say to you (DIVORCE IX Commandment)
> Matthew 5:33 you have heard that the ancients were told . . . but I say to you (FALSE VOWS III & IX Commandment)
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (EYE FOR AN EYE X Commandment)
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR VI Commandment)

How should we interpret these? Here are three principles: 1) Continuity – Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, we should accept that Jesus is not contradicting Moses or other prophets. Rather, he is contradicting the legalistic interpretation of the Law that came through the Pharisees and scribes. 2) Radicalism in the application of the Law and Prophets – He is taking the Law to the root, not just actions, but motivations, words, emotions. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament too, such as Psalms 15:1–3:  “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, …Psalms 15:4 He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” 3) Jesus uses hyperbole, an expansion and exaggeration to make a point.  We use these too, “I’ve told you a million times.” “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” “I have a million things to do.” Jesus does this in this way: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you … If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off.”

Insight – Unlike the Pharisaic approach which claimed righteousness by not physically murdering and by not physically committing adultery, etc., – we cannot earn anything through  keeping the Law because we regularly  desire, emote, and speak in ways that violate the character of God. It is impossible for sinners to achieve righteousness through the Law. Jesus raised the Standard so high in His interpretation of the Law that we must find another way. That way is His perfect righteousness which we receive by faith.

Discussion – Since we cannot be “perfect” in thought, word, and deed, do we give up seeking to be obedient to God’s Law? How do we live with sin, yet continue in faith and seek to be obedient? [Remember the Collect for this day]

Prayer – O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

Year A – Epiphany 7 – Psalm 119:33-40

Psalms 119:33–40 –  Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. 38 Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you. 39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. 40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

Summary – Many students of the Bible know that Psalm 119, like a few other Psalms, is set as an acrostic. So the first 8 verses begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph), then the next 8 verses begin with the second letter (beth), etc. In order to capture this, below is a paraphrase of these verses, using the English alphabet (now we are up to the letter E) as a reference point:

Educate me, O Lord, in the way of Thy statutes, And I shall observe it to the end.
Enlighten my understanding, that I may observe Thy law, And keep it with all my heart.
Eagerly cause me to walk in the path of Thy commandments, For I delight in it.
Encourage my heart with Thy testimonies, And not to dishonest gain.
Extinguish my desire to gaze at vanity, And revive me in Thy ways.
Establish Thy word to Thy servant, As that which produces reverence for Thee.
Exonerate me from dreaded reproach, For Thine ordinances are good.
Even now, I long for Thy precepts; Revive me through Thy righteousness.

Discussion – Why does this Psalm move through the alphabet? Why does it go from “A to Z”?

Prayer – †Collect for Seven Sunday after Epiphany – O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Year A – Proper 9 – Romans 7:15-25a

Romans 7:15–25: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Summary and Insight – How often have we known what was right, and desired to do it, but yet for some reason always fall into the trap of sin. Part of what Paul is doing here is describing times when believers fall into sin. This passage can be hard to understand, part of the reason for that is the different uses of the word “law.”  One of the Old Testament background to this passage i believe is Jeremiah 31 where God states that he will “put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  Outward conformity to the Law cannot save a person, the Law cannot deliver us from “this body of death.” Only through the death and resurrection of Christ can we be delivered from death.  And through his work, God will write the Law on our hearts and help us to serve him in righteousness.

Discussion – Can you relate to Paul’s statements, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Are there some practical ways to avoid doing the things you hate? Later Paul was write, “Make no provision for the flesh and its lusts” (Rom. 13).
Prayer – Holy Father, thank you for you’re son Jesus Christ, in whom the Old Testament is fulfilled. We thank you that Christ has completed the work that we could never accomplish ourselves.  We thank you, that you have called us from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We ask that through you’re Son you would write you’re law on our hearts, that we would live in conformity with your will.  AMEN.

Contributed by Jared McNabb

Year A – Lent 2 – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Second Sunday in Lent
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. Morover, 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 8 – Exodus 24:12-18

Last Sunday after Epiphany
Exodus 24:12-18 – The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, ‘Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.’ Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and nights.

Summary – In this passage in Exodus, we read of Moses going to the mountain of God to receive the Ten Commandments in tablets of stone. Moses had already spoken these commandments to people (ch. 20) and explained their application (ch. 20ff). Moses is now called into God’s presence to receive the actual tablets of stone for the instruction of the Israelites (v12). It is in this context that God reveals His plans for the tabernacle (Ex. 25:9), the place for the Israelites to worship and draw near to Yahweh. As the last verse in this passage explains Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.

