Year A – Advent 1 – Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah’s Messianic Vision – The Last Days Mountain (Isaiah 2:1-5)
Now it will come about that In the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. 2:3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 2:4 And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. 2:5 Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Overview –  The Last Days. Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic time is that “in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD” will be raised up. This refers to the “last days” of the Old Covenant ( Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). The NT was written during the transition of the two covenant ages, after the reign of Messiah had begun (1Cor. 15:22-25). The Apostles made clear that the “heavenly city of Jerusalem” (Zion) had been raised up through the ascension of Christ (Heb. 12:22, Gal. 4:26).

The Last Mountain. The “last” or the “chief” mountain is Jerusalem above (Heb. 12:22) where Christ sits at God’s right hand and is manifest in Resurrection Day worship. The result of Zion’s exaltation is that “all the nations stream to it”  to go the “house of the God of Jacob” (2:2-3) to worship. Converted peoples from all nations come to learn to “walk in His paths.” He will send His word forth from this place, which is the Church of Jesus Christ, manifest in diverse congregations through all the world.

Insight – The Last Battle. The result of the Word going forth from Zion (the new covenant Church which is the meeting of heaven and earth) is that justice is rendered (2:4), peace is cultivated and the nations walk in the light of Christ (2:4-5). The well-known poetry of this passage is beautiful: “swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Implements of war will become productive tools, rather than destructive weapons. This is our hope for the gospel victory through the spiritual warfare of Isaiah’s Messiah, ruling in our midst.

Child Catechism – What is the “mountain of the house of the Lord”? The Church of Jesus Christ.

Prayer – O Lord, as we rest in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, grant that His gospel would transform the nations in peace and bring about the change poetically pictured in Isaiah that nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war again, but rather walk in Your light. In Christ’s name and for His cause we pray, Amen.

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Year C – Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost – Philemon 1-12

Philemon 1-21 NRSV

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Summary – Paul wrote a letter to a Christian man named Philemon. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus (which means “useful”) who had stolen money from Philemon and then ran away. In God’s providence, Onesimus ends up meeting Paul who was in prison in Rome (v.10). Under Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian. Paul attempts to reconcile the broken relationship between Onesimus and Philemon, so he writes this letter to Philemon appealing to him to accept Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord (v.16). Now that Onesimus is a Christian he is more “useful” than he was before, and so it would benefit Philemon to accept him back (v.11). Paul also appeals to Philemon to charge the debt that Onesimus owes Philemon to Paul’s account (v. 18-19). Paul sent this letter to Philemon by the hand of Onesimus. Tradition tells us that Onesimus later became a bishop in the Church, proving himself to be more “useful” than anyone had expected.

Insight – The key theme of this letter, is reconciliation – that is, making peace between two parties who were hostile toward each other. Undoubtedly there was tension and strife between Philemon and Onesimus since Onesimus had stolen from Philemon. But Paul, reflecting on the work of the Lord Jesus, seeks to bring peace and reconciliation to a broken relationship. We were once hostile toward God, and at enmity with him, and had accumulated a massive amount of debt of sin, that we could never repay. But Jesus, on the cross, charges our debt to His account, and makes peace between us and the Father, thus reconciling us forever (v. 15). Paul seeks to do the same for Philemon and Onesimus.  This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace in freely justifying sinners.

Catechism – What does Onesimus mean?  Onesimus means “useful.”

Discussion – Discuss “reconciliation”, and apply that to the Christian’s relationship with God. Discuss ways to seek reconciliation with others. Discuss charging the debt to another’s account.

Prayer – Dear Lord God, we praise you for reconciling us to yourself, through the cross of the Christ, and canceling the debt that we owed you. Please grant us grace to be useful to you and others in this life, as we live debt free lives of gratitude. In Jesus name, Amen.

 Submitted by Michael J. Shover

Year B – Proper 7 – Mark 4:35–41

Mark 4:35–41 NRSV –    On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Summary – In this remarkable episode in the ministry of Christ, the disciples and the Lord are on the Sea of Galilee in a small boat. In the previous chapter Christ had been pressed hard by many people and could hardly eat, let alone rest. Finally some peace and quiet in the back of the boat on a cushion. This body of water is known for sudden tempests and it seems that just as Jesus began sleeping soundly a tempest arose. The disciples were in panic mode but Jesus slept. He had no fear of the circumstances. Waking Him they cried out to Him. Famously Jesus calmed the wind and the waves with His command. The disciples were astonished at His power.

