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.

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Year C – Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Summary – Following on the heels of chapter 12’s final verse, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way,” chapter 13 unpacks the more excellent way.  Commonly called the “Love Chapter,” the translation above uses the word “love” 9 times in only 13 verses!  Three major sections of the chapter break up into (1) Action Without Love = Nothing, vss 1-3, (2) What Love Is, vss 4-7, and (3) Maturity in the Faith will be Accompanied by Greater Love, vss 8-13.  Of note, section (2) is often read at weddings.  Certainly, these characteristics apply to marital/spousal love; however Paul is really getting at love among Christians!  That really changes the perspective.  Finally, verse 8 comes with a classic debate: when do tongues cease (or do they at all, as Pentecostals would ask)?  Some say the “perfect” that comes is the Bible, meaning the gift of tongues has been silent for nearly millennia.  Others say, more rightly, that the “perfect” is the advent of Christ, or our going to Him.  When in the presence of the Savior, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge which all deal with the knowledge of God, will be swept away for our knowledge of God will be complete and full in the consummation of our salvation.  Nevertheless, as a Christian grows closer to Christ in maturity, the importance of the “revelatory” or “higher gifts” (12:31) shrinks to almost nothing.  Beyond a ministry of spectacular ministry of tongues, healing, and prophecy, a life of consistent and self-sacrificial and patient love is the “greatest” and “more excellent” way.

Insight – Jesus tells the story of two sons, perhaps named Yolev and Elias.  Their father, Abinadab, tells Yolev something like, “Go plow the field today, please.”  Yolev says to his dad, “Ah sorry, I’m going fishing in the creek with Shemuel later.  Not going to be able to plow.”  So their father goes to Elias and asks him the same thing.  “Sure Dad, I’ll do it this afternoon after I finish cleaning the horse barn.”  A couple hours go by and their father sees Elias sleeping on the couch with a copy of ESPN the magazine on his chest!  Abinadab goes out to the field to see what’s going on and finds Yolev, who was supposed to be fishing, happily plowing the field.  “What happened to fishing?” Abinadab asked.  “Well Dad, I decided that fishing could wait: helping you out was more important,” Yolev said.  So which son actually pleased his father?  Yolev did, even though he originally said he couldn’t do the work.  You see, saying “I’m sorry” if you don’t mean it is like going fishing without tying a hook on your string.  St. Paul tells us that we can do the greatest things, the nicest things, or believe things strongly, but if we don’t love those around us, those things are pointless!  God calls us to be people who really love one another, rather than just pretending to.

Child Catechism – What is patient and kind?  Love.

Discussion – What is the relationship between Paul’s analogy of the “child” and the role of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge in verses 8-13?  Discuss the difference between looking at someone in a mirror versus seeing them face to face.

Prayer – Our Loving God, we know what love is because your Son laid down His life for us.  We desire your love to be spread throughout the world through our service to those around us.  Destroy in us, we beseech you, the pride which causes us to do good things for our own glory, and replace it with a spirit of rejoicing in the Truth, so that great things would be done for your glory.  And prepare us for that moment when our dim knowledge of you is stripped away and we will be like you for we will see you as you are.  Through your Grace, Amen.

John 13 – Jesus Serves the Disciples

A Reading of John 13 – “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. 2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and *laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself…”

A Reflection on John 13 – It is still Epiphany in the Church Calendar, but as we look at the text, we zoom forward to Maundy Thursday. We find Jesus (in Jn 13) at the table. John 13 gives a unique example of simple, lowly service as love. Unlike the other Gospels, John gives us more teachings of Jesus at the Last Supper. The glorious collection of truths in John 13-17 begin with this teaching on love. “A new commandment I give to you.” And this teaching begins with an action, an enacted parable. All of the rich words of John 13-17 unfold just as Jesus unfolds the towel to wash (or “wipe” like Mary did to Jesus) the disciples’ feet. The dirt on their sandal-shod feet was not what we sweep up in the kitchen. It was the build-up of the filth of excrement, decaying animals, rotted food, the “waste” of open sewage which ran in the streets. It was the foul remnants of a defiled world. To clean this was the lowest servant’s work. It could not even be required of a Hebrew slave, in Israel only Gentile slaves could wash feet.