Insight – This is one of those extraordinary events which form the foundation of Israelite life. Moses receives direct revelation from God about two primary pillars: the Law and the Tabernacle. This Sunday in the Church Year is sometimes referred to as Transfiguration Sunday, because the readings are about Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain (e.g., Note the Epistle, 2 Peter 1:16ff and Matthew 17). The connection is going to the top of the mountain meet God. As is indicated in the beginning of the passage, the tablets of God as well as the tabernacle of God were for the instruction of the Israelites. Both of these pointed to something beyond themselves. Ultimately they pointed to Christ the “end of the law for righteousness” (Rom. 10:4) and the true Tabernacle who has come among us (John 1:14). Another connection is the 40 day theme which is very fitting as we approach the lenten season, remembering Christ’s wilderness fasting and temptations.

Catechism – How long did Moses stay on the mountain with God? 40 days and 40 nights.

Discussion – What are some other 40 day periods in the Bible? Which one do you think is the most significant?

Prayer – Lord our God, we thank you for revealing to us your word in the law of God and your purpose for drawing near to us in the tabernacle. We thank you that now we worship in spirit and truth as we approach You through the blood of Jesus Christ our Savior. Grant that we may ever be faithful to obey your word and draw near in your presence, in Christ’s name, Amen.

Year B – Proper 26 – Mark 12:28-34

Mark 12:28–34 NRSV – “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.”

Summary – In the context various religious groups are questioning and even trying to trap Jesus. In this case a scribe is more sincere and ask Jesus to prioritize the Old Testament Laws. The Jews of Jesus day counted 613 laws. So Rabbis often tried to prioritize making some laws more important than others – for example keeping the sabbath for Pharisees or keeping sacrificial laws for the Sadducees. Jesus summarizes the chief commandments as first loving the Lord God and second loving your neighbor as yourself. As a result of the scribe’s approval of this, Jesus sees in him a genuine desire to accept the truth and commends him that he is “not far from the kingdom” which is another way of saying he is not far from accepting the King of the kingdom.

Insight – Have you heard the saying, Life is complicated? There are times when we really are confused about what to do. We sometimes find ourselves in situations and we don’t know what to do or where to turn. In many ways the Jews of the first century were in this kind of situation. The Sadducees had one view, the Pharisees another, the Herodians another, and the zealots another. Those who sincerely awaited God’s Messianic kingdom were pulled in many directions. It is just in this setting that Jesus simplifies our duties: love God and love your neighbor. Despite all the other lesser commands, the right categories are simply to love God and love neighbor. Everything else must fit under that. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. When we don’t know what to do, we should ask what duty do I have in this situation and those duties are summarized as loving God and loving others.

Catechism – What are the chief commandments? The chief commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.

Discussion – How are these chief commandments to love God and to love our neighbor a way to fulfill other laws like the Sabbath (4th Commandment) or Honor father and mother (5th Commandment)?

Prayer – Lord God we do love you and we desire to love you more since you have given us such abundant love, mercy and grace through Jesus Christ who died for us and ever lives as our king. Grant that we are strengthened to love others and give ourselves in service to them, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Year B – Proper 23 – Mark 10:17–31

Mark 10:17–31 NRSV –    As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 10:19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 10:30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Summary – This passage usually goes by the label, The Rich Young Ruler. This RYR claimed to keep the commandments, but when Jesus challenged him to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” – he declined. He failed to keep the First Commandment: worshiping the Lord alone. Then Jesus comments that it is hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom. But Peter then points out that disciples did just that, they left all to follow Jesus. What will we receive? To this Jesus makes clear that they will receive much, in this life and the very inheritance the RYR was seeking, eternal life in the age to come.

Insight – Have you ever been down a road that ended with a T or a split into two directions? The road you were on ended, now what? This is what happened to those who met Jesus.  Jews in that day seeking the life of the Messianic age to come found themselves at the end of the historic purpose of the Mosaic Law. Now a new road must be chosen. You don’t get to these two new roads until you travel all the way down the road of Israel’s following of Torah-Law. But at the end of this Law-road, they could turn to the Pharisaic Law-keeping direction. Or they could turn to the Fulfillment of the Law, Jesus. This young man was zealous to keep the Law. He came to Jesus to seek advice. What further Law faithfulness must I do, Jesus? But Jesus was the other road to take. Jesus own words here sorted out whether this man had the heart to follow the Law all the way to the new Road. The new road would be marked not by allegiance to Moses Law, though that was a revelation of God’s character. Now the final revelation had come, Jesus. Follow me, says Jesus. The way to inherit the eternal life of the age to come is to follow the Messiah of the Age to Come into the age to come. By following Him, one will keep the moral aspects of the Law (of course), but by Not following Him, no amount of Law keeping will bring eternal life.

Catechism – What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must follow Jesus to inherit eternal life.

Discussion – Why did Jesus speak of God alone being good to this Rich Young Ruler?

Prayer – God our Father, we thank you for revealing the true end and purpose of the Law, Jesus Christ. We ask that you would help us follow him, casting away all things that hinder us from serving him and using all of our blessings to honor and glorify him. We ask this in his name, Amen.