Insight – Have you ever been caught in a storm? Do you fear thunder and lightening? It really depends on where you are. If you are inside a nice home with no trees around then there’s nothing much to fear in a thunderstorm But if you are in a small sail boat that is taking on water, then fear is a natural response. But what do we do when we are afraid. A  children’s song by Steve Greene teaches a simple biblical truth, “When I am afraid I will trust in You, trust in You” (from Psalm 56:3). In this case the disciples were afraid, but they didn’t follow the wisdom of the Psalm and “trust in You.” Their fear did not lead to faith but to freaking out. Before Christ rebuked the storm, He rebuked the hearts of the disciples for their lack of faith. Keep in mind that Christ had performed many miracles before them already. God often uses fearful circumstances to reveal our true state of trust.

Catechism – What should you do when you are afraid? Trust in Him.

Discussion – What circumstances in your life make you afraid? How are you handling that fear?

Prayer – O Lord, you calmed the wind and waves with your word, now speak the word of “peace” to our hearts so that we may not live in a storm of fear arising from within. Grant that we may have your peace in our hearts as we trust in you through all the tempests of life, for you are the Master and Commander of all. In your name, Amen.

Year B – Easter 4 – Psalm 23

Psalm 23:  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  (NRSV)

Summary:  Despite its lack of cultural relevance, our thoughts of a what a shepherd is, remains a powerful and moving metaphor; Especially when we consider how such imagery informs the Lord’s devoted interaction and guidance within our individual lives.  Throughout history, readers have found this psalm particularly comforting and deeply personal.  God’s care and leading are intimately felt by David’s firsthand experience and poetic imagery.  Thankfully we have a share in David’s voice:  even in the darkest valley, our Divine Shepherd is leading you and me.

Insight:  Biblically, shepherding is a leadership trait that describes even ungodly leaders.  Naturally, such bad leaders were called ‘bad’ shepherds, and they were one of the most damaging and reoccurring threats to the flock of Israel (Jeremiah 23).  However, God was never unsympathetic to such leadership problems; he promised one day to shepherd his people himself (Ezekiel 34).  So when Jesus came onto the scene proclaiming he was the ‘good’ shepherd (Jn 10:14), he was more than just speak of his tender care and pastoral heart,[1] he was claiming to be David’s divine shepherd of Psalm 23.  In fact, “no human king of Israel was ever given the title [of shepherd].”[2]  But now, we have the privilege and responsibility to serve the Shepherd King of Israel.

Likewise, the image of Christ as a shepherd should instill in us a picture of great dignity as well as unsurpassable tenderness.  In Psalm 23, David expresses them both.  He was a man striving to live in that appropriate fear and adoration of Lord.  As we serve the risen and reigning Christ, we must impress upon ourselves the same:  we too have nothing to fear, with no wants, and only the shepherd’s leading:  Surely, goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives!

Child Catechism:  How is God a shepherd?  God rules the universe with a shepherd’s caring and tender guidance, deserving for his name’s sake, all creation’s love and respect.

Discussion:  In the Near East, shepherding was a regal image as well as a commonplace profession; what modern everyday occupations might you use to describe God’s guidance?  How does C.S. Lewis’ Aslan help depict the appropriate fear and adoration of who God is?

Prayer – Father, we thank for your shepherd-like leading and provision in our lives, Grant us the grace to follow the one and only Shepherd King:  Christ Jesus;  And it is in his Name and the blessed unity of his Spirit that we pray.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West


[1] Peter C. Craigie.  Ezekiel.  (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1983):  243.

[2] Timothy S. Laniak.  Shepherds After My Own Heart:  Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible.  (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 2006):  249.

Year B – Easter 2 – John 20:19-31

John 20:19–31 NRSV –    When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Summary – Jesus met with the Apostles after being dead, but they were fearful and doubtful. His first action to counter fear and doubt was to grant and confer peace to them. He even said it twice to make the point: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you’” (v21, also Lk. 24:36).  Even so they still had fear and doubt. Here is Jesus standing right front of them for the second time, conferring peace, conveying the Holy Spirit of God by blowing air out of His glorified lungs, no less! But the darkness of the human heart “needs proof” beyond even seeing a dead Man walk through doors, seeing a man crucified now alive, and even hearing the resurrected Lord speak peace to them! Thomas needed “real proof” so Jesus met him all the way: “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side.” From this Jesus, summarizes our mission. “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (v21). By this peace we are empowered in His presence to be “sent” to the world.

