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 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 C – Third Sunday in Lent – Luke 13:1-9

Gospel LessonLuke 13:1-9 NRSV

“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Summary – This passage has two parts, the first describes two historical events in which certain persons died, and the second is a parable that applies the meaning of those events to the current listeners. The first event tells of certain persons from Galilee who had been killed by Pontius Pilate, who then mingled their blood with the blood of the sacrifice in the Temple. The second event tells of the Tower of Siloam falling and killing eighteen people in Jerusalem. The second part of the passage is a parable about a fig tree that bears no fruit. The man who owned it has been looking for fruit for three years and has found none. He is about to cut it down. The fig tree in the parable is Israel, and the man looking for three years for fruit is Jesus. He has found none. Therefore, unless Israel repents, then judgment will come upon them, just as judgment came upon the people in the first two events.

Insight – Some people think that they can live as they please right now, and then, right before they die, they can repent and believe, and be forgiven. The reality though is that we never know when we are going to die. While we might think we have 80 years to live, the truth could be that we die in a car accident tomorrow. Or a tower might fall on us, or we might die in our sleep. We never know. The lesson we are to learn from bad things happening to others, like a tower falling on them, is that these things could just as easily happen to us. That means we are to repent of our sins now, for we never know what could happen to us, and when. Those people who died are not worse sinners than we are, are they? Did they deserve to die anymore than you or I do right now? Jesus didn’t think so. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” This Lenten season, we should be continually repenting and remember those ashes that were placed upon our foreheads, remembering that our life is but dust, and to the dust we shall return. Therefore repent, brothers and sisters, and flee to Jesus. Then bear fruit in keeping with your repentance (Luke 3:9-14).

 Catechism – Are those who suffer untimely death worse sinners than others? No. But unless we repent, we will all perish just as they did.

Discussion – What is repentance? How do we know we truly repent? What happens if we do not repent?

Prayer – Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those O God who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent, according Your promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And Grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; To the glory of Your Holy Name. Amen.

Submitted by Michael J. Shover

Year C – Second Sunday of Advent – Luke 3:1–6

Luke 3:1–6 NKJV – “1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ””

Summary – The theme playing in the symphony of Advent 2 readings  is the Preparation of John the Baptizer for Christ’s ministry, which still call to mind the theme of the final (escatological) purification. For example – Mal. 3:2: “But who can endure the day of his coming.” Phil. 1:6-11: “[He] who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ . . .the harvest of righteousness” Luke 3:6: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All of this is due to God’s covenant faithfulness (“messenger of the covenant,” “the oath that he swore” Luke 1:73). Therefore, because of God’s covenant faithfulness, He prepares His people for His salvation in Christ.

The Lord Prepared the World Historically – It happened in history, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea.” Tiberius was Roman emperor from 14-37  (A.D., anno Domini) which makes this about 28 A.D.

The Lord Prepared Israel Prophetically – Isaiah and many prophets had promised both the judgment of Israel (in the flesh) and the salvation of remnant Israel. Israel was to cling to the promises that the place would be “leveled” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Lord Prepared His People Spiritually – The Word came to John in the wilderness (outside of the temple). For those who were spiritually prepared, he preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Insight – Have you ever awaited the arrival of someone special to you, perhaps a family member or old family friend? Sometimes doing this we prepare what we will say, how we will respond, questions to ask . . . In the time of John the Baptist, the people needed to recognize the corruption of their temple and place their hope in Messiah through repentance. We must also Prepare. Repentance is often picture as a complete change, a 180 degree turn. But in our lives as believers it is more like a midcourse correction of a ship or a space ship. You will not land on the moon without little shifts. What “repentances” would change in your course to know Christ’s full salvation to keep your life from being flattened?