Jesus’s reason for taking this sub-human role is striking: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God — rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about.” As the earthly ministry and mission of Jesus was about to reach its climax, as He was fully aware and this crested in His thoughts – What did He do? He arose to do the lowliest service to scrub off the filth of uncleanness.  Jesus unexpectedly provides an action to explain His mission. He made vivid His teaching by this parable. We are to love one another. The next day, Good Friday, Jesus would love them in a more unimaginable way. He would do the work, not of a domestic (Gentile) slave, but of a domestic animal, a sacrificial animal. He would take upon Himself, not the filth of feet, but the blackest wickedness of all the world of evil men. His servanthood with the basin and towel, though shocking to His disciples, is only a small, small example of being the Suffering Servant for us: “And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore … He was pierced through for our transgressions” (Is. 53:3-5).

If through Christ’s crossly and costly work, you have His love in you, What simple actions would show your love to others in your family, church or community?

Year A – Lent 3 – Romans 5:1-11

Third Sunday in Lent
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 C – Seventeenth Sunday in Pentecost – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NRSV

12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Summary – In this passage Paul praises God for being gracious and merciful to him, the chief of sinners. Paul’s past sin of persecuting the church and blaspheming God did not make him unworthy of salvation, he testifies. For the whole reason Jesus Christ came into this world was to save sinners, even the foremost! And Paul says that it was for that very reason that he in fact did receive mercy – because he was the worst of all sinners, and Jesus Christ wanted to use him to show other sinners that their sins do not disqualify them from receiving eternal life.

 Insight – How many people have you heard say something like, “Oh, I can’t come to God yet, I need to get my life right first, and then I’ll come.” Or, “God would never want me in heaven, I am too much of a sinner.” Or, “My sins are way too great, I’m already going to hell, I know it.”  Well, the one thing that is true about such statement is that the person is a sinner. This is true. And yes, it is true that sin separates us from God. But to think that God does not desire a persons salvation because of their sin is completely backwards. God desires to save people who are sinners! “This is a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance,  that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” God is not in the business of helping those who have it all together. God desires more than anything to save sinners. Your sin is not a hindrance from you obtaining eternal life, in fact, being a sinner is a prerequisite! And God demonstrates His patience in saving sinners by showing us in Paul’s life, that if God saved the worst of sinners, He desires to save you as well.

Catechism – Q. For who did Christ Jesus came into the world to save? A. Sinners.

Discussion – Does your sin ever make you think that God no longer wants you? If you were a sinner before God saved you and chose to show His love for you, how much more so does God love you and want you to be saved now that you are reconciled to Him by His grace and mercy?

Prayer – To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, honor and glory be your name forever and ever. For in your infinite and everlasting patience, you came to this world to save sinful humans. Our sins is not a stumbling block for you saving us. Thank you God that you you save sinners totally and completely, even the worst. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Year C – Proper 18 – Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25–33 – Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Summary – These words in red, of Jesus, are some of the most challenging in the Bible. Christ demands complete allegiance and discipleship. It is put in strong language that is certainly an overstatement (hyperboly): “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple….give up all your possessions.” This passage tells us to “estimate the cost” or in more familiar language, “count the cost” (v28) of following Jesus. We must give up everything that keeps us from following Jesus.

Insight – Following Jesus does not always mean immediate blessings to family, possessions and personal esteem. We must count the cost of what may be lost is this pursuit. We may lose family. We may lose possessions. We may lose respect and esteem from others. Particularly in those times (such as the first century) when following Jesus was not understood and in fact many of those first century followers were harshly persecuted (by family members and religious kinsmen like Saul of Tarsus) and many were martyred. Yes we must be willing to love Jesus and obey Him so much more than our natural relationships of spouse, parents, children, that our love for them may be comparably “hate.” On the other hand, most of Christians today in following Christ, need to do so by loving “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.” It is by submitting to a Christian parent, by sacrificially loving a discontent wife, by leading our children spiritually and continually, and patiently caring for brothers and sisters – that is exactly what it means for many of us to follow Christ.

Catechism – What does it mean to “count the cost”? We must give up everything that keeps us from following Jesus.
Discussion – What kinds of things in your life keep you from following Jesus completely? What one thing could you have done differently today that would have helped you express your love for Christ better?Prayer – Heavenly Father, we thank you for your continued mercy on us, weak disciples of Jesus, for we have failed to count the cost of following Him. Grant that we who love too much the things that are of no eternal value, may set our love more and more upon our Savior, so that all of our other relationships may glorify Him who bore the cross for us. In Jesus Name.