Insight – When Jesus conferred peace upon them, this was not a mere greeting, “hello” or “how’s it going.’” Rather, it expresses the recognition of “His peace accomplished” on the Day of Resurrection and focuses on the true bond of unity of those in Christ. Even Thomas was finally and fully able to believe despite his earlier doubt.  If you are unbelieving there are no “proofs” which suffice. But if you are willing to believe the truth then receive peace with God through His resurrection and believe it! Peace (in Hebrew/Shalom) means total wellness. A formerly dead Man was giving total health and the blessing of worry-free Life to fearful disciples. Let us also receive His peace in the midst of our fears and worries.

Child Catechism – After Jesus was raised, what did Jesus say to His disciples? “Peace be with you.”

Discussion – What will it take to convince you that Jesus is the resurrected Lord? Are you believing or unbelieving? Do you have the peace that Jesus granted to His disciples?

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, help our unbelief, breathe the new creation wind of Spirit into us and change the stony rocks of our hearts into life-filled flesh that glorifies You, in the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Year B – Easter 3 – Psalm 4

Psalm 4: Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. 2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah 3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;  the Lord hears when I call to him. 4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.  Selah  5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. 6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”  7  You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. 8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Summary:  We say a great deal of many things.  But sometimes in our prayer lives, the words just won’t come.  What stops you from praying?  Here David speaks confidently.  He speaks as if God will hear him.  Prayer is an action done in trust.  But sometimes we still need to question, and sometimes we need to be silent.  David mentions times for them both.  In this psalm, he seems to be questioning the actions and attitudes of fallen humanity (vv2,6) rather than God directly (cf. Ps 6:3, 10:1).  And David had a great deal to question in his life, and he had plenty of reasons to be frustrated, but his trust in God remained.

Insight:  Even when we are angry, we can remain faithful.  There is a difference between righteous outcries and vain venting:  think how often we take out our frustrations upon innocent and unwitting third-parties.  We love vain words.  When life gets difficult, or when we are being that difficult party, David suggestions is that we get quiet (v4).  And during this moment of silence, we can then think about what we have said and will say… to God, as well as, to our fellow man.  We always have cause to lift up our hearts; we needn’t wait until everything goes wrong, or until everything is going just right.  Certainly, as we ponder this Easter Season, consider the full implications of Christ’s resurrection and ascension:  Prayer is just one of our great privileges and responsibilities.  It is an amazing and confident conversation done between the Creator of the Universe and His creatures who are now at peace with one another (v8).

Discussion:  What is getting in the way of your conversations with God?   How do we sincerely pray for those who hates us or have different views than us?  (cf. Romans 12:14-21, Lk 23:34).

Thank you Father for the opportunities given to us,

Through sin and struggles, grant us the right words and hear our prayers

May our words glorify You, And May our words bring peace and gladness to others

In harmony with your Spirit’s leading and in Christ’s Name,

Forever.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West

Year B – Easter 2 – Psalm 133

1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3   It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.  For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

Summary:  Whether working or playing together, both can be rewarding experiences when everything goes well–and I’m sure you can think of times when it hasn’t.  More often then not, our worst fights are with those closest to us.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful thing when we live in peace and harmony.  This is what David’s Psalm pictures.  The first image he uses is that of the anointing oil flowing down Aaron’s body, setting him wholly apart part for his unique task as high priest (Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12).  The second speaks of the life giving dew upon Mount Hermon, which is the mountains only source of water for vegetation.  God is the one who has set apart and blessed this unity; so that it may provide life and refreshment to a barren world.

Insight:  God has set us apart, in Christ and as Christ’s body, the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10).  The unity that comes with being identified with Christ can been heard in Paul’s repetition of ‘one’ in Ephesians 4:  There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God.  Equally as powerful is Paul’s appeal that we must live according to–that is in unity with–our own anointing that once ran down our heads.  Do to this, we must live in conformity to all those mentioned above.  This is the resurrected life even now, a great blessing indeed.

Child Catechism:  What is unity compared with?  The anointing oil which covered Aaron and the refreshing dew covering Mount Hermon.

Discussion:  [ref.  Galatins 5:16-26]  What are some of the ways disunity comes about?  How does that compare with the fruits of the Spirit?  What does being led by the unity of Spirit look like?

Father,

So often, we live in conflict within ourselves and with others

filled with bitterness and hatred, with no end to the fight

Bless us with that resurrected life, in peace and with unity

which can only come from you

So that together, with our fellow man and with you

we may life in this good and pleasing unity

Lead by Your Spirit and it is in Christ’s Name we pray. Amen.

Contributed by M. West