Year C – 5th Sunday of Easter – John 13:31-35

Text–31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35 ESV)

Summary–Up to this point in the upper room, Jesus’ teachings to his disciples had been veiled and somewhat guarded.  Not all of those who were present with him were of the same spirit.  Judas was about to give Jesus over to his enemies.  As long as Judas was there, Christ seemed to hold back his teaching until the traitor departed.  With Judas gone, the die was cast and the atmosphere was cleared.  Jesus could tell them more clearly what was about to happen in his coming glory and what that would mean for them.  Christ was going to be cruxified, and they would not be able to follow him.  But as we shall read, the pattern of self-sacrificial love will be set for his disciples to follow in a way previously not asked of them.  They would receive a “new commandment” to love one another as Christ loved them to the glory of the father through the Christ the son.

Insight–So much confusion surrounds the idea of love.  What does it really mean anyway?  Is it mutual affection between two parties?  Our government would define love in these terms as it walks down the path to destruction on defining marriage.  Who cares who the parties are in the marriage bond, so long as they love each other.  Do you love him or her or them or it, then go right ahead and marry them.  But this is where they get it all wrong.  Love is not about being able to do whatever you feel like so long as it makes you happy.  Jesus is love and defines it for us here in this text.  John calls this a new commandment which really isn’t new at all.  The summary of the Old Testament law is to love God with everything we have and love our neighbor as ourselves.  So what is so new about this commandment?  The answer in large measure comes from John’s first epistle.  He tells us in 1 Jn 3:16-18, “This is how we know what love is; Jesus laid down his life for us.  And we out to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity for him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.”  By Jesus coming into this world and taking on our nature, and dying on the cross, his example is a new commandment.  Up to this point, all was shadow and pointed to a future understanding of love.   This is what makes it new.  Here is the new pattern; we love sacrificially and by our actions will we show ourselves truly to be Christ’s disciples.  God grant that we stop loving ourselves and start loving according to Christ’s new commandment. 

Catechism–(Q) How does the world know you are a Christian? (A) That you love one another.

Discussion–What ways can you love those around you as Christ loved his disciples?  Do you have to die for your neighbor in order to love him like Christ describes in this text? 

Prayer–Father God how amazing it is to realize how much you loved us by sending your own son to leave the majesty of heaven to save us from your wrath.  Lord God give us new hearts to love what we previously hated.  Awaken us to love you by loving our neighbors as Christ loved his church.  Let the world glorify you in seeing how we love one another.  Father it is in your name that we pray through the mediator of your Son by the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Contributed by Michael Fenimore

Year C – 5th Sunday In Lent – John 12:1-9

Gospel Lesson – John 12:1-9 NRSV

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Summary – It was six days before the Passover, and Mary and Martha and Lazarus had Jesus over for dinner. Many of the Jews were looking to kill Jesus because he had raised Lazarus from the dead, and as a result, many were believing in him. So this was most likely an intimate and low profile Sabbath dinner. Martha served, like usual, and Mary sat at Jesus feet, like usual (Luke 10:38ff). Here, Mary shows her love and devotion for Jesus by pouring a very expensive perfume onto his feet and wiping his feet with her hair. The scent of the perfume filled the house, much like Mary’s love for Jesus. Judas grumbled, saying that she should have sold the ointment and given the money to the poor. He didn’t actually care about the poor, he wanted the money for himself. Jesus tells Judas, “Leave her alone, she intended to keep it for the day of my burial.”  

Insight – “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” Mary’s love for Jesus was known to all in that room that evening. It was so real you could smell it. Her heart was so overwhelmed with love that she freely and joyfully took her most precious and expensive gift and lavished it on Jesus. But contrasted with Mary’s love, is Judas’ heart, which is found cold and calculating, diabolical and thieving. His is a love of self. Not thinking about giving, only about taking. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” By entertaining Christ in our hearts and homes, having Him always as the guest of honor, we spread the beautiful fragrance of His love everywhere we go. This Lent, may we be like Mary who has once again chosen the good portion, by filling the room with the fragrance of her love for Christ. By doing so, she blesses everyone in the room, and is an aroma of life. Let us seek to do the same, and find real tangible ways we can anoint Christ in each other through acts of love and devotion.

 Catechism – What does Mary’s perfume remind us of? That we are the aroma of Christ, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

Discussion – Discuss the amount of love that Mary had for Jesus. Discuss how our lives give off “aromas.” How can this aroma be unto life or unto death?

Prayer – Almighty and Most Magnificent Father, we praise you this day, with hearts full of the fragrance of love for the Blessed Lord Jesus. Give us grace to anoint the Lord with love and thanksgiving, that we might accompany Him in His death, and rise to life with Him in His resurrection, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere, as life unto those who are being saved. In Jesus Holy Name we pray, Amen.

Submitted by Michael Shover

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